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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Reinventing Southern California

I imagine it would be hard to put down this special issue of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal and feel optimistic about the state’s four-year drought. Without doubt, that would fit the very definition of being a Pollyanna. After all, the paucity of rainfall has reduced the state’s crop yields, created a seemingly unending brush fire season and threatened the very culture and lifestyle of Southern California, with its pools, lush lawns and imported plants. And underlying it all: gnawing fears that its origins lie in humanity’s long exploitation of the environment, setting in motion inexplicable and fundamental climate change over which we now have no control. But reading about the resourceful entrepreneurs who fill these pages should certainly give you some hope – at least in our ability to weather that change and, perhaps more importantly, to reinvent Southern California. I was amused by our UpFront article on Kerri McCoy, a pool contractor who now has a booming business literally painting lawns green. (Our cartoonist Steve Greenberg also has some fun at her expense below.) She’s been drawing attention from national media too, and any native or longtime California resident knows why: Her business fits the easy stereotype that the East Coast and other parts of the country have about us. We’re superficial; it’s all about artifice; we’re all skin deep. So we like our lawns green. Who doesn’t? I mean, if you have a lawn, why would you want to look at brown dead grass? Sort of defeats the purpose. But, of course, there is a better answer: Don’t plant one in the first place. And many of us are heading in that direction. This issue highlights folks such as the Salazar brothers from Sun Valley, who transformed their father’s mow-and-blow gardening business into one that installs low-water xeriscape because of the demand for it. They took botany classes at Pierce College to gain the education needed to change their business. And Kitty Connolly, the executive director of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, who is pictured on our front page. Her non-profit nursery has been overwhelmed by homeowners who want to plant drought-tolerant landscaping. Even more heartening for me are the big corporations changing their business models. Our profile is of Tom DiPrima, an executive leading KB Home’s efforts to build houses that are energy efficient and sip water. And there’s our story about insurer Anthem Blue Cross, which ripped out 13 acres of turf in Warner Center. You get the point: The entire economy is being transformed as Southern Californians collectively adapt to the drought, which is, of course, cause for optimism. I hesitate to say it, because it’s almost trite, but it is the old Darwinian notion of adapt or die. I dislike coming across as a booster, but it’s fair to say, after having lived in several other parts of the country, that Southern California has an inherent advantage: It might be the most adaptable place in the nation. And here’s one final point. It’s really not that hard. There are communities in Southern California that have long seen the light. My favorite example is in the Coachella Valley, where the desert communities of Palm Desert and Indian Wells border each other. I used to spend a lot of time in the desert and was always amazed to see the contrast between the two posh cities. Indian Wells, a playground for the uber-rich, has long been known for its spectacularly emerald and overwatered lawns. It’s practically a desert oasis. I think that’s the point. But just blocks away some of the most beautiful streets of Palm Desert are fronted by stunning, elaborate rock gardens, which make you realize there are alternative models for Southern California living that others have been following for decades. Staff Reporter Karen E. Klein reminds us on the front page how William Mulholland famously said, “There it is. Take it,” as water cascaded down the Owens River aqueduct into the San Fernando Valley in 1913. The very water that created the Southern California we know today was brought to our doorsteps. Now, I say, look around, other models abound. They are there. Take them.

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