Ocean Friendly Gardens
September 19 2014

CA Law Lets Homeowners Replace Grass Without Being Fined Or Sued

by Paul Herzog

With Gov. Brown’s signing of AB 2104, homeowner association (HOA) residents can now replace their turf grass with low water use plants without fear of being fined or sued by their HOA. Less turf means cleaner surf, since urban runoff is the #1 source of ocean pollution. Surfrider organized a coalition of 20 organizations who signed a letter of support to Gov. Brown. Texas passed a similar law last year, and a Duval County/Florida judge ruled in favor of residents fighting their HOA over their fight to install a "Florida Friendly" landscape.

Landscaping is the largest user of water in a home, consuming 30%-70%, depending on where one lives in California. Runoff comes from sprinklers over-shooting into streets, broken sprinklers and compacted soil underneat turf grass that does not absorb water. This runoff can pick up pollutants on its way to waterways, lakes, bays and the ocean such as car exhaust, oil and brake pad dust; landscape fertilizer and chemicals; trash; and more. Ocean users have been faced with the unacceptable trade-off of enjoying the waves and risk getting sick or staying out of the water and staying healthy.

Surfrider Foundaton’s Ocean Friendly Gardens Program (OFG) “applies CPR – Conservation, Permeability and Retention – to landscapes to revive our watersheds and oceans.” It utilizes rainwater as first source of irrigation, makes soil and hard surfaces permeable, and installs native or climate appropriate plants and efficient supplemental irrigation. It is beautiful, demands much less water, filters pollutants and creates wildlife habitat. It also reduces flooding and stream bank erosion, provides a sense of place, a chance to grow food. This is becoming know around the state and nation as the watershed approach.

The San Diego County Chapter of Surfrider Foundation has been running its Ocean Friendly Gardens Program for five years. In has conducted classes, hands-on workshops, workdays and neighborhood walks in partnership with government agencies and private sector professionals, as well as on its own. The author of the law is Assemblywoman Lorena Sanchez (San Diego), featured in this video.

Surfrider is also part of the San Diego Proposition 84 grant-funded Sustainable Landscape Program, which will offer hands-on workshops and garden coaching to assist people making the switch starting later this year. Program partners include: San Diego County Water Authority, County of San Diego, City of San Diego, California American Water Company and the Association of Compost Producers.

Surfrider Foundation is also a board member of the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC), which promotes a watershed approach in this new report. The watershed approach addresses multiple state legislative mandates (responsible state agencies listed in parenthesis):

  • Green waste reduction – 75% by 2020 (CalRecycle)
  • Water supply - 20% by 2020 (Department of Water Resources)
  • Water quality - Clean Water Act/stormwater permits (State Water Resources Control Board, Department of Pesticide Regulation)
  • Carbon sequestration - Assembly Bill 32 (Air Resources Control Board)

Mulch, not dead grass, is the "brown" in the campaign "brown is the new green" (pictured above), helping feed soil biology - which then feeds plants and sequesters carbon deeper in soil (we just need to add a rain-fed swale to the picture). The Ocean Friendly Gardens Program is part of Surfrider's Clean Water Initiative, a holistic approach to water in both dry and wet years, and in dry and wet climates.