SLO County's efforts at branding may not be worth the cost

San Luis Obispo County is launching a “communications campaign” that will, among other goals, attempt to “humanize the county.” Strategies include a branding campaign that will standardize the image of the county; redesign the county website; use TVs in the government center lobby to promote county programs and upcoming meetings; create an “engagement team” to produce monthly online newsletters; do a better job of reaching out to local media with story ideas; and focus more on communicating through social media.

To measure how well the county is communicating, it will track website activity and keep a spreadsheet of media coverage, among other efforts.

The branding effort — which includes working on standardization of the county seal (there are several unapproved variations floating around) — will cost $20,525. In addition, the campaign will require an initial 700 hours of staff time and ongoing allocation of 40 to 90 hours of staff time per month. That’s not counting time the IT staff will spend on the website.

We’re all in favor of making government websites easy to use. Ditto for making sure the public is well informed via news releases, newsletters, public service announcements and, sure, Twitter and Facebook. And we like the idea of engaging the public via open houses and town hall meetings.

But the county doesn’t need to engage in a popularity contest. While some amount of PR is necessary, we share Supervisor Lynn Compton’s skepticism.

“Am I the only one, or does this sound Kim Kardashian-like to be tracking all this stuff?” she asked Tuesday, when the program was presented.

No, Supervisor Compton, you aren’t.

We won’t hurl any brickbats just yet, but we’ll set some aside in case the county starts devoting too much time and energy to keeping up with the Kardashians.

SLO girl spreads gardening wings

We toss a bouquet of butterfly flowers to Genevieve Leroux, the resourceful 9-year-old SLO girl who turned her backyard into a monarch-friendly garden. She planted milkweed and other drought-tolerant plants that attract monarchs, as well as birds and other species of butterflies.

The National Wildlife Federation recently certified Genevieve’s garden as wildlife habitat, which means it’s now part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge — a national effort to restore habitat for pollinators. The campaign aims to register a million public and private gardens and landscapes to support pollinators such as birds and bees.

A pollinator garden doesn’t require a lot of space; Genevieve had a relatively small yard to work with, but she made the most of the space.

Interested in following her lead? Find out more at www.millionpollinatorgardens.org.

Rancher says ‘nay’ to development

If you’ve never cruised past the gorgeous Varian horse ranch on South County’s Corbett Canyon Road, you’ll have to trust us. It’s one of the gems of San Luis Obispo County.

Sheila Varian, who’s raised Arabian horses on the ranch for 60 years, says she couldn’t bear the thought of the property being developed someday.

Neither could we, which is why we’re glad to hear that a plan is in the works to preserve the ranch through a conservation easement. The California Rangeland Trust is working to raise $2 million to $2.5 million to purchase the easement.

Here’s how it would work: Varian, 78, would continue to own and operate the ranch until her death, at which time it would remain under the management of Angela Alvarez, the current ranch manager. Upon her retirement, the ranch will be donated to the Rangeland Trust.

“Now, everything on this place will be safe, and you will be safe to visit here,” Varian told guests at a jubilee celebration held over the summer.

That’s great news; you don’t have to be a horse lover to appreciate what it means to add to the county’s permanent inventory of open space.

We offer a saddlebag of bouquets to Varian and the Rangeland Trust for their efforts to preserve a piece of old California.