On Feb. 22 the commission hosted an environmental forum focused on smart gardening— growing climate-appropriate plants to foster native animal populations, using less water and creating less waste through composting.
Calabasas Mayor Fred Gaines said the city has been pushing for residents to make their yards drought-tolerant and water-conscious.
“This is sort of the next step, to actually turn these areas into wildlife areas, areas that also support all of the birds and wildlife in the community,” Gaines said. “It’s a very interesting project. It’s perfect for Calabasas because of our location here in the Santa Monica Mountains. I think we’ll start to see a lot of activity in this area.”
The event featured speakers from a landscape architecture firm, an environmental consulting firm and the Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of California’s native plants. There were also booths from local environmental organizations, including the California Wildlife Center, the California Native Plant Society and Poison Free Malibu.
There were about 120 people in the audience, many of them local students. Julie Shy-Sobol, chair of the environmental commission, said high school science teachers had offered their students extra credit to attend.
“We like to start them young. . . . It’s a lot easier to get them involved and have them grow into it,” Shy-Sobol said. “One of the reasons we’re doing this is that about a year ago the city decided that we would attempt to become a certified wildlife habitat as a city. We’d love to have our citizens get their homes certified as wildlife habitats. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s very gratifying.”
The National Wildlife Federation offers homes and communities certifications for being wildlife friendly—providing clean water, shelter and food, and using environmentally friendly gardening practices such as composting, eliminating chemical fertilizers and pesticides, capturing rain and limiting water use.
The term “wildlife” isn’t restricted to four-legged mammals like raccoons and squirrels. An environmentally friendly home can provide a habitat for birds as well as butterflies, native bees and other insects.
Alex Farassati, environmental services supervisor for Calabasas, said that if enough residents convert their homes the entire city could be awarded the title of wildlife friendly habitat.
“We have probably 28 homes, but we need 225 points so we can become a certified city; that’s our goal,” Farassati said. “Many people have lots of native plants but don’t know that they can be certified, and there’s just a few steps they have to take. We’re an award-winning city, so we want to win another award.”He said the city needs to reach 225 points to be recognized, but points can be awarded for environmentally friendly activities and programs as well as for residents converting their homes.
Gaines and his wife made the decision to convert their home several years ago.
“We did it for water saving. We did it as part of a movement three years ago to get rid of our lawns and save a lot on water. I thought it was something we could do to give an example to the community,” Gaines said. “We love it. People have knocked on our door and said, ‘Hey, how did you decide to do that?’ We took a course that the Las Virgenes water district offers on converting to native plants. It’s been great.”
Calabasas High School junior Sydney Bregman said the forum was informative and she plans to update her home.
“I’d already learned a lot from attending (environmental) meetings and other stuff, but a lot of it was still new information,” said Sydney, 16. “I’m definitely going to take that information home and fix up my yard more, add more native plants. . . . I want to have a certified habitat.”