Government efforts to bring a strip of fresh green landscaping to Ruby Street has resulted in dying trees, brown grass, and confusion.
The state Department of Transportation spent $100,000 last fall planting 180 trees and grass along the new Ruby Street couplet at the request of the city of Spokane.
Although the city says property owners are responsible for the five-foot strips, some never got word. Others have simply refused. No city ordinance forces property owners to mow and water green space.
“It was something that was very poorly planned and a lot of assumptions were made,” said Dan Whitney, owner of Whitney’s Excell Foods. “The city never communicated with us one way or another.”
“It looks like in some places … there are some that aren’t getting any water,” said Bruce Steele, city traffic engineer.
On Thursday, half the trees were dried out, withered and needing water. Grass, too, was dry.
“We don’t know anything but we mowed it,” said Debra Mangini, a manager at the Prevocational Training Center at Ruby and Jackson. “We just figured it out all by ourselves, it looked pretty bad.”
The vocational center still hasn’t watered the two trees that front its property and the saplings have turned brown, their leaves frayed and falling.
“It’s pretty well dead now,” said Larry White, janitorial supervisor for the center.
The same was true for the lone tree - already dead - outside Schuck’s Auto Supply. “We had an employee with a lawn mower in the back of their truck and I said, ‘why don’t you mow it.”’
“It looked pretty bad. We haven’t been told anything. At least communicate - tell us something.” store manager Raul Valdez urged the city.
At Mountain Gear, a camping and outdoor supply store, owner Paul Fish has combined three garden hoses and stretched them 300 feet across his parking lot to Ruby Street.
He has been watering since Wednesday night in an effort to restore the grass and resuscitate three trees.
Fish had talked with state officials throughout the widening of Ruby Street, completed last year, and knew the irrigation was his to do.
“I’m embarrassed by my brown lawn,” he said. “I’m pleased they put the grass in, I knew it was my responsibility. I’m crossing my fingers that this stuff survives.”
Fish has cut into the pavement of the Mountain Gear parking lot, running a water pipe from the side of his building to the street at a cost of $1,200. Once the project is completed, he’ll be able to water the area easier.
That’s not the case for Whitney, of Excell Foods, who has one outside water source - on the Division Street side of the grocery store. He’s got a patch of brown outside his store.
Whitney said he’s willing to mow and maintain the area if the city or state installed irrigation.
Ruby Street is a state highway and the state maintains the road curb to curb. Agency spokesman Al Gilson said there’s never been any doubt that it’s up to property owners to maintain the green space. “Some are mowing, some have put in sprinklers, but others have not,” Gilson said.
Steele said homeowners generally maintain parking strips, but there is no city law requiring mowing and irrigation. Enforcing such a law would be a nightmare.
“When you start talking about planting strips citywide, you’re talking major ramifications,” he said. “I can understand how these can present a problem for some businesses.”
Public Works Director Brad Blegen said the hope is that business owners will see the landscaping as an amenity that beautifies their property and want to take care of it.
It is possible, he added, that some don’t know they are responsible. “Perhaps some notification is in order,” he said Thursday.
Fish, Mountain Gear owner, said the Ruby Street improvement was a major project and there could always be better communication. Still, the state did a pretty good job and some business owners would complain no matter what.
“It’s better than pavement,” he said, “it looks good.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo