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San Diego County supervisors OK multi-year program to increase native plants in region

An undated photo of a California lilac, native to the San Diego area, in bloom.
Courtesy of County News Center
An undated photo of a California lilac, native to the San Diego area, in bloom.

San Diego County supervisors voted 4-0 Wednesday in favor of a multi-year program to increase the use of native plants in the region.

The program was developed by the San Diego Regional Biodiversity Working Group, which formed via a proposal from Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Terra Lawson-Remer.

Lawson-Remer said that more native plants aren't just good for the environment; they also benefit the regional economy in the form of more landscaping and related service jobs. She said the program will incentivize "residents, landscapers and businesses to protect the biodiversity that makes our region so beautiful and unique, as well as require native plants be used in many county projects."


With climate change threatening the county's unique habitats and ecosystems, "the good news is that we have the power to protect these fragile habitats, and this initiative will make doing so easier than ever," she added.

Fletcher added that more native plants will also help with habitat corridors, drought management and stormwater reduction.

The program calls for planting demonstration gardens and developing educational materials for San Diego County students. Seven development strategies are:

  • a landscaping design manual featuring definitions, and installation best practices and parameters;
  • a requirement for native plants at new county facilities or retrofits, if possible;
  • a website offering educational and training resources;
  • educational materials and resources for residents and landscaping professionals;
  • a landscaping professional certification program in collaboration with community colleges and other regional partners;
  • incentivizing native plants for private developments in the unincorporated areas, in the form of rebates for converting lawns; and
  • free, easy-to-use landscape design templates online.

The full program will be carried over a six-year period, according to a county Planning and Development Services report.

Native plants include the California lilac, Cleveland sage, coast live oak, Penstemon and sticky monkeyflower.


During Wednesday's public comment period, most speakers were in favor of the program.

Frank Landis of the California Native Plant Society said his group was committed to helping the program succeed. "We've got a long way to go, and hope it will be a very rewarding journey," he added.

Mary Liesegang, a manager with the conservation group Wildcoast, said native plants can support between 10 and 15 times more species, while healthy wetlands can hold 10 times the amount of carbon.

Mary Matava, San Diego County Farm Bureau president, said the organization supports an educational/incentive-based approach, but some native plants are hard to establish on certain terrain. Matava suggested the county hire a specialist to work with nursery landscapers and provide workshops to homeowners.

Suzanne Hume, founder of CleanEarth4Kids, said that while her group supports more native plants, it wasn't invited to participate in the original program development. She added that the county "must stop using toxic pesticides."

Supervisor Jim Desmond was absent Wednesday, and his office didn't provide a formal reason. Wednesday's regular meeting, which focuses on land use and environmental issues, was the last for 2022.

County officials who won their elections last month — including Desmond and Fletcher — will be sworn in during a Jan. 9 ceremony. The board's first regular meeting of the new year will be Jan. 10.