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The landscape is changing
Manteca now in charge of 50 acres of LMDs
The water feature in the Woodward West landscape maintenance district is still being done by a private firm that not only has the expertise but is doing the job at a competitive price. - photo by DENNIS WYATT
Kevin Fant couldn’t wait for July 1 to roll around.

He’s the go-to-guy in the Manteca Parks & Recreation Department  when it comes to not only making sure that the level of care in the 20 plus landscape maintenance districts (LMD)  remains constant now that the city has taken them over but also  to making plans to eventually improve on designs and reduce water use.

Fant – a certified arborist – is splitting his time between supervising the maintenance of around 350 acres of parks and maintaining the landscape maintenance districts that consist of more than 50 acres.

Critics contend the city is out of their league as the LMDs are much more intense than parks to upkeep as they are more than just grass and basic shrubs and trees. This though, isn’t Fant’s first rodeo.

Prior to joining the city several years ago, he worked 15 years for Grover Landscaping. The firm – a leader in landscaping design and maintenance – has been in charge of a number of LMDs in cities including in Manteca – which it won on competitive bids. In Patterson, as an example, Fant came up against other competitors who used more workers but couldn’t match Grover’s level of upkeep.

He credits it to working smarter.

Mark Hall, the deputy director of facilities for the parks and recreation department, noted that most of the four private contractors who handled LMD work in Manteca through June 30 simply relied on labor to pull weeds. The city will employ a strategy that includes pre-emergence and post emergence weed spraying.

“A lot of guys avoid spraying because of the cost upfront but in the long run it is more efficient and costs less,” Fant pointed out.

Manteca avoided laying off four park workers when the city took over the day-to-day care of the LMDs on July 1 that cost homeowners collectively just under $1 million a year to fund.

The city is assigning the equivalent of four current municipal parks maintenance workers to handle the work. It includes the equivalent of three maintenance workers plus a lead park worker and an irrigation technician each will be assigned halftime.

The irrigation technician is expected to help the city monitor the water use to substantially reduce waste to save the LMDs $15,000 a year.

You won’t see the same maintenance workers necessarily. Instead, every time work is done in a specific LMD the municipal workers involved will fill out work time sheets. It is the same process that has been used to track the costs of all facets of maintenance in city parks and non LMD municipal landscaping for years.

The shifting of the jobs will save the general fund $350,000 a year. It was already factored into over $8 million in budget savings the council has cobbled together from leaving positions open, putting in place new charges for services where they legally can and restructuring operations. The city has at least another $2 million plus to cut for the current fiscal year.

Fant expects improvements
Fant believes that once the city gets involved in the day-to-day maintenance that residents will start seeing improvements especially in the effectiveness of how the LMDs are irrigated.

Up until last week, the majority of contractors who handled the LMDs were not based in Manteca. That meant they only went by the locations once a week. In doing so, they approached irrigation of the landscaping in overkill fashion as they didn’t want to risk plants dying if something went wrong.

Fant’s strategy is not only to have park crews keep a look out on the LMDs for problems when they may pass them en route to other jobs, but to eventually put in irrigation control systems that can monitor changes in pressure – the first tip off of a water line issue – and alert the department remotely at the Civic Center that there is a problem. It would allow problems to be addressed quickly and substantially reduce water use.

The city also will be devising new planting standards for future LMDs to comply with new rules being pushed by the state to reduce water consumption and over spray of irrigation water.

Ultimately, the city may look at some districts and make improvements in the design by changing out landscaping.

The city has been doing that for years to keep costs down in LMDs – especially ones that were underfunded when they were established.

One example is the Meadowlands LMD on East Louise Avenue off Pestana Avenue. It had an abundance of annuals in the original design that proved to costly to maintain given the funding per parcel. The city changed out the design with perennials to provide color.

The LMD also had other changes to help landscaping mature in such a manner that will help reduce graffiti on sound walls.

“Not all LMDs were created equal,” Hall noted.

Many older ones were formed with assessments that didn’t allow enough for maintenance level of newer ones. The level of landscaping on California Classics/Diamond Oaks LMD across from Meadowlands is not as intense for that reason.

There are some districts where the grooming of plants was more formal. The city may – in the future – encourage growth that reduces maintenance levels.

In addition, there are a few instances where the city won’t be taking over 100 percent of the maintenance. Such is the case in the Woodward West LMD where a faux bridge crosses over a water feature.

Hall said the firm that handles the upkeep to make sure algae doesn’t form or cerate insect breeding grounds has a high level of expertise and is doing so at a cost the city couldn’t replicate.