Monday, November 2, 2009

How Goats came to LA

By Ariel

Len Betz of the Community Development Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) first thought of using goats to manage the undergrowth of a vacant property on Bunker Hill based upon an NPR story he heard, where goats helped manage marshy waterways in Vermont. The animals were able to operate in a delicate environment, manage vegetation, and they had the added benefit of hooves that can gently break up the soil, plus droppings that are good fertilizer. Bunker Hill is not a marshy environment; it used to be a premier residential location in the 1800s and is now a thriving downtown office core. This dense cluster of office buildings is the result of the efforts of the CRA/LA and its redevelopment of a previously ‘blighted’ urban core. However there is one empty lot left, a 2.5 acre parcel of land which the CRA/LA maintains, and which Betz’s office over looks.

Betz’s project falls under the purview of the property management department for the CRA/LA with support by the CRA/LA chief executive officer, Cecillia Estolano, because it coincided with goals of investing in sustainability and clean technology. It didn’t hurt that as Betz puts it, the “setting was a pretty spectacular view.” The project, which utilized a goat herder an hour-and-a half outside of Los Angeles, was a significant public relations win, with five channels covering the project, one even from Japan. The goat herder, Ranchite Tivo Boer Goats, came with recommendations from Caltrans who used them to manage hilly land around their tracks.

Ranchite Tivo brought in 100 goats for a contracted five nights, though the work was done in two days. In addition to the permanent fencing surrounding the CRA property, portable electric fences were added as a precaution to kept the goats safely penned up. To that end a guard spent the night, and the local area Business Improvement District patrol kept a special eye out for the goats. But nothing happened, and this year no one is even spending the night.

Generally, Betz spends approximately $7,500 on clearing the lot, a price that is a function of how many weeds and how many people it would take to clear those weeds. It usually “takes a crew about 2 to three days to clear the hillside,” but the goats did it in just under half the cost and had the added benefit of being a hit with the office crowd. Not only were the goats very easy to get along with, “they [just] eat and sleep... and follow the leader” but they left it (having trimmed 98%) looking like “someone has manicured the property.” All the CRLA had to do was sweep off their droppings from adjoining sidewalks and staircases. They were so popular that neighboring Angelus Plaza senior citizen center hired them shortly thereafter to clean up their community garden.

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