Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Orange officials sue couple who removed their lawn"

Picture from Angelina and Quan Ha walk through their frontyard with daughter Zella. After the city informed them that their property was not up to code, they added bark, fencing and drought-tolerant plants.(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times / February 25, 2010)

This is the title of an article published in Los Angeles Times, march 2, 2010, written by Amina Khan.
City codes require that live landscaping cover 40% of the yard. Quan and Angelina Ha say their water use has dropped 80% since they replaced the grass with wood chips and drought-tolerant plants.”

This is not the first case in USA. In my post “ Struggling for the front lawn”, date September 29th, 2010, I wrote about an old precedent:” The neat front lawn somehow communicates an expected behavior, and the struggle begins when the behavior is out of the common rules.
Amos Rapoport was an American architect and anthropologist, who wrote about an interesting case in the suburbs of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin in 1972. “Given the local climate, and the particular orientation of her house, a woman decided that she would have her vegetable garden in front –where a lawn is normally to be found in Anglo -American culture. The Municipality was outraged, and many special council meetings were held. Court actions took place and the case eventually reached the Wisconsin Supreme Court”. (Rapoport, The Meaning of the Built Environment, p. 129). At last, the woman was allowed to grow her vegetables. This case shows us that the front lawn is much more than a piece of grass and that there are feelings involved in its arrangement.”
Cities can be very hard about the front yards, because whatever the treatment is, it will be affecting the rest of the neighborhood. If you buy a house, at least in California, you must know your obligations: pay the loan, pay for the lawn maintenance, pay taxes, legalize any illegal construction, keep it livable and in good condition.
Regarding the lawn, it is reasonable to require between 40% or 50% of landscape, not only for aesthetic reasons, there is also need for soils drainage. The rest of the front lot is left for the driveway manouvers. The same rule is applied at the back, or back and sides, though I’ve seen some cases, -as the backyard is not controlled by the inspectors after construction works-, sometimes the homeowners decide to pour concrete completely, what is not a good idea. They try to save money in water and gardener’s expenses, but the house is automatically decreased in its value, because it has no garden.
This is the story of Quan and Angelina:

"Some Southern California cities fine residents for watering their lawns too much during droughts.
But in Orange, officials are locked in a legal battle with a couple accused of violating city ordinances for removing their lawn in an attempt to save water.
The dispute began two years ago, when Quan and Angelina Ha tore out the grass in their frontyard. In drought-plagued Southern California, the couple said, the lush grass had been soaking up tens of thousands of gallons of water -- and hundreds of dollars -- each year.
They said they were trying to do something good for the environment.
"We've got a newborn, so we want to start worrying about her future," said Quan Ha, an information technology manager for Kelley Blue Book.”
But city officials told the Has they were violating several city laws that require residents to cover significant portions of their frontyards with live ground cover. On Tuesday, the couple is scheduled to appear in Orange County Superior Court to challenge the city's lawsuit against them.
Soon after the city complained about the yard, the Has placed wood chips on top of the dirt, with help from neighbor Dennis Cleek.
"It's their yard, it's not overgrown with weeds, it's not an eyesore," said Cleek, whose own yard boasts fruit trees. "We should be able to have our yards look the way we want them to."
But city officials determined the fix was not acceptable, saying city codes require that 40% of the yard be landscaped predominantly with live plants.
"Compliance, that's all we've ever wanted," said Senior Assistant City Atty. Wayne Winthers.
Last summer, the couple tried to appease the city by building a fence around the yard and planting drought-tolerant greenery -- lavender, rosemary, horsetail and pittosporum, among others.
They sent a photo of the yard to city officials in October. But according to the city, their landscaping still did not comply with city standards.
"They put up a nice fence, but [the photo] didn't show anything about how they had complied with code, as far as the frontyard goes," Winthers said, "nor did it include a site plan."
At the end of January, the Has received a letter saying they had been charged with a misdemeanor violation and must appear in court.
"It's just funny that we pay our taxes to the city and the city is now prosecuting us with our own money," Quan Ha said. "Doesn't it waste funds to go back and forth in court, rather than sending pictures, e-mails and having phone conversations?"
Winthers said he hopes the city can work out a compromise. "We know times are tough, but we're willing to work with them, we'd be more than happy to," he said.
Meanwhile, the couple said they had reduced their water usage from 299,221 gallons in 2007 to 58,348 gallons in 2009.,0,3613612.story

In my opinion, based on this picture only, I think that the main reason for the couple’s  decision was to save money in water expenses. And they didn’t take care of the landscape as they should have done based on the City requirements. If they choose more drought tolerant species, some of the cheap ground cover type, that blooms in Spring, growing wild in the mountains without needing too much water, it would have helped them, they can still defend their point of view about planting native species instead of lawn. To spread wood chips, is not enough. Also, with these chips, there is need for an aesthetic sentiment, at least considering the neighbors.  The fence does not solve the problem.
If they do not agree with the City’s regulations, they have to select another City out of Orange County where to live. Maybe move to East Los Angeles, where nobody cares about landscaping.

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