DWP Demands Could Uproot Two Plant Nurseries

PlantWhy is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power forcing two San Fernando Valley nurseries out of business?

Green House Nurseries in Arleta and Live Art Plantscapes in Northridge are small, owner-operated businesses. They have employees. They pay taxes. They comply with all applicable regulations. And like many nurseries in Southern California, they’re located on utility-owned land that is directly underneath power transmission lines.

These wholesale nurseries supply indoor plants to hotels, retail stores, office buildings and commercial designers. Some of the lush, tropical plants that decorate the Wynn and Encore hotels in Las Vegas were grown in Arleta. Some of the spectacular red bromeliads that will be in the Bellagio’s Chinese New Year display are growing right now in Northridge.

Green House Nurseries was a new business venture when owners Mark Whitten and Paul Needleman began renting land from LADWP in 1998. Whitten, a geologist, and Needleman, a horticulturist, built two climate-controlled greenhouse structures with the full approval of LADWP. In 2003, they received approval to build a third greenhouse on the property. Small-business loans helped to cover the cost of construction, which ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“These are engineered structures that will withstand 100-mph winds and earthquakes,” Whitten said, pointing to a thick steel support post sunk deep into the ground. “They were built to LADWP’s specifications.”

But about a year ago, LADWP’s real estate department sent Needleman and Whitten a letter stating that the 15-foot-high greenhouses would have to be dismantled and replaced with smaller structures no taller than 10 feet.

That would put Green House Nurseries out of business. The heating and cooling equipment in their greenhouses can’t be cut up and segmented into smaller modules.

Live Art Plantscapes received a similar letter and faces the same grim situation. Owner Larry Tabeling has built a business that depends on the climate-controlled greenhouses approved by LADWP 11 years ago.

Too bad, says LADWP.

But why?

They won’t say.

There’s no question that the city-owned utility has the legal right to control the use of the land under its transmission lines and to withdraw permission for any structures or activities. But neighbors are concerned about the kind of structures and activities that could return to the sites if the nurseries are kicked out.

The Arleta Neighborhood Council pleaded with City Councilwoman Nury Martinez in September to help keep Green House Nurseries under the power lines. “We do not want to see them go,” wrote council president John Hernandez. “We fear that if they do go, the property will revert to an empty lot attracting illegal dumping, drug traffic, homeless, etc.”

Like Live Art Plantscapes, Green House Nurseries is located in a residential neighborhood, surrounded by quiet streets of single-family homes. “They are the perfect neighbor,” Hernandez wrote, “This is the kind of business that any city would be happy to have, and we do not want to lose them.”

Loyce Lacson, who heads an Arleta neighborhood watch group, wrote to Martinez asking for her help to get Green House Nurseries “grandfathered” for another five-year extension of their license. “Previous to Green House locating to Arleta, DWP was not maintaining the property,” Lacson wrote. And crime was a problem. A cluster of candles and flowers still marks the site of a shooting before the nursery moved in.

The Arleta Neighborhood Council made inquiries to see if other utilities were implementing new height limits for greenhouses. They were not. “We found that nurseries under power lines in other parts of Los Angeles and Orange Counties with similar structures have not been asked to make any modifications to their structures,” John Hernandez wrote in his letter to Martinez.

Given the cost of land, these businesses are unlikely to reopen in Los Angeles if forced out of their current locations. The city will lose the tax revenue, the employees will lose their jobs, and the communities will lose a good neighbor.

But why? If the greenhouses met all applicable LADWP and building code requirements at the time they were approved, what has changed?

Before two small businesses in the San Fernando Valley are destroyed, someone at LADWP should answer that question.

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