By Solomon O. Smith
Avocado trees, water conservation and wildfire worries were the subjects for last Saturday’s special Urban Gardening Workshop, organized by the L.A. Sanitation department.
The monthly workshop, hosted by Sylmar Charter High School teacher and horticultural expert Steve List, is part of a series of public talks on gardening held on the fourth Saturday of the month, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., at the Lopez Canyon Environmental Education Center in the San Fernando Valley. Saturday’s workshop was a special edition with guest speaker Luz Rivas, the California state assemblywoman for the 39th district and chair of the California State Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.
“I like to come to talk to groups to tell them what’s going on in Sacramento,” said Rivas. “Because a lot of times people have no idea what we do in the state capitol for you.”
Rivas, a native of the San Fernando Valley, touted several new bills she helped pass; Assembly Bill 1832 the California Seabed Mining Prevention Act, and SB54 Plastic Pollution and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act. She also announced the procurement of $17.5 million from the state’s budget allotted for two special projects: a footbridge at the Pacoima Wash and the expansion of the biotech program at Mission College.
Listeners were more concerned with fire safety in the local community than Rivas’ accomplishments in Sacramento, however. Audience members asked about more fire stations and complained about the lack of fire maintenance on freeways. One constituent asked about the lack of fire departments in parts of the Sylmar area, which is covered by Los Angeles Fire Station 91.
“If there were to be a fire here, I know that other stations would come and help,” she noted, “but we only have one and Sylmar’s growing.”
Jason Hector asked about wildland specifically around the 118 Freeway. Hector is the secretary for the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council which has written to several state and local representatives about the plants placed alongside freeways by Caltrans. They have asked for more water-conserving, burn-resistant local flora, but have yet to get any response.
“Look at what they’re planting, they should be planting more native stuff,” said Hector. “It takes longer to establish but once it establishes it doesn’t need as much water and is better for the environment.”
Rivas acknowledged that Caltrans is not as “fast as we’d like” but is a large agency that can be slow to react. Caltrans has a budget of almost $20 billion and over 22,000 employees service highways, bridges, airports and rails across the state, according to their website. Rivas told the audience that she is working with Caltrans.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges, in the four years that I’ve been elected, from Caltrans,” said Rivas, “but it is something that I continue to push with the leadership at Caltrans, even in Sacramento.”
These concerns about fire safety and water conservation were an important part of the general underlying message from most of the speakers. Robert Lepe, head gardener for the city of Los Angeles emphasized recycling organic material, normally seen as waste, into useful nutrients for plants. Composting helps aid in water retention, decreases water usage and repurposes organic materials slated for the dump into reusable materials. Lepe explained the process of composting and how beneficiary insects are in the process. The Lopez Canyon Environmental Education Center provides free topsoil and mulch every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The materials are produced from organic waste collected by the city, some of it from the green trash bins assigned to every home.
“We’ve got rid of all the hazardous materials, materials that shouldn’t be there,” said Lepe, “all the recyclables, we take everything out of it. And we just give all the green stuff back.”
Avocados were still the star of the show and List spoke and answered questions on how to plant them. The expert speaker brought in to answer questions and dive into the nuance of planting them was Daniel Nelson of Evarde Growers. Nelson has over 25 years of planting avocados and other fruit trees and has given public talks about planting and growing fruit trees. His company donated 200 avocado plants, a value of about $2,000 dollars, which were given away at the end of the workshop.
List closed out the workshop with a raffle, giving away an assortment of items like small fruit trees, garden plants and water collection barrels. His monthly tips are not relegated to just the city. List has his own website, Ask Mr. List, where he provides free tips on planting and gardening and has developed a fan base. His service as a high school teacher also inspired a love for gardening in others.
Fred Rodriguez was a former high school student of List who used gardening to keep himself out of trouble. Rodriguez now wants to start his own gardening business. Meeting with List after the workshop was something that he had been looking forward to for years, and the two finally got to speak about how List had been an inspiration for Rodriguez.
“The moment I realized, you know, this is something I want to do in my life,” said Rodriguez, “it’s because of something that he taught me when I was in high school.”