Steve Perez, the green gardener

DOWNEY - Steve Perez is passionate about the environment--Green through and through, from the color of his work T-shirt to his mode of transportation: a decidedly NON-fossil fueled tricycle, with front and rear baskets and a trailer for landscaping gear.Seldom has a person's young life experience prepared him so well for life's later calling. Steve was born in Cuba, a year after the Castro revolution occupied Havana. As a child, his first toy was a broken machete, and his first playground was the Cuban jungle near his home. He remembers as a toddler walking safely by himself along dirt roads to the neighborhood market, and his first bicycle was a full-size Schwinn--with no tires. The family finally secured exit visas in the mid '60's and ended up in Downey, where Steve continued to ride a bicycle, including jaunts to early mass as an altar boy, astride a Schwinn Spyder, and one epic cycling trip to San Diego as a young adult. Even while driving to school as a college student, Steve would ask himself why he needed a ton and a half of metal to get from place to place. Other interests included a love of surfing, where he would discover kelp in the ocean water saturated with Styrofoam pieces, as well as plastic grocery s hopping bags--which he stuffed into his wetsuit for proper disposal later. The family had become involved in real estate, and Steve developed a hugely successful real estate career--until a mid-life reassessment caused him to change his life's course. Nowadays Steve plies his landscaping profession to like-minded clients who agree with his conservationist perspective on drought-tolerant and California-native plants. To Steve, "A green front lawn doesn't make sense." He says, "It's a matter of perspective: if you're going to use the water, plant vegetables." This same passionate point of view extends to other environmental issues, where Steve also lives what he believes. Specifically, he sees benefits to public health and safety, as well as social and environmental value, in promoting pedestrian and bicycle travel. As an example, he's an advocate of the successful British "20 Is Plenty" program, now making inroads into some American cities, which seeks to reduce residential speed limits to 20 miles per hour. (In fact, the European Union Parliament recently resolved to recommend 20 mph speed limits on all residential streets throughout Europe.) Similarly, Steve sees the automobile as a symbol of a culture gone awry. He asks aloud, "Why do we have to drive four miles to buy a gallon of milk?" And he wonders why people feel the need to "drive something really fast, really far, for things they don't really need." Last but not least on Steve's list of environmental afflictions is the plastic grocery bag. In his words, "Plastic bags don't biodegrade; there's no need for them. They're a product of our convenience." These beliefs have led him into active participation with both the Downey Chamber of Commerce Green Committee, and the City of Downey Green Task Force. He is also working with City of Downey Code Enforcement and Keep Downey Beautiful to develop programs advancing drought-tolerant landscaping and community vegetable gardens. With all these passionate commitments, Steve does have a hobby. He joined a medieval warfare society as a way of bonding with his teenage son. But even that's connected: his tousled beard and unruly locks seem equally as suited to a modern-day environmental warrior as to a medieval man-at-arms. And--through special arrangement with the city--some old 25 mph speed limit signs have been recycled into facsimiles of Roman armor. As a big believer in reusing old materials, Steve has cut and refashioned the sheet metal into curved pieces which are linked together into variegated sections of Roman body armor; on the inside, fragments of the former speed limit sign are still visible. Meanwhile, Steve's one-year-old business continues to grow. So if you want someone to lovingly nurture your landscaping without spending a drop of fossil fuel--and especially to help convert it into something more drought tolerant and environmentally friendly--give The Green Gardener, Steve Perez, a call. Lars Clutterham is a Downey resident and charter member of the city of Downey's Green Task Force and Downey Chamber of Commerce's Green Committee.

********** Published: October 13, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 26