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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Landscape Architect Is Blazing Her Own Trail of Beauty

Office campus tenants are not only desiring but increasingly demanding indoor-outdoor spaces that infuse their workplaces with fresh air, trees and other greenery. Even hospitals are taking steps to emulate relaxing resorts, installing plant-filled terraces and meditative gardens to take the scare factor out of receiving medical care.

It appears that the development and construction worlds are just recently embracing the gospel of green that landscape architects, including San Diego’s Vicki Estrada, have been preaching for their entire careers.

“I didn’t go into landscape planning to get rich, and I’m nowhere near that,” said Estrada, 64, president of Estrada Land Planning. “You go into this business because you have a love of the land and you want to see land put to better uses.”

Estrada’s company has been headquartered in downtown San Diego since its 1985 founding and is currently based at the NBC tower on Broadway. The company’s recent projects include the new fountain installed in front of the art museum at Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama, and a skate park now under construction in City Heights.

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Its local handiwork is also on display at places such as the trolley station at San Diego State University, SuperLoop bus stations in the University Towne Center area, the open space at the Renaissance La Jolla residential community, and the Robb Field skate park in Ocean Beach.

According to data supplied for the San Diego Business Journal, based on 2015 gross revenue, Estrada Land Planning ranked 21st among the 35 largest minority-owned businesses in San Diego County. The privately held company reported gross revenue of $1.42 million in 2015.

Estrada also worked on the design of the community welcome sign installed at Barrio Logan in 2014, among several projects over the years that have provided a natural expression of her Hispanic heritage; she is a first-generation landscape planner whose parents emigrated from Nogales, Mexico.

Estrada’s firm was certified as minority-owned by the California Unified Certification Program, and more than half of her 10 employees are women or minorities. She has generally found more project opportunities from her company’s status as a woman-owned business rather than a minority-owned enterprise, but more crucial than both of those has been the company’s long-time San Diego roots.

Estrada Land Planning’s downtown location has proven to be important as Estrada has built business relationships and increased her company’s presence, particularly in government-related landscape projects. About 80 percent of her business comes from civic projects overseen by downtown-based customers including the city of San Diego, the San Diego Association of Governments and Unified Port of San Diego.

She can respond quickly to concerns among clients and take meetings when necessary, though increasingly those meetings happen via online conferencing technologies. Estrada estimates her company has invested at least $500,000 over the years in updating fiber-optic networks, computer-assisted-design software, computer hardware and mobile devices, required to provide real-time project collaboration and other communications with clients.

Keeping up with the technology is especially necessary in a world where smaller firms like Estrada’s compete locally with much larger national and global companies aiming to provide one-stop destinations for project services, such as Los Angeles-based AECOM Technology Corp. and Irvine-based Stantec Inc.

Estrada is also constantly educated on her own industry during her three-times-per-year visits to her alma mater, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “I go there to help the students, but I end up learning new things from them about what’s happening, especially with the new technology,” she said.

While statistics on landscape architecture business ownership are not readily available, a look at the demographics of newly minted practitioners suggests that the industry’s mostly-white ownership base will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

A 2014 national study by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), which surveyed graduating landscape architecture students, found that nearly 84 percent of respondents were Caucasian.

An additional 12 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, six percent answered Hispanic/Latino, 2 percent identified as American Indian and 1 percent answered African-American. The trade association noted that those numbers have held steady for nearly 13 years.

More recently, the Washington, D.C.-based ASLA reported that U.S. landscape architecture firms experienced a business dip in the fourth quarter of 2015, though conditions generally are perceived as better or as good as those of a year ago.

About 74 percent of respondents to a quarterly survey reported “significantly higher” billable hours for the fourth quarter, down from 83 percent who gave the same response in the prior quarter. More than half of firms with two or more employees — 51 percent — said they planned to hire during the first quarter of 2016, the highest fourth-quarter tally in five years.

Estrada is optimistic that she and her local competitors in landscape architecture will be seeing increased business in coming years, stemming from the trend of developers and other companies adding more indoor-outdoor amenities to take advantage of San Diego’s iconic good weather. Local government leaders have also increasingly been emphasizing open spaces in new public projects.

“Like some other cities, San Diego does not have a really good, large public park space in the central urban core of downtown, but I think that’s going to change,” Estrada said.

Estrada Land Planning

President: Vicki Estrada

Headquarters: San Diego (Downtown)

Employees: 10

Revenue: $1.42 million in 2015

Founded: 1985

Company description: Provider of landscape architecture, design and related land-planning services.


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