Brown is the New Green: New Legislation in 2016 for State of Emergency Drought

As of January 2016, bills to alleviate pressure from city homeowners having to adhere to drought regulations of water restrictions and landscaping regulations have come into effect. Homeowners began feeling the pressure from the Homeowner’s Association and city of Glendora to not only maintain an aesthetically pleasing yard, but also continue to cut back on their overall water usage.  However, lawmakers ruled that cities are prohibited in fining residents in a drought state of emergency.

Assembly Bill 1 (AB-1) has been in the works since December 2014. On the first of December, the bill had it’s first time read and print. A year and a half later, after going through process of legislation and amendments, it was signed by Governor Jerry Brown to be enacted at the start of the new year.

Author of the bill, Assembly member of San Bernardino Cheryl Brown, proposed this legislature addressing drought conditions affecting homeowners. Brown’s bill was presented and enrolled to Governor Jerry Brown in summer of 2015.  As a result of the current drought state of emergency implemented regulations, homeowners have had to make a decision on where water shall be conserved on their property; indoor or outdoor. This resulted in homeowners conserving in outdoor watering, making for lawns to begin looking brown.

AB-1 bill addresses cities, county, or city and country from imposing a fine to homeowners.Section one and two of the bill provides the declaration of what is required of the people of California. “The prohibition on imposing fines for failing to water a lawn or for having a brown lawn during a period for which the Governor has issued a proclamation of a state of emergency based on drought conditions is a matter of statewide concern and not a municipal affair, as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California Constitution” according to bill.

Cities across the state began enforcing that residents not only participate in mandated water reduction, as well without neglecting the maintenance of their property landscaping. This resulted in fines for any resident not complying with any aesthetic regulation.

In wake of controversial ordinances, and months before the bill was set in place, a couple in the city of Glendora, CA faced repercussions after cutting down their water usage, according to an article by Fox News. After mandatory outdoor watering restrictions were set in 2014, the couple faced fines up to $500 despite complying with water conservation regulations. According to the couple, a letter was sent to them stating “Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green.” They were then given 60 days to restore their law.

Maintaining landscape and conserving water were not considered mutually exclusive according to local officials in an interview with Fox News. However cities such as Glendora urged their costumers to find a middle ground in maintaining the landscape and water reduction.

“During a drought or non-drought, residents have the right to maintain their landscaping the way they want to, so long as it’s aesthetically pleasing and it’s not blighted,” said Al Baker, president of the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers in an interview

Similarly, Assembly member Mike Gatto of Glendale, CA also proposed a bill in efforts to get rid of city ordinances that restricts residents from installing a drought tolerant landscape as a counter effort to healthy landscape rules.

According to Assembly Bill 1164 (AB-1164), cities are now prohibited to enforcing any kind of regulation that does not allow installation of artificial turd on residential property, synthetic grass, or any other drought tolerant style landscaping.

This bill also attempts to meet Governor Brown’s executive order to participate in a 25-percent statewide water reduction. Section one of the bill, displays finds as to why drought tolerant landscape are necessary in time of state emergency. According to the Department of Water Resources, landscape irrigation represents 43 percent of urban water use. The bill stated in section I letter e that “The installation of synthetic grass or artificial turf, in lieu of conventional lawns and landscapes, can directly reduce outdoor water use to help meet the Governor’s mandated 25-percent statewide water use reduction.”

“In order to address the historic, prolonged, and potentially devastating drought, it is necessary that residents of this state be able to replace water inefficient landscaping with drought tolerant landscaping as quickly as possible,” transcript from bill.”

Not all residents of Glendora are having a hard time maintaining their landscape and conserving water simultaneously. Homeowners of Glendora like Roy Gould, did not have any issue with keeping his grass green and reducing his water usage before the bill was enacted.

“I water enough to keep it green, but I cut down on my water approximately 30-percent,” stated Gould. However, he still received notices that stated he needed to cut back on water usage in his water bill. Gould also received another notice in the mail encouraging him tot cut back on water but was never fined.

Gould believes that Glendora is the pride of the foothills and should be kept up as such. However, He does not believe that residents should be mandated to uphold a particular standard to their property. Gould stated he sees no problem in the neighborhood as a whole having a few lawns that are not as manicured as his own.

“I don’t worry about what my neighbors do and if they have an ugly yard that’s their choice,” said Gould.

Gould’s perspective on more legislation to decrease potential crisis of extreme drought conditions he deems as unnecessary. Instead, Gould hopes that residents will take action among themselves without the pressure of lawmakers increasing the price of water and other drought regulations. Gould believes we should focus more on action then the legislation behind it.

In years of good rainfall we need to try and conserve some of the water to make sure our water tables build up, and that’s that the only thing that I think we can do, said Gould.” “We have to build up our water tables in the good times and do it without a lot of taxpayer money.”

Although under scrutiny for previous implemented landscaping regulations, the Assistant City Manager of Glendora, Valerie Escalante says that the city’s intentions to encourage water reduction was never by fines.

“In general our approach has never been to fine anybody before that bill passed,” said Escalante. “Our approach was always the cooperation of our residents in their water usage.” She also stated that they found residents wanting to comply with ordinances/ regulations.

The implementation of bills AB-1 and AB-1164 have not made a substantial differences in the appearance of homeowners landscapes according to Escalante. Fines were not in place to discipline a multitude of residents that failed to maintain a healthy landscape. Escalante argues that the city is much like others in the ratio of brown to green lawns. The disconnect is the cities previous regulations and the expectations of some members at city hall.

“It’s actually kind of reverse where if you see a very green lawn and it’s kind of frowned upon because they are not doing their part,” stated Escalante.

Glendora is the highest target threshold of reduction for water in the state of California. According to Escalante, Glendora is one of the very few water suppliers up to their 36% target decrease of water reduction. The city continues to monitor water usage in comparison 2013 and have noticed substantial differences. The percent continued to rise until recently in September where reduction numbers began to decrease due to the end of summer outdoor water usage, and increase of indoor water usage in months of fall.

“We have to start targeting indoor water usage,” says Escalante,”We are still above the state average for conserving our water.” She credits the city’s success to residents and businesses stepping up to the plate.

In February the city extended its conservation efforts out until October 2016. These efforts can be found in the city’e extensive response plan to the drought emergency with programs such ‘Success of the Plan’ to promote drought awareness. The city’s initiative according to Escalante is the drive to push residents to continue conserving water. She stated that her job as assistant city manager is to now get the message across to the city’s costumers to continue exceeding the 36-percent reduction target.

“It will be a challenge no doubt,  but we will continue to do our part.”




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