RANCHO CUCAMONGA - City officials will begin outreach efforts to educate residents in the city's largest landscape maintenance district about either increasing rates or reducing service.

Officials may consider either option, or a combination of both, because maintenance costs have risen substantially and rates have not changed since 1993. The annual budget shortfall for the city's District 2 has been calculated at about $222,000.

Officials said the public engagement process would cost about $40,000 from the district's funds.

Recent City Council discussion over the outreach effort centered on presenting the residents with a menu of rate and maintenance scenarios.

Options include the possibility of raising rates by $38 a year to keep landscaping maintenance the same; increasing the rates by an even larger amount in the short term to pay for the installation of drought-tolerant, and potentially less costly, landscaping; or removal of 1.5 million square feet of grass.

"If at the conclusion of the process the council determines that we move forward with maintenance reductions and a removal of landscaping, then we would go back to a survey we're conducting online about community priorities," said Assistant City Manager Lori Sassoon.

"Frankly, it's staff's opinion that is not a desirable outcome for the benefit of the preservation of property values, and the integrity of those neighborhoods.


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We feel it is our duty to share that information with residents. Ultimately it is up to them."

Public Works Services Director Bill Wittkopf said if the city were to decide to re-landscape District 2 with more drought-tolerant plants, it would take a significant capital investment. Officials said that would mean an increase in rates over the initial $38 proposal and a later drop in rates after cost-savings are achieved.

"We have heard from residents that they're interested in that and a more sustainable method for that landscape district, but we have to look at the costs," he said.

Wittkopf said there may be an opportunity to increase drought tolerant landscaping in the district in the future, but "we really need to look at where the highest maintenance costs are .. we would be going through that district and doing that analysis to see where the best place to start would be and move forward with that incrementally through the years."

Before officials raise district rates however, an election must be held. While an election in 2011 saw voters reject a rate increase in District 2, officials said they're giving residents another opportunity to decide whether to hold another. It's because not enough residents were aware of the consequences of significant service reductions, they said. Only 30 percent of ratepayers participated in the last election.

Some residents had expressed unhappiness over the city's rejection of those results, while other residents have called for another round of consideration. Council members said they would follow the will of the people if they decide against another election.

District resident Jerie Lee said she's all for more drought-tolerant landscaping, but prior to the survey, she said residents are interested in seeing a concrete plan for implementation before even considering raising their rates.

"Before they can get positive election results, they've got to have a plan because the last time they just said, `Give us more money,"' Lee said.

The cost for conducting the ballot process last year for District 2 was $26,000. Funds for that election were from the general fund, and the general fund would have been reimbursed by District 2 funds if it passed, Sassoon said. The cost would be about the same if residents choose to pursue another mail ballot process in the future, though nothing is budgeted at this time, she said.

Three neighborhoods, in recent years, held elections to determine their landscape service rates.

The Terra Vista community voted for an increase in 2009, while the Caryn and South Etiwanda community voted against it. 

The Caryn community in 2010 supported raising rates after a resident effort to hold a second election.

District 2 is comprised of properties in an L-shaped area of land bounded by Etiwanda Avenue in the east, the 210 Freeway in the north, the halfway line between Milliken and Haven avenues in the west, and south above Base Line Road and Church Street in the eastern part of the district.


Reach Neil via email, call him at 909-483-9356, or find him on Twitter @InlandGov.