A CBS Los Angeles investigative reporter has discovered a possible link between turf-removal company Turf Terminators and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
In April, Garcetti praised Turf Terminators during his State of the City address saying that they were “an L.A. company that leverages rebates to replace water-guzzling lawns with beautiful water-wise plants – like the ones you see on this stage – for free.”
The CBS reporter, David Goldstein, discovered a money trail between the company and mayor that makes at least one observer, City Watch LA columnist Jack Humphreville, skeptical.
According to records from the L.A. Ethics Commission, the CEO of Turf Terminators, Ryan Nivakoff, donated $1,400, which is the legal maximum, to Garcetti’s campaign a month before the mayor’s speech.
Another maximum donation of $1,400 came from a man in New Jersey named Victor Gallo. While he was listed as a trader with KG Capital, Goldstein found in California business records that a Victor Gallo of New Jersey was employed by Turf Terminators.
In a span of four weeks before Garcetti’s speech a total of 13 donations were made to the mayor’s campaign and nonprofit organization amounting to $25,650. These donations all came from Turf Terminator employees, relatives and even Nivakoff’s mother in Florida, according to the CBS report.
“No, I don’t buy it,” Humphreville told CBS Los Angeles. “They’re not independent. They’re all linked together. Why would some old lady in Florida go out and give Eric Garcetti $1,400 bucks out of the goodness of her heart?”
When Goldstein asked the mayor about whether Turf Terminators had bought its way into his speech, Garcetti said he was unaware of the donations until after the speech.
According to the Metropolitan Water District records, Turf Terminators has received $23.6 million in rebates to convert 9,958 lawns. At the peak of the rebate program, the company employed 450 workers, but now has laid off the majority and is no longer accepting new customers.
Many customers who did hire Turf Terminators have complained about the work, saying that within a week or two grass had grown up through the gravel.
“They’re just looking to make as much money as they can off the turf rebate program,” Paul Herzog of Surfrider Foundation told LA Weekly. “They’re the Uber of landscaping. They’ve disrupted the marketplace.”
Reports say a number of other landscaping companies have had to fix the work that Turf Terminators did. “It’s rocks with shrubbery,” Ellyn Meikle, owner of a drought-tolerant nursery, told LA Weekly. “It’s just a bad business. They’re just ripping off customers.”
While no laws appear to have been broken, the L.A. Ethics Commission is continuing to look into the matter.