California Drought: Should a Landscaping Business Be Allowed to Reap Huge Profits on the Turf Rebate Program?

05/19/2015 11:10 am ET | Updated May 19, 2016

As a landscaper that has been working with the Turf Rebate Program (#cashforgrass) since the program's inception, I have seen some changes in the last year that I don't think are for the better.

One big problem that I have seen is landscaping companies that are cashing in on the rebate program. They install landscapes at a fraction of the cost of the rebate check and rake in huge profits.

Should the rebate program allow this to happen? Was this really the intention?

As a business person, I am certainly interested in making a profit. However, the program is being used so that businesses can make 50 percent or more in profit. How is this happening? Because the homeowner is told that they are getting "free" landscaping. When you pay for something -- actually taking out a checkbook, credit card or cash you see how much money is going out and I think are more likely to really look at what you are getting for the money.

The Metropolitan Water District is going to be looking at putting more money into the rebate program in the next week. The money has been used up with so many rebate applications in the last month.There are no more applications being approved at the moment, so the program is on hold.

Here are my ideas as someone that as worked with the program for many years. Implementing these changes would help to get the program back to what it was actually intended to do:

1. Do not allow contractors or businesses to submit the applications or receive the checks.

This way the homeowner will actually be aware of how much in rebate they are receiving. They will then know how much they are really paying to have this landscaping done. When they see that the check will be for example $4,000, I would hope they will question if they will be getting a $4,000 project.

2. The rebate restrictions should limit the amount of mulch or gravel used.

As a landscaper, I know this is an easy way to cut a budget. This is what the companies are doing to make huge profits -- make most of the landscape gravel or mulch. In addition,I do worry about the amount of gravel that is being put down and how it is heating up our cities even more.

3. The rebate requirements should be changed to 40 percent planted at time of installation -- not at maturity.

Another way that you can really increase your profit as a landscaper is to use small plants. In many of these installations I have seen four-inch plants used. Right now, the requirement is 40 percent of the turf area must be planted, but at the maturity of the plants. Changing that to 40 percent of the turf area at installation must be planted, not at maturity would be a much better requirement. There may be some landscapers that disagree with me, and that this will mean it is over planted -- but pruning can be done and this is a much better alternative than yards with mostly gravel.

4. If a landscaper is doing the project an invoice with costs should be submitted with the final rebate application.

This is done for synthetic turf, so implement it for the landscaping part as well. This will really help to curb the large profits on these installations.

5. Give some guidance to homeowners on how much they should expect to pay for a project and reasonable profits that landscaper installers should make.

I do realize that this is a difficult one. But because of the nature of this particular program I think that some guidelines need to be in place so that businesses are not reaping in huge profits on this unreasonably.

I do fully expect to get a lot of negative comments from the companies that have been making a lot of money on this program. No, my motivation isn't for us to get more business, we have been very busy and still are. My motivation is to have the rebate used as I think it was intended. Replace your water-demanding lawn with an attractive, environmentally friendly garden; this can be done by a landscaper who makes a reasonable profit and does designs that are specific to each different home or business. Can it be done by someone that installs only a few plants and a truckload of gravel? I don't think so. I am concerned that the decisions we make now will affect how California gardens will look in 10 year. So how we make this transition from grass to low water gardens is critical.