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Alhambrans urged to conserve water, but also keep lawns greens

Alhambra is officially restricting residents to watering their lawns twice a week. As of Aug. 1, residents are limited to a self-regulated watering schedule of once every three days before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m. Restrictions not withstanding, property maintenance codes mandate that "residents who leave their lawn and landscaping to become dry and turn brown, and subsequently die, are at risk of receiving a Code Enforcement violation notice."

Landscaping professionals and residents say watering on this restricted schedule and maintaining a green lawn is difficult. “It’s really tough to maintain a green lawn by watering twice a week,” said the owner of Mirage Gardens, Ray Pomposo, who has 11 years of experience landscaping in the Los Angeles area. Pomposo said that adding absorbent polymers to retain moisture is the only measure he could think of to keep a lawn green under these conditions.

Alhambra resident Karen Rangle, who was playing with her child in Alhambra Park on Monday, said that the weather conditions dry her lawn quickly and watering twice a week is having an impact. “It’s a little hard because it gets dryer but I understand we have to save water,” she said. “I try to water the dry and brown patches every third day but those patches are hard to maintain.”

The city's water shortage plan is a response to California's severe drought and a state mandate to conserve water. City officials say they realize there are challenges to requiring residents to keep their lawns alive with limited water usage. “We know it might be difficult but we are really asking residents to do their part as well to help conserve while still preserve the aesthetics," Director of Administrative Services Chris Paulson said during the July 28 City Council meeting. But, he continued, Alhambra Municipal Code requires residents to keep their lawns green, and “dead, dry, and brown lawns are against the municipal code.”

At Alhambra Park, city staff are also observing water conservation regulations. | Photo by Kyle Garcia

“The goal isn’t to punish anyone,” Paulson said in an interview, noting Alhambra Code Enforcement may warn and send notices to residents before issuing any fines. “It’s to preserve the attractiveness of the front yard landscaping while at the same time conserving water. It’s not an ‘either or,’ it’s to do both.”

Existing city employees will be in charge of water conservation enforcement, according to City Manager Mary Swink. All field personnel will be trained to look for violations and drive through the city. The four field officers each have 10 or more years of experience and are able to discern what is unacceptable, said Paulson. Paulson stressed the need for balance, adding that homeowners must maintain their lawns given the circumstances of the drought. “If some homeowner wants to let their lawn go to complete dirt then that won’t be tolerated,” he said.

For some residents, though, not only is following the rules and keeping grass green a challenge, the new system itself is confusing. At the July 28 City Council meeting, Alhambra resident Yolanda Dunchak charged that the self-regulating watering once every three days is inefficient, noting each week residents would be expected to water on a different day. Dunchak criticized the city for requiring residents to water two days a week without specifying which days, as Los Angeles does, arguing that the system is hard to remember.

“It didn’t hit us immediately that every three days would be a foolish attempt in having Alhambra citizens comply with a system — that we would have to check the calendar to water," Dunchak said. “I still would prefer a schedule that I know as easily as knowing when my trash will be picked up.”

Other residents advocated that the city should not only limit watering, but support residents in their efforts to conserve water. Linda Trevillian said in a comment on Alhambra Source that she is “disappointed” the city “has not followed the actions of other cities that are rewarding citizens for removing lawns and replacing them with cacti, succulents, most of which have beautiful blooms, and other sustainable plants.” The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is offering residents three dollars per square foot for replacing their lawn with water efficient landscaping, as well as other water conservation incentives.

Drought-resistant landscaping in Alexis Moreno's lawn. | Photo by Nathan Solis

Although the city of Alhambra does not offer incentives for residents to plant drought-resistant lawns, Paulson said converting a lawn to use less water is a possibility. While dead grass is a violation, there are lower-water alternatives accepted by the city. No-water landscaping such as decorative stone, brick, or gravel may occupy half of a homeowner’s front yard and the other half must be live vegetation. “If a homeowner wants to be proactive they can just do it. They might get a notice but once a communication channel is established, it’s very easy to work with code enforcement,” Paulson said, adding that it is only the serious violators whom code enforcement will be targeting. “Code enforcement is conscious of the drought and won’t use a heavy hand when enforcing the regulations.”

When Alexis Moreno let her lawn go brown in order to put in drought tolerant plants, she received a warning letter from the city in 2011 saying they had a few weeks to get our lawn green again or they would face a fine of no more than $100 for violating the Alhambra city code § 9.70.050. "We were in violation because we chose not to use the irresponsible amount of water, fertilizer, and chemicals needed to keep the lawn 'thriving,'" she wrote in an Alhambra Source article. Instead, she argued, the city would be better off encouraging behavior like hers.

"The city could offer landscaping classes, rebates for water-use reduction, or replacing the lawn in front of the police station,” Moreno wrote. “For residents, rebates or grants could provide incentives for a total lawn makeover or just reducing the size of the front lawn with some beautiful (low water) border plantings or other features. Alhambra is in a unique position with our own municipal water supply and we should be doing our best to be wise stewards of this precious resource."

Councilman Luis Ayala said during the July 28 meeting that the city should look into incentives for water efficient landscaping. "I think we really need to also include as part of these recommendations resources for people who are interested in making their gardens or lawns water efficient," Ayala said.

Residents can report excessive water usage and water code violations by calling the city's 24-hour code enforcement hotline at 626-570-3230, calling the Utilities Division at 626-570-5061, or emailing [email protected]

Editor's Note: Due to an editing error an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that city officials would fine up to $1,000 for brown lawns. This was based upon Alhambra City Code § 23.48.030. A city official, however, said that would not be enforced. The story incorrectly stated that the city would hire a new employee to enforce drought regulations. The story also stated that former Alhambra resident Alexis Moreno had been fined $100 for letting her yard go brown. She had received a warning letter; she had not been fined. We regret the errors.

The Alhambra Source encourages comment on our stories. However, we do not vet comments for accuracy or endorse links to posts in the comment section. The thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author of the comment.

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17 thoughts on “Alhambrans urged to conserve water, but also keep lawns greens”

  1. The drinking water fountain in Almansor Park right outside Baldwin School has been stuck in the ON position for weeks at least and the water has been flowing out continuously. The is no reason for the park workers not to notice that. I would guess the City government is the biggest water waster.

    1. As a person who walks that part daily I have seen this fountain repaired several times. Unfortunately, some people choose to break and vandalize the fountain over and over.

      1. Is it possible that the repairs were not done well? Why would someone vandalize that particular fountain but not others (near the restroom)? To prevent the students from using it? To allow the two cats there to bathe/drink at night? Regardless, the city needs to do something other than keep doing the same repair. Mike, did you actually see people do the repair? I mean, there are non-functional lights all over for months but no one cares to repair them.

  2. Who exactly besides Alhambra Source is even telling people about the water restrictions? All the apartments and houses around where I walk my dog every day are continuing to water as usual. They have not cut back whatsoever. What am I supposed to call in and report on all my neighbors because the City isn’t going to bother looking around or at the very least sending out information by mail? Get real.

  3. According to the City’s web site, “water consumers shall not Use or allow the use of water for landscape watering between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.” I just came back from Almansor Park. Sprinklers in two different areas, specifically, the baseball field next to the children’s playground and the soccer field next to the main restrooms, were turned on between at least 9:45AM and 10:25AM. Even if they had turned them on earlier, the watering would have had little effect on the morning exercisers because few would jog or play tai chi in the middle of the baseball field. And the sprinklers are obviously not working optimally as parts of the fields and lawns are kind of flooded and parts are brownish.

  4. I cannot help but wonder why city staff keep mowing the lawn every day at Almansor Park. They must be watering the lawn so much that the grass grows up so much that the frequent mowing is needed. If they need some job to do, they could have fixed the many broken lights there.

    1. This is another example that many public officials know only to point fingers at others but not themselves. To put it mildly, there is much much room for improvement in the Parks and Recreation Dept under the leadership of Ms Cythnia Jarvis or lack thereof.

      1. I would add that the City Council, City Manager, and Parks and Recreation Commission all share the blame. Park restrooms are dirty. Leaking faucet took months to fix. Non-functional lights and faulty sprinklers are never fixed. And no one enforces the ban on dogs, skateboards, tricycles, loud music, bird-feeding, etc in the park. …

    2. The fact that they are mowing the lawn means that they are watering the lawn excessively. I’ve seen complaints about drug and safety problem in Story Park, sanitary problems in Almansor Park, and etc. here in this web site before. Apparently Parks and Recreation is doing a poor job.

  5. Anyone who doesn’t believe in man-made global warming now needs to have their head examined.

    If this continues I suppose the most valuable real estate in the country will be around the Great Lakes region.

    If someone can invent a cheaper way to convert salt water to fresh, there might be a Nobel Prize waiting for them.

    1. I don’t think anyone can deny that humans have contributed to climate change, but anyone who believes that it is totally or mainly attributable to humankind “now needs to have their head examined”. The earth goes through temperature cycles and has been for millions or billions of years. Can we influence it? Of course we can. Can we stop it? absolutely not.

  6. What? Another s—– law by this “1950 mentally city council?” Are they going to fine themselves $1,000 for each brown “lawn” that is city property; for example the planters located at the corner of Main and Garfield are dry, and all those plants are dying; what about the park lawns that are also going brown, as well as other city property. While they at it, why not fine residents with broken sprinklers or sprinkles on timers that are wasting tons of water, as well as the city parks that waste water with their broken sprinklers or ones that “water” the cement. Anyone can see this waste in any neighborhood as water goes down the street into the drains.City Council members, why not think outside the box and develop a plan to reward those of us who want to eliminate our green lawns replacing them with drought tolerant gardens like Long Beach and other cities do.

  7. “Do not waste water but keep your lawns green.”

    Ha! Brought to you by the same people who insist that we all spend $15 billion dollars to pay for a tunnel that will open at highway quality “F.” Metro’s own rules is to not spend money on such construction unless it opens at least at “D.”

    Seems either someone’s logic is not screwed on too tight or someone’s expecting part of that $15 billion.

  8. It is not often that I come to the defense of Alhambra but we discussed this in the Sierra Club and I actually had looked at the ordinance.
    Front Lawns ONLY
    1. You can replace your lawn with at least 50% other vegetation and there are many California natives for ground cover
    So Rip out the sod – don’t dry it out – give pieces to others who need to repair/spot fix their lawns and plant your natives in 2-3 days
    Make sure you have a plan to show at least 50% will be vegetated when mature – I always use gallon plants

    2. If you have a lawn and want to reduce water use soaker hoses rather than sprinklers put them on a timer for about 5am until sunrise or say 7am

    3. If you use a sprinklr – reduce volume by 1/2-1/3 and lengthen the time at the lower volume so that the water builds up in the soil not in the gutter.

    4. If you could find a plugger – round roller with special tubes for cutting a little hole in the sod – this will aerate and provide additional water storage in the lawn root zone

    5. So Far no one has fought the graywater reuse issues – BUT be very careful not to use any water that has ANY sodium or ANY boron soaps involved – not even for the rinse water…
    This way both ssides win

  9. Alhambra resident

    Why does this not surprise me. Another way for the City to collect revenue form its residents. At a time when the California Governor signs a $7.5 BILLION plan to tackle drought, and place in the November ballot, the City of Alhambra chooses for all residents to have lawns in pristine condition.

    City Council members need a reality check.

  10. First of all, thanks for including my previous comments in your article. I am honored! Second, when I DID have a front lawn (I removed it a few months ago because I intend to replace it with succulents and cacti, but don’t have the funds right now), it was St. Augustine, and I watered it twice a week for about 15-20 minutes in the early morning. My lawn never suffered from twice-a-week watering, first because I watered early in the day, when there was little or no breeze or wind, and second, because deep watering is preferable to short (5-10-minute) watering. Water in late afternoon or evening draws pests and leads to other problems in the garden.

    If the city insists on fining residents whose lawns turn brown, an action I disagree with, those who intend to replace their lawn with sustainable, drought-resistant plants should remove the lawn, rather than letting it go completely brown, to prevent being fined. I’m still highly disappointed that the city isn’t interested in giving residents INCENTIVES to replace their lawns. I also believe that the lawns by the City Hall and Police Department headquarters should be removed in favor of cacti and succulents or other drought-resistant plants. More and more, citizens in the Southland are realizing that we DO live in a desert and that desert plants are beautiful and have fascinating blooms.

    I was introduced to succulents (although I’d had a few for years)by a husband-and-wife team in Montebello whose business is called Succulent Designs. They are very talented and increasingly in demand as the drought continues and have done absolutely beautiful work both in private residences around the county and in large installations. Their work can be seen on their Facebook page. I can’t wait to see how my front yard will look once they have done their magic on it.

  11. Once again, our City Council brain trust in action.