Something is Rotten in the State of Utah


LawnAh, the all-American lawn.  Lush, green, required by law, and enforceable by jail time.

We return to Orem, Utah, the city that has asked its residents to stop gardening for three years while it applies pesticides in an attempt to stop an invasive beetle from spreading.  Now they’re jailing little old ladies who don’t water their lawns.

Betty Perry, age 70, was arrested on July 5 when she refused to cooperate with police who showed up to issue her a citation for failure to water her lawn and for the general weediness of the place. During the scuffle, she fell and got a bloody nose.  After she was booked at the police station, the higher-ups realized they had a PR nightmare on their hands and let her go.

Now the city has offered to assist her with her lawn problems, and feminist attorney Gloria Allred has gotten involved.  We assume that the ordinance she was accused of violating was Chapter 11 of Orem’s city ordinace, which includes the following:

16. Vegetation. Dead, decayed, diseased, or hazardous trees, weeds, hedges, and overgrown or uncultivated vegetation which is in a hazardous condition, is an obstruction to pedestrian or vehicular traffic, or which is likely to harbor rats, vermin or other pests.

A harmless enough ordinance (and Chuck B. can certainly attest to the value of some kind of regulation of overgrown gardens given his experience with his neighbor), but I think the folks in Orem are having a little trouble with interpretation.  A dry, brown lawn is a downright sensible decision right now.  Weeds are a hassle, and they’re unsightly, but a hazardous condition?  And who defines weeds?  Who defines pests?


  1. Wow. And wow again. It’s an alternative universe where a decade of hideous drought, the western water wars and burgeoning environmental consciousness just don’t exist.

  2. Amy, I don’t know if you’ve heard the latest in my little saga…there have been changes. Start here and click through the updates linked at the bottom of the post.

    And here for the final, bloody denouement:

    While I am generally no fan of celbrattornies, I hope Gloria nails those fuckers to the wall for arresting an old lady like that.

  3. Unbelievable. Right there in a nutshell, the insanity of America’s relationship to its landscape. Waste water, bloody up old ladies if you must, but above all, defend the lawn that represents our cultural uniformity and irreproachability.

    There is fascism in the suburban landscape, and not buried very deeply, either.

  4. There are always two sides to every story.
    I used to have two neighbors living on either side of my house, they were sisters and they were elderly.
    The entire neighborhood chipped in and helped both aging women with their lawn and garden chores.
    Then both passed on and one of the homes was passed on to a family member who we call ” Jethroe”.
    Jethoe is a P I G .
    The house and yard is one giant compost heap.
    The city health department has had to come out to issue a citation in order for Jethroe to clean up his hazardous yard.
    So though I have empathy for the elderly Utah woman I also have empathy for her surrounding neighbors whose property values are lessened due to the unkept yard and the fire and potential health hazard she carelessly puts upon her surrounding neighbors.

  5. Well, the ordinance did say “which is likely to harbor pests,” and seriously, you never know how many of them there deadly Japanese beetles might be living in that jungle, er, lawn. Maybe Officer Friendly lost a rose bush in the line of duty during the Japanese Beetle Wars, too.

    (Stuff like this makes me a little nervous because I just tore up half the front lawn and replaced it with flowering plants.)

  6. awesome. i think more laws have precipitated out of little old ladies than anything else. when i’m sixty, i shall do my darnedest to continue this anarchist and old lace tradition.

  7. I guess that means so much for pride of ownership.
    Who cares if the neighborhood looks like a pig sty, has 3 foot tall dried grass creating the optimum fire hazard conditions, have rats living in the underbrush and pieces of oil soaked plywood propped up against the house ( did you see the photo of the Utah womans domain – very attractive ! – not )

    To desire to have a safe habitable environment -now that’s twisted .

  8. I appreciate where you’re coming from Michelle — in fact, I’ll see your crappy neighbor and raise you a neighboring hovel/property so bad that the county tax assessor lowered my property tax assessment immediately after I showed him photos of it. He would, of course, be the ONLY county official I could get to take any action with regard to the mess.

    While the greasy plywood would not be my choice, there is no indication that her grass was in fact high and harboring pests — just that it was brown and unwatered. THAT’S what I object to. The notion that anything other than an irrigated lawn is a public nuisance. Sure, there can be yards in various states that legitimately raise nuisance issues, but an unwatered lawn just isn’t per se one of them.

  9. Have any of you actually seen the picture of her lawn? It was not tall nor were there many weeds there was littel to no garbage it was simply brown and dead. While unattractive I would hardly call it a hovel, pigsty or hazarad, it was simply the lawn of an old lady that could not afford to take care of it. So I guess it is a crime to be old and poor and those of us that simply cannot afford to have perfect lawns and houses just have no PRIDE in home ownership and we should all just be shipped off to jail. I happen to have so much PRIDE in owning my own home I work very hard just to pay for it and I will have to deal with it if my lawn is brown.

  10. Indeed there are two sides to every story. You totally missed the other side.

    Betty Perry has a mental problem. She can’t/won’t/doesn’t take care of herself or her property.

    People have tried to help her and she spits venom back in her face. Neighbors/churches/volunteers get the same treatment. Spit in their face.

    She was arrested for not cooperating with a police offier, i.e. among other things, refusing to give her name to him. All he wanted was her name to write on the citation and he’d be on his way, but no, Betty upped the ante. I hope they beat the crap out of the old bitch.

    Next time, print the other side.

  11. I hope someday Jim when you are old and unable to defend yourself and even better let’s hope you are unable to care for yourself that someone bullies you and beats the crap out of you and as they are way-laying your stupid butt I hope you recall Betty Perry and the evil things you said about her. Your comment makes me wonder though Jim, do you beat the crap out of your own Grandmother because only an abusive jerk would make comments like you have made.

  12. It is so cool– you can keep your yards bright and cheery during droughts or any rough planting/blooming time. Simply check out the container gardening link to the website…. invaluable tips will promise success! Anyone can do it. 🙂

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