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Angry Edelman Presses County Over Calabasas Park Complaints : Maintenance: The supervisor suggests switching landscaping duties to another agency after hearing homeowners describe evidence of shoddy care.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Complaints by Calabasas homeowners about poor county maintenance of their parks, hillsides and greenbelts infuriated Supervisor Ed Edelman on Thursday, causing him to question whether the county parks department can handle the job.

However, Rodney E. Cooper, director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the problem lies in the community’s expectations that far exceed its landscape budget.

“The district is maintained on a K mart budget and there’s Nordstrom” tastes in Calabasas Park, he said. Calabasas Park is a community of about 2,400 houses and a 23-acre lake south of the Ventura Freeway.

As in about 40 other landscape maintenance districts in the county, members of the Calabasas Park Homeowners Assn. pay the county to mow, water and otherwise groom 260 acres of their property.

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The county requires developers of large projects to set up such districts to assure that common areas will be maintained once the projects are built. The county hires the lowest-bidding private landscape company to do the work, in this case OK Landscape Maintenance Inc. of Rolling Hills Estates.

Members of the Calabasas Park Homeowners Assn. told the Board of Supervisors that the county is not enforcing its landscape maintenance contract.

The problems they cited included eroding hillsides, malfunctioning sprinklers that sometimes water for five days straight and non-operating lights around Calabasas Lake.

City dwellers may fear being mugged at night while walking in dimly lit areas, but in the serenity of Calabasas Park, residents have a different sort of concern, said homeowners board member Michael Fichera: Slipping into the murky man-made lake.

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Board member David Guthman said he also resented Cooper’s insinuation that the area’s homeowners have expensive tastes. “I don’t even shop at Nordstrom,” he said.

At issue Thursday was a $25 increase in annual fees, to $400 per house, which the homeowners’ representatives said residents would be willing to pay if service improves. Edelman, however, persuaded the other supervisors to reject the increase for this year.

He asked Cooper to look into canceling the OK Landscape contract. Then, angrily telling Cooper that “maybe you’re stretched too thin,” Edelman asked the county’s chief administrative officer to look into transferring all of the maintenance districts out of the parks department’s jurisdiction to the Public Works Department.

Cooper defended his department, saying it has been managing landscape maintenance districts “for over 25 years and there’s been very little problem with it.”

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OK Landscape Maintenance, which does half of the county’s maintenance district work, has done a better job than most of the contract companies, Cooper said.

“We have periodic complaints, sure,” he said. “But we have others that are a lot worse.”

The landscape company charges about $600,000 for landscape maintenance in Calabasas Park, all of which is paid for by the homeowners, said Curt Robertson, the county’s landscape district administrator. In addition, through maintenance fees and a property tax assessment set up before Proposition 13, homeowners reimburse the county for costs such as water, weed abatement and pest control.

Canceling the OK Landscape contract for Calabasas Park could mean more than doubling the cost of maintenance to homeowners because the company would have to be replaced by a more expensive firm, Cooper said.

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“If we knock out OK, which is OK with me, it’s going to cost more,” he said.


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