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Performance Review reveals Efficient Landscape Division at the Village

laguna-woods1William Baker and Associates LLC (WBA) has conducted a Landscape Division Performance Review for Laguna Woods Village. The review began on July 1, 2013 and continued until the submission of the Final Report on October 25, 2013. During this period of time WBA spent in excess of 400 hours on the various project tasks. This includes many days on the property observing work, meeting with senior staff, touring different areas of the operation, collecting data and documents, and conducting our own tests. Additional time was spent conducting staff interviews, doing research, and writing the report.

The following is the Executive Summary found in the Landscape Department Performance Review, Page 4:

The Landscape Department is working at an excellent level of efficiency. The principles and best management practices either meet or exceed anything we see in the private sector. Resources available to the Department are indeed being utilized in an economical and efficient manner. The standards for quality are superb, and there is constant attention to improving both how quickly and how well jobs are completed. It is our studied and professional opinion that policies, standards, and procedures comply with those set forth by both the governing body of the Association and the governmental regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over Laguna Woods Village.

Staffing levels are appropriate to support the Division’s various areas of responsibility. Staff morale is high, as determined by closed session review (no management present) with 34 employees on three different days. The crews’ comments and criticisms in these sessions were mild. Conversations were also held with numerous other crew members while they were performing their assigned tasks. Additionally, a meeting was held with the supervisors from all the different areas.

Although one of these mild crew criticisms was that they were slightly understaffed, we do not feel this is sufficient reason to add employees. Being just slightly understaffed promotes performance and creativity in accomplishing the task at hand. Other staff concerns were equally low key. Of course, when working with this many individuals over this size property with such a wide range of departmental tasks things can and do go wrong. These day-to-day operational challenges are present in all similar departments, and usually to a much greater extent than we see at Laguna Woods Village.

Golf Course Review CaliforniaInternal review of the Department is a constant and continual process. There is a wealth of documentation on how they are performing. It is less clear how much the Board desires to learn about the internal workings of the Landscape Department, since there is a distinct difference between setting policy and conducting operations. Oversight by the Board would certainly appear to be at an appropriate level, since the Department is operating very effectively.

Most likely the Board is interested in receiving accurate and easily understandable information. We would conclude that the information coming out of the Department to the Board is accurate. More challenging is how to provide reports and conduct presentations that are clear and comprehensive, without getting mired in the vast amount of detail that goes into formulating the information.

Click here to read the full Landscape Division Performance Review

Click here to view the PowerPoint Presentation presented to GRF by WBA (Note: this is a very large file and may take a few minutes to download)

The full presentation will be replayed on Channel 6 November 6 at 6 p.m. and November 8 at 2:30 p.m.

What Does an HOA Landscape Assessment Entail?

capitol-parkIn order to conduct a thorough, comprehensive HOA landscape review, WBA performs an assessment of all aspects of the landscape, assuring there is operational efficiency and value received for money spent.  This includes, but does not limit turf, trees, slopes, gardens, landscape maintenance operations, small equipment repair services, irrigation evaluation, soil and water analysis, pesticide use, compost operation, interviewing staff,  rain event action plans, landscape renovation and landscape support services.

WBA will review the Lawn Maintenance for all turf, noting the overall turf color, health and vigor, the height of the cut, fertility and soil moisture content adjusted for the mowing operations schedule. 

Shrub-Bed Maintenance is also included in this review as well as tasks involved, include pruning, weeding, raking, edging planters, fertilizing as required, mulching annually, and responding to residents’ requests in accordance with policy.  Slope maintenance programs will be assessed to assure they are in line with industry standards. 

A complete review of the pesticide storage facility will be conducted to determine pest control methodologies employed by the Department.  Our review focuses closely on the safe and effective use of commercial pesticides that are utilized in the operation, assessing whether all registered materials (formulations classified as pesticides through the inclusion of an EPA Registration Number) are stored properly and locked in an area that allowed for the entry of only trained and approved personnel. 

WBA will conduct an irrigation evaluation on two separate areas of lawn and perform an irrigation audit to determine sprinkler uniformity and proper water output.  After evaluating the lawn sprinklers for any maintenance problems (broken lines, clogged nozzles, tilted heads, etc.) a catch can test will be performed.  The test is conducted to measure sprinkler distribution uniformity, and precipitation rate.  Distribution uniformity measures how evenly the water is being applied to a given area, and precipitation rate measures water in inches per hour.

If the HOA has a compost operation, a tour of the facility will be conducted, checking for salinity, pH, heavy metals, and other undesirable constituents.  Moisture levels and particle size will be assessed for correctness.

WBA will interview staff to determine what kinds of training may be needed, morale, and working conditions.  Focus groups may be held in Spanish to provide for a wide look at what is happening with field personnel in the Landscape Division.

A comprehensive soil and water analysis will be conducted and the samples will be sent to a local laboratory, checking for chlorotic conditions, nitrogen levels, elevated soil salinity, and sodium values.  The soil composition will be determined and recommendations will be made to improve soil fertility.  Water samples will be taken to check for the two components in water quality that have the greatest affect in plant health:  salts and sodium.  Both of these are present in moderate amounts when using potable water, and require management strategies to keep levels from escalating.  Reclaimed water doubles the concentration amounts of both salts and sodium.  Other negative factors associated with the water quality will be an increase in chlorides, sulfates, bicarbonates, and nitrates.

If necessary, a review will be made of the small equipment repair division of the landscaping department for efficiency and effectiveness.  WBA will also review any rain action event plans that are in place to determine if they are comprehensive and appropriate for storm management.  The preparation involves the Landscape Division checking and clearing all drains and atrium weep-hole outlets.  Any necessary emergency equipment is checked for operational readiness and secured for quick access.

A critical issue that is currently affecting large landscapes now, and in the future, will be water availability and escalating costs.  Payoff periods will become shorter and more realistic in the near future for changing out landscapes that reduce turf areas, and replace high water use shrubs with low water use plants.  WBA will assess landscape divisions to determine if they are implementing re-landscaping methods that affect slopes, shrub beds, islands, gate entries and the reduction of turf areas.  Overall costs will be reduced through re-landscaping with site appropriate shrubs that minimize labor for maintenance and reduce the amount of greenwaste and the related processing costs.

In direct support of the landscape maintenance operations, the transport and delivery of mowing equipment, both to and from the various work sites, are done by the Landscape Support Services.  Each foreman and supervisor must plan for daily needs of equipment, bulk materials, and field supplies in advance, and arrange to have them delivered on a scheduled basis. WBA will assess the mobilization of all crews leaving the main operations service yard to their various work stations. 

fire damage assessment

Benefits of a Prescribed Burn

Just as with natural and human-ignited fires in the past, prescribed burning today accomplishes many important ecological functions and landowner objectives.

The benefits of prescribed burning are many. A burn removes accumulated fuels and therefore the risk of intense fires. Prescribed burning also changes the composition and density of existing vegetation. Burns at regular intervals reduce competing vegetation under forest stands. In pasture and range systems, fire is used to reduce encroachment of shrubs and invasive weeds. Wildlife habitat is improved with prescribed burns. New shrub, herb, and grass sprouts capture the quick flush of nutrients into the soil after a fire and are often more nutritious and palatable than older plants. Fires promote flower, seed, and fruit production, thus increasing available nuts and fruits for wildlife. Insects also increase rapidly after most fires.

Prescribed burning is one of the most cost effective forest management tools that the forest landowner has at his disposal for pine stand management. It provides multiple benefits for both timber and wildlife. These fires are managed in such a way as to minimize the emission of smoke and maximize the benefits to the site. Cost-share assistance is available from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs to help with forest management.

California Landscape Consultants

Integrated Pest Management Program and Policy

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest control that utilizes regular monitoring to determine if and when treatments are needed. IPM employs physical, mechanical, cultural, biological and educational tactics to keep pest numbers low enough to prevent intolerable damage or annoyance.

1.  Adherence to laws and regulations

2.  Training and certification programs

3.  Pesticide posting, application, and reporting procedures
4.  Current alternatives to pesticide use
5.  Emergency procedures for pesticides spills and exposures
6.  Goals for pest control
Project Management Fundamentals

Irrigation Efficiency Study

William Baker and Associates LLC is the contractor for an irrigation efficiency study that includes over 30 sites located across six geographic and climatic regions of California. It is sponsored by the Department of Water Resources and administered by  the University of California.  It is titled the Evapotranspiration Adjustment Factor Study and its objective is to examine the potential for reducing applied water, while maintaining a healthy and attractive landscape.  The study documents the performance and appearance of landscape plants grown under a variety of species mixes, landscape irrigation technology and irrigation practices, microclimates, and densities in several climatic zones throughout California.
The study is expected to run through 2014.  Site cooperators include cities, universities, corporate campuses, park districts, golf courses, demonstration gardens, and large common area landscapes.  Study regions include Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley, The Central Coast, the South Coast, the Los Angeles Basin, the Inland Empire, the Coachella Valley.  Data collection includes testing for distribution uniformity, precipitation rates, metering and documenting all water use, soil and water testing, and inventorying all plant species in the study zones.  The findings are expected to be instrumental in the determination of future horticultural irrigation use regulations for California.