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Impact of Ocean Friendly Gardens in West LA-Malibu

Educating Homeowners and Advocating for Positive Changes to Public Policy

For the second year in a row, the Ocean Friendly Gardens Program of the Surfrider Foundation’s West Los Angeles/Malibu (WLAM) Chapter was part of a partnership that received a large water conservation grant from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). In 2016, the chapter partnered with SELVA International, the Neighborhood Council Sustainability Alliance (NCSA), Mack Consulting, UCLA’s Landscape Architecture program and Venice Youth Build (a career-training program for at-risk youth). Through this partnership, they installed five Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFGs) and conducted community-based social marketing research on the impediments and solutions to implementing landscape conversions.

The chapter recruited a group of five enthusiastic homeowners from four city council districts to host hands-on workshops. The workshops were similar to traditional OFG workdays, known as ‘Garden Assistance Parties,’ but they were longer (six hours each) and were run by a paid workshop leader. Two workshops were conducted at each of the homes. The first session covered how to remove turf grass, create simple swales and basins to collect rainwater from a rain gutter downspout, and build soil through sheet mulching. The second workshop focused on designing and installing gardens with California native plants. Nearly 150 people attended these OFG workshops, including ten Venice Youth Build members, who provided assistance with the workshops after receiving training by SELVA professionals.

The social marketing research conducted during these workshops revealed several important findings. For example, it indicated that the most motivating factors to change a landscape are saving water and preventing pollution. The biggest roadblocks preventing people from converting their yards to OFGs are perceived expense and time needed to complete a project. The workshops helped to increase awareness that landscapes can be transformed to OFGs with minimal expenses and time involved. It was also determined that educational programs have a multiplying effect, meaning that those who attend more programs are more likely to convert their gardens. 

The majority of workshop participants ranged in age from 50-70 years old, mostly retired or semi-retired, and were looking to save water and learning how to do-it-yourself. The team discussed potential ways to expand to new audiences, including possible instructional videos on how to convert yards to Ocean Friendly Gardens and what to ask for when hiring a professional.

In response to the workshops and marketing research, SELVA developed a collaborative, non-profit consulting and landscaping service called EcoGardens. EcoGardens offers low-cost, OFG-oriented services to Los Angeles residents. They offer free resources, including four native plant design templates, to help residents cut the cost and time needed for landscape conversions. As an incentive for participating in the workshops, all attendees were given discount coupons for EcoGardens’ professional landscape services.

The positive impact of the workshops continued throughout last year. For example, the  Surfrider Foundation West LA/ Malibu Chapter’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program  achieved a related policy victory in 2016, when the Green LA Coalition (led by Surfrider and G3/Green Gardens Group) convinced the LA Department of Water and Power to change their turf replacement rebate requirements to follow OFG-type standards, or the watershed approach. After several meetings with agency staff, the recommendation went to the agency’s Board of Commissioners and passed with a 3-2 vote. This will be a helpful measure to support the mayor’s plan to generate 50% of the city’s water needs with local water supplies and to prevent polluted runoff from reaching area beaches.