The lawn-o-sphere is abuzz over another case of a homeowner getting penalized for trying to do something sensible about their lawn. According to this story in the LA Times and another one on KTLA News' website, Quan and Angelina Ha are facing a day in court, a fine of up to $1000, and up to six months in jail for ripping out their yard and replacing it with wood chips.
Now, a front yard that consists of nothing but bare ground and wood chips is not terribly attractive, and if the family really wants to do something for the environment,they'll plant drought-proof natives that help out the wildlife and don't bounce so much hot air back onto their house in the summer.
But still. They did put in a nice fence and a few xeric plants, which should satisfy code enforcers. Apparently it's still not enough. Did I mention that their water consumption dropped by 80 percent, which was their reason for doing it? And that they live in a desert climate?
And here's what's interesting about this–well, interesting in a sort of municipal code geek way:
According to the news reports, city codes require that at least 40% of the yard be landscaped with plants. But that's not actually what the code says.
My reading of the code tells me that front yard setback areas must be "permanently maintained with landscaping." A "setback" is the distance from the street to wherever the city allows a structure to be built. Some people's front yards are deeper than setback area, and it's hard to tell whether this is the situation for the Ha family. Regardless, whatever part of their front yard is in the "setback" has to have "landscaping."
17.12.040 Setback Lines.
E. Landscaping of Setback Area Required. All required setbacks
abutting a public right-of-way shall be permanently maintained with
And then we have this zoning requirement, which says that no more than 60% of the front yard can be paved. Well, that's different than saying that 40% has to be planted. Here's that section of the code:
E. Paving in Front Yard Areas. In addition to the provisions of
Sections 17.12.040(D) and (E) (requiring landscaping of front yard
setback areas), no more than sixty (60) percent of the front yard area
of a residentially developed property, which includes the entire width
of the property that is located between the residence and the street
right-of-way, may be covered with paved surfaces (such as concrete,
asphalt, brick, paving stones, etc.) A variance from this provision
shall be subject to review and approval of the Zoning Administrator.
Surely wood chip mulch doesn't count as paving. And then there's this:
Chapter 16.50 LANDSCAPING REQUIREMENTS
which basically just says that people have to comply with "That certain document entitled City of Orange Landscape Standards and Specifications."
That certain document didn't turn up on my searches of the City of Orange's website, at least not by that name. What I did find, ironically, are new guidelines for commercial and large residential projects requiring water-wise landscaping, and recommendations for homeowners that include synthetic turf (translation: plastic grass) and mulch. How's that plastic grass going to comply with the alleged 40% landscaping requirement?
The Design Review Committee's landscape guidelines also make no mention of the 40% plant requirement.
Regardless–I'm sure the city officials feel they have some reason for requiring these people to put more plants in their front yard, even if I can't find it. But honestly, don't city officials have something better to do? If you think they do, how about sending them a good ol' GardenRant love letter? You can contact the city council here and speak on behalf of the Ha family.