By James Poulos.
Nevada, where lush lawns have largely become a thing of the past, has become a landscaping model for California.
Although it was once unthinkable for Nevadans to give up on green grass, a combination of incentives eventually succeeded in changing attitudes. “Using community outreach and cash incentives,” the Los Angeles Times reported, the Water Smart Landscaping Program created in Nevada “has removed nearly 4,000 acres — 173 million square feet — of lawn space.”
It took years to get East Coast transplants in and around Las Vegas to accustom themselves to the notion of desert-style yardscaping, but cash incentives helped. “The Southern Nevada Water Authority pays $1.50 per square foot of lawn replaced with desert landscaping, up to 5,000 square feet. After that, it’s $1 per square foot,” according to the Times.
Amid the current drought, in an effort to get Californians on board with a similar transformation over much less time, Gov. Jerry Brown urged residents to brown their lawns, and water agencies ratcheted up payouts:
“Even before Brown’s order, some of California’s 411 water districts offered rebates — now as much as $3.75 per square foot — to persuade homeowners to give up on grass.”
A synthetic boom
But the loss of California’s natural lawns hasn’t yet inspired a wholesale embrace of cacti and stylish rock formations. Especially in Southern California, where artifice hasn’t always been seen as tacky, artificial turf has started catching on.
“Comprehensive numbers are hard to come by, but makers and installers of synthetic turf say they are experiencing an unprecedented spike in residential business in California,” the Washington Post reported. “From middle-class families who don’t want to forfeit the patch-of-green part of the American dream to megawatt celebrities who are mortified by TV coverage of their sprawling water-hog lawns, homeowners across the Golden State are ripping up sod and replacing it with plastic.”
According to the Post, a “vast majority” of Californians cashing in on lawn rebates have opted for the low-thirst foliage prevalent in desert cities. “But a growing number of homeowners are rejecting spiky deer grass and scratchy sagebrush and paying up to $10 per square foot to luxuriate in plastic’s convincing lushness.”
Homeowner associations, however, have long viewed permissiveness toward turf as an invitation to neighborhood eyesores. Sometimes, the attitude trickled up to the municipal level. In Glendale, for instance, artificial turf was banished to the backyard. But now, the stigma has begun to slip away. “Glendale officials said the idea of lifting the ban is about the drought as well as improvements in the look of the fake grass,” the Times noted.
Meanwhile, in cities across the Southland, residents have begun reconsidering their own regulations, which sometimes impose greater restrictions on turf than on landscape watering. “Both Anaheim and Tustin held public hearings Tuesday evening to discuss options,” according to Southern California Public Radio. “Santa Ana officials are also wrestling with options.”
In Sacramento, the shift in priorities has given a boost to new legislation designed to give homeowners the option to replace real lawns with green turf. AB349, introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, sailed through committee on a 7-0 vote; that bill would require homeowner associations to grant homeowners the option to reduce water usage by laying down turf.
“Water conservation is no longer just the responsible thing to do, but a legal requirement,” said Gonzalez in a press release touting the vote. “We need to make sure homeowners are able to replace their lawns if that’s how they choose to comply.”
But another trend in Sacramento has underscored just how far some homeowners will go to keep the look and feel of all-American lawns: spray-on green. One flourishing lawn painter, David Bartlett, told USA Today that orders have spiked as residents look for alternatives to dropping thousands on low-water yardscapes. “The procedure takes Bartlett and his team about an hour to complete,” according to the newspaper. “He said the dye is an all natural earth pigment and is not harmful to people or pets.”