Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why is government meddling in the landscape business?

If you’ve been following my columns in Landscape Management magazine and these blogs you’re aware of how much local and regional governments are inserting themselves into the businesses of private industry, including the Green Industry.

Here’s yet another example — the commissioners in Lake County, FL, just passed an ordinance restricting how much St. Augustinegrass new homeowners and developers can install on their properties.

County commissioners voted to restrict the use of St. Augustinegrass sod for new developments to 60%, and are mandating the remaining 40% of landscaping be Bahiagrass or Florida native plants that require less water, reports

The commissioners said they took the action to conserve water in Lake County.
In defending this action, the commissioners, I’m sure, point to the common good. But really, what business does a government have in telling private citizens what kind of grass they can have on their lawns?

Early in my career as a journalist I covered the city and county governments in a rural Ohio county of about 30,000 people. Thirty-nine years later I still live in the same city. It’s my home. My wife, Vicky, and I raised two children here, we like our community and our neighbors and there’s a noisy little bar around the block that I can walk to that makes an incredible pizza and where I can still order a $1.50 draft beer and chat with friendly bartenders and longtime acquaintances.

While I left the newspaper game many years ago, I retain a keen interest in my community. Almost every evening the wife and I walk around our small city. What we see is discouraging — empty storefronts in what was once a vibrant downtown.

Gone since we moved here are two mid-sized department stores, two men’s stores, two shoe stores, two appliance stores, four service stations, a hardware store, a building supply company, a boat sales company and the town’s movie house. About half of the huge glass storefront windows in our downtown, once filled with goods and decorated with colorful seasonal displays, are now dark and sport “For Rent” and “For Sale” signs.

It’s pitiful sight, especially for what we’ve come to appreciate as such a secure, pleasant Midwest community.

Not that all growth in our community has been stymied. County government and the local hospital have become much, much larger these past several decades. Both employ more people than when I daily trudged the three flights of stairs at the 100-year-old country courthouse and gathered the daily news for the then-afternoon editions of our local newspaper.

This phenomenon, in particular the growth of county government, puzzles me since, as far as I can determine, the population of our region has remained essentially the same these past 30 years. Economic activity in our county — if measured by employment — has actually fallen. Admittedly, the growth in our county government, in part anyway, lies with laws passed in our state and national capitals. Even so, governments at every level are now meddling too much in private industry, in my opinion.

What I see locally seems to mirror what’s happening nationally; government and health care keep growing while small business finds it harder to grow and offer employment opportunities, and in too many cases even survive.

I’m sure the conclusion I’m drawing from this will be criticized as being too simplistic — but it appears to me that the continued growth of government, and its intrusion into private industry, is stifling small business, which is the biggest driver of economic growth in not only our communities, but our nation.

If you’ve read this far into this wordy blog, you may way to hear what Keith Truenow, a sod grower in Lake County, FL, has to say about the new law restricting the kind of grass allowed on new homes and developments. Click here for the article and a video with Keith’s take on a law that will hurt his business. — Ron Hall

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I understand your concerns about government being too big; but remember we are government.The average person chooses not to be involved because our lives are so hectic. Make an effort to visit a local trustee meeting,etc. Write your congressman.Get involved!
In regards to new regulations; it is all about water. THe lack of it in certain regions, too much of it, and the quality of water. The average American landscape is devoted to too much turf which we spend billions on fertilizing,watering,etc.This overuse of water,harmful herbicides, and pesticides is jeopardizing our drinking water supply and our health. We DO want government to be involved in this.
As for the sod operator in Florida; they need to diversify. Start using native plant materials or grasses that require less fertilizer and water needs.
I have been a landscape designer for the past 20 years. When I started I approached my designs with a low-maintenance philosophy. Today I approach designs with a sustainable philosophy. I am not a native plant purist; but I do think about the effects of plants I recommend on the environment.