Editorials

Time to cut front lawns

Bret and Julia Harrison are taking out their Paso Robles lawn and installing drought-tolerant landscaping. The city offers financial incentives for residents who make similar changes.
Bret and Julia Harrison are taking out their Paso Robles lawn and installing drought-tolerant landscaping. The city offers financial incentives for residents who make similar changes. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

If you live in a typical residential neighborhood in San Luis Obispo County, chances are at least some — if not most — homes have front lawns.

And, again, if your neighborhood is typical, those lawns don’t get used much.

Aside from shooting hoops in the driveway, most outdoor activity takes place out of the public eye, on decks or patios or in backyards.

So why are we so set on front lawns?

They’re attractive — as long as they’re well maintained — but beyond their ornamental appeal, there is no good argument for front lawns of any size in arid regions like the Western United States.

It’s time we phased them out, and new development is the logical place to start.

Many local agencies — San Luis Obispo County is one — are in the process of re-examining water conservation measures, so this would be an excellent time to tighten up landscaping regulations to prohibit water-guzzling turf in the front yards of new residential projects.

Some Western cities already are doing that. Las Vegas bans new turf in front yards, and limits lawns in side and backyards to 50 percent of the area or 100 square feet, whichever is greater.

At least one city in California, American Canyon in Napa County, also bans front lawns; the City Council approved a “zero-lawn” ordinance in early April.

Other communities restrict the size of front lawns. That’s better than nothing. But why bother with even a small patch of green?

Instead of trying to get by with watering once or twice a week until the rains come, we should recognize that green front lawns are status symbols we can no longer support. And the easiest place to start that trend is with new homes.

Of course, local agencies should also continue to provide subsidies to owners of existing homes who are willing to rip out their turf. Those water purveyors that don’t offer “cash for grass” subsidies should start.

While they’re at it, communities should provide workshops on drought-tolerant landscaping, and maybe give out prizes for the most beautiful transformations.

But even with cash incentives, replacing large front lawns with new landscaping can cost thousands of dollars. That investment pays off over time in the form of reduced water bills, but it’s not something every homeowner can immediately afford.

It makes more sense to prohibit front lawns for new homes in the first place, as well as to limit turf in new commercial and industrial developments.

It’s time to create a new normal, by recognizing the beauty in rocks and boulders and drought-tolerant grasses and succulents. We aren’t the East Coast or the Northwest. And we certainly aren’t the British Isles.

We are the West, and we should be proud to have our landscape reflect that — starting at home, with our own front yards.

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