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LAs as Influencers/Advocates: Stephanie Landregan

September 3, 2015

As UCLA Extension Landscape Architecture program director, a 20-year instructor, and active citizen with a long history of giving back, Stephanie Landregan, FASLA, PLA knows the reach that one landscape architect can have. She recently spoke with us about advocacy, service, and the politics of design.


You are the Director of UCLA Extension’s Landscape Architecture Program, and Horticulture and Gardening Program, and have taught there for over 20 years. What are the skills and ideas that you most hope to instill in your students?

It is so important for students to understand that “good design works”. It works with nature, it works with culture, it works through politics, and it works, hopefully timelessly, because it is a good functioning system. I talk about history, current history, history that is being made, what national monuments are being created, why were they created?

I encourage students to understand the politics of design. How design influences politics and politics influences design. And this leads to teaching that landscape architects need to be proactive in crafting policy. Landscape architects are systems designers and our input makes for better laws and a better world. We are not as large a profession as architects and engineers, but we should be powerfully visible to influence and provide guidance and insight into governance and policymaking.

Throughout your career, you have devoted significant time to serving the profession and your community. How do you balance this volunteer work with your job responsibilities?

There is never a better time to give back than the present. I find serving on committees and speaking as a landscape architect at meetings to be the best ways to exhibit the wisdom and value of landscape architecture. In the 1990s I became very active in ASLA, serving as my chapter President and going to Washington DC. ASLA National opened my eyes to the power of being an active citizen, the participatory element of influencing legislators AND legislation.

I was involved locally on my city’s design review board, but I was encouraged by my friend Pat Smith to apply to be appointed to the State of California’s Landscape Architect’s Technical Committee (LATC) by the Speaker of the Assembly. Being involved at the state level gave me a much larger view of why landscape architects need to be involved, not just during Sunset Review, but really involved with legislators. So I became very active in politics and helping to elect individuals who shared my love of nature, open space and the environment. Because of my political involvement with key legislators, I was re-appointed twice more by two other Speakers. I just finished serving 12 years on the LATC and was recently appointed in January 2015 by Governor Jerry Brown to the State Mining and Geology Board. That board went without a landscape architect for 12 years!

My jobs have all supported visibility and understood the power of political relationships. I have a difficult time saying no, and I look closely at the time commitment expected. After all, I am representing all landscape architects. That may sound grandiose, but truly, often we are the face of the profession, and it is an important role to assume. These positions are leadership positions, and it is my hope to parlay commitment into leadership to encourage students and emerging professionals to be proud and share their professional passion and knowledge through advocacy and leadership.

You have been very active in the City of Glendale where you live: you’re in your second term on the Planning Commission and previously served as Historic Preservation Commissioner for 3 years and as a Design Review Board member for 6 years. What impact do you think you’ve had?

Since moving to Glendale, California in 1993, I have been involved in serving my community. Hard to believe that in a city of 200,000 there are only 5 licensed landscape architects! I am proud to say that almost every landscape architect in the city has served the city. Not everyone can find the time to serve on commissions, but it is so important that landscape architects serve. I am proud to say that most everyone in my city knows what a landscape architect is and does! That is a huge impact.

I was privileged to be part of the Historic Preservation Commission that approved our historic overlay zone guidelines. My proudest impact was successfully discouraging a “plant list” for our design review board. It isn’t just about plants or aesthetics, it is all about the plant-water-soil relationship and appropriate irrigation (at least in California). Now that California is in one of the worst recorded years of drought, I advocate for living plants versus artificial turf in residential situations. Our city recently banned plastic bags, but is considering plastic turf.

Education is a big part of advocacy. As experts in our field, we are obligated to present options and data. I am not always successful, but I’ve learned to keep at it. Effecting change takes grit, vision and time.

What is your proudest advocacy moment? What convinced the other side to come around?

Every advocacy moment is a proud moment. It is important to be focused. Recently, at a city council meeting my presentation was hijacked by a council member who had the “bully pulpit”. This is one of the hazards of public speaking and advocacy: You get to present, and you often don’t get to reply to an elected official who may pick and choose information that fits his/her agenda. This particular discussion concerned artificial turf in front yards. The council member focused on “it looks as good as grass” and then focused on grass as evil, stating “fertilizer, gas mowers= grass”, no mention of plastic, beneficial insects, stormwater runoff, or heat island effect. His intent was to allow “good looking artificial turf” in front yards based upon a very generous rebate being available to residents who removed grass and put in a variety of alternatives, artificial turf being one.

Rather than return to council to convey science and environmental concerns again to no avail, I worked on influencing the state requirements for rebates. I was not alone; there were many of us from across the state, and — this needs to be emphasized — advocacy is best when there is a groundswell of support. We were successful! The new state rebates will not be available for projects that replace lawns with artificial turf.

There are more ways than one to affect policy, and there are many ways to be involved. But involvement needs to happen when legislation, guidelines and decisions are being made. We must be ever vigilant as to these opportunities to affect policy.

What advice do you have for others looking to play an active role to ensure that the landscape perspective is included in land use and development decisions?

It is so important for landscape architects to volunteer for commissions and boards within the city, region, or state. Take the time to speak out at public meetings, write the letter to the editor, share your knowledge and expertise.

It is important to have an opinion! Too often landscape architects are touted as “facilitators” — all good, but let’s be leaders too. Take a stand.

We need to be more active in politics. You don’t have to give a huge amount of money to candidates, but I support candidates financially. Volunteering your time is just as important: phone bank, walk with candidates, have a coffee with them. Tell them you would be happy to answer questions on areas such as water conservation, landscape ordinances, preservation, tree ordinances and environmental stewardship — whatever your passion is. Encourage your staff, especially your young staff to be advocates and leaders.

Perry Howard said “Each one can reach one”, but in reality, your reach is unlimited if you are an advocate!

UCLA Extension is one of the nation’s oldest, largest, and most comprehensive continuing higher education providers. The 3-year Landscape Architecture Certificate program provides design methodology, technical knowledge, and land stewardship, which is applied to actual sites within the Los Angeles area. The Horticulture & Gardening Certificate program combines environmental stewardship with the art and science of horticulture, providing students with a solid foundation in plant biology, soil health, plant identification, and horticultural care.

Any opinions expressed in this interview belong solely to the author. Their inclusion in this article does not reflect endorsement by LAF.

LAF is grateful to the many individuals and organizations that provide financial support towards fulfilling our mission to support the preservation, improvement, and enhancement of the environment.

Much of what LAF is able to accomplish would not be possible without the thought leadership and financial investment of our major supporters, including ASLA, which provides over $125,000 of in-kind support annually.