Water & Drought

Paso Robles to ban front lawns on new homes — with some exceptions

Homes in this east-side Paso Robles neighborhood show a typical sampling of the city’s mix of drought-tolerant landscaping, traditional turf and dying front lawns.
Homes in this east-side Paso Robles neighborhood show a typical sampling of the city’s mix of drought-tolerant landscaping, traditional turf and dying front lawns. tstrickland@thetribunenews.com

Grass is continuing to go out of style in arid Paso Robles, a trend that may be part of the city’s overall look for years to come.

The Paso Robles City Council on Tuesday discussed updates to its landscape ordinance, voting 4-1 to ban grass from front yards on all new residential construction to comply with state turf reduction requirements in Gov. Jerry Brown’s push to save water. The ban would come with some exceptions, though, including the option to add turf to the front of new homes if property owners submit the required documentation.

“We want to see people get rid of decorative turf and get away from the concept that the only idea of pretty is this mat of green,” city water manager Christopher Alakel said. “But we understand that grass serves multiple purposes, such as for sports and kids and pets and that sort of thing. So we’re not expecting people to put rocks in their backyard.”

New state requirements look to limit grass to 25 percent of the total landscape area on new residential construction, and the city is pushing to take that a step further by only allowing turf in backyards, community development director Warren Frace said.

With the new state update, which starts Jan. 1, some turf is allowed in front yards if applicants submit more paperwork and water-use studies to justify it. But city officials say doing away with front-yard grass altogether would simplify the homebuilding process for property owners as well as showcase the city’s commitment to conservation.

“A developer would need to get landscape architects and soil studies to meet the state regulations, and it’s a lot of documentation that’s required,” Alakel said. “So we were trying to make it easy for the developer community and try to develop a new way of thinking for Paso.”

On Tuesday, two of the council members didn’t favor the plan, which still needs a second reading at a future meeting to become final. Councilman John Hamon asked to bring back an exception to allow some front-yard turf options for property owners who want to submit the studies; Councilman Jim Reed dissented altogether, saying the updated regulations are “too invasive.” Hamon still voted to approve the item.

The draft ordinance must be adopted by the City Council by January 2016 to comply with the state, and the council agreed to bring back Hamon’s grass exception proposal.

The council’s decision follows a similar move in May when city leaders adopted tighter outdoor irrigation requirements only allowing residents to irrigate their yards two days a week, instead of the three days a week as allowed in previous years. That has resulted in lawns dying throughout the city, with many residents opting to rip lawns out altogether. Some have opted for drought-tolerant landscaping while others have settled for brown grass or dirt.

“Nobody is putting in grass anymore, people are tearing it out,” Alakel said. “We can’t churn out the rebates fast enough.”

Since the city’s landscape rebate program began in 2010, Paso Robles has issued more than 890 landscape rebates, each ranging from $100 to $500 depending on the amount of grass converted, said Kirk Gonzalez, water conservation & resources program manager. Nearly 150 of those rebates have been issued since July.

“We expect to issue up to $44,000 more in landscape rebates this fiscal year (through June 2016) to customers that are currently enrolled in the rebate program,” Gonzalez said.

Tonya Strickland: 805-781-7858, @tstrickland

Paso Robles’ Landscape Rebate Program

To qualify for a landscape rebate, those interested must schedule a pre-inspection with the city before any work is done, in addition to other requirements. For more information, call the city at 227-7250.