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Earth Government News Idle

Officials Sue Couple Who Removed Their Lawn 819

Posted by kdawson
from the revenge-of-the-lawn dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The LA Times reports that Orange County officials are locked in a legal battle with a couple accused of violating city ordinances for replacing the grass on their lawn with wood chips and drought-tolerant plants, reducing their water usage from 299,221 gallons in 2007 to 58,348 gallons in 2009. The dispute began two years ago, when Quan and Angelina Ha tore out the grass in their front yard. In drought-plagued Southern California, the couple said, the lush grass had been soaking up tens of thousands of gallons of water — and hundreds of dollars — each year. 'We've got a newborn, so we want to start worrying about her future,' said Quan Ha, an information technology manager for Kelley Blue Book. But city officials told the Has they were violating several city laws that require that 40% of residential yards to be landscaped predominantly with live plants. Last summer, the couple tried to appease the city by building a fence around the yard and planting drought-tolerant greenery — lavender, rosemary, horsetail, and pittosporum, among others. But according to the city, their landscaping still did not comply with city standards. At the end of January, the Has received a letter saying they had been charged with a misdemeanor violation and must appear in court. The couple could face a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for their grass-free, eco-friendly landscaping scheme. 'It's just funny that we pay our taxes to the city and the city is now prosecuting us with our own money,' says Quan Ha."
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Officials Sue Couple Who Removed Their Lawn

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  • Revenue Streams (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stimpleton (732392) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @01:06AM (#31341062)
    FTFA: "Meanwhile, the couple said they had reduced their water usage from 299,221 gallons in 2007 to 58,348 gallons in 2009."

    Hmm, I wonder if this is to do with revenue from water supply.

    In my town, water metering is being implemented over time. As infrastructure is serviced, new metering tech in being roled out. At some point we will have to pay when the scheme is finalized.

    Coincidentily, the permit fees for watertanks has been put up, to the point it is like any of the "green" decisions: high capital outlay(factoring in the fees) to the the point one asks if financial return in 10 years is worth it.
  • Fire hazard (Score:2, Interesting)

    by symbolset (646467) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @01:13AM (#31341114) Journal

    Wood chips are combustible. They live in a desert. That's a fire hazard. Better to pave it over and paint it green.

    Speaking of which... they live in a desert. The only reason they ever had water to put on their lawn is that they import it via aqueducts over 200 miles, transforming the source from a formerly verdant valley into an arid desert.

    I'm not sure where the city/county is trying to go here. Normally they pretend to try and be a little eco-friendly in granolaland.

  • by CodeDragonDM (1570963) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @01:14AM (#31341122)

    That's a poor summary of what's happening. That ignores that the couple has literally devalued the homes around it by doing this, it's fiscally as bad as tagging (graffiti wise) everyone within a three house radius with a pair of breasts under the living room window.

    While the owners were being planet smart, they probably should have started out at their city council or equivalent to get this change known and accepted.

    Then again, I say don't live in city limits where you can directly affect someone else and their livelihood by doing what you should have the gawddamn right to do on your own property! Can't add or remove a frelling tree from your own yard without two bureaucrats telling you it's ok, then charging you to use their service... It's perverse and (to piss off a portion of people) retard logic.

  • by pthisis (27352) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @01:18AM (#31341146) Homepage Journal

    Why is it your neighbor's responsibility to use their property in a way they dislike in order to bolster your property values?

    I live in Virginia now, and this nonsense goes on not only in HOAs but even with city ordinances--mandating grass cutting, forbidding painting your house certain colors, etc. I just don't get it--in Maine, if you wanted a hot pink house with lines of toy soldiers and an above ground pool on your front lawn, that was your own business. It's your own property, and you have a right to use it how you want within the bounds of safety and environmental concerns.

    Now, if it's a safety issue that's another thing. But the state's interest in defending property should be first and foremost to defend the right of a property's owner to use it as they see fit; if you want to have crazy aesthetic restrictions then you can move into an area with a draconian HOA.

    Your water pipe issue is completely different, and I sympathize greatly.

  • Lichens (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jdigriz (676802) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @01:21AM (#31341172)
    Would lichens count as live plants for the purpose of the ordinance? They take very little water and never need mowing.
  • covering 40% (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OnePumpChump (1560417) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @01:25AM (#31341190)
    There are low-lying, wide-spreading shrubs that do not require watering in even drier climates than theirs that could easily be arranged to cover 40% of that yard. They can stick with their approach and still give the finger to their city of assholes. My dad's front yard has some...not sure what they're called but the cats love them (probably because the lizards love them).
  • by LordLucless (582312) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @01:50AM (#31341336)
    Right. How many of your by-laws do you know? I don't know your age, but I'd hazard a guess it's actually physically impossible for you to have read every law and ordinance that applies to you. You might research your by-laws if you were planning on erecting a construction, but for changing your garden? I certainly wouldn't.
  • by Thoreauly Nuts (1701246) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @01:57AM (#31341394)

    by doing what you should have the gawddamn right to do on your own property!

    It's not your property. Here is a somewhat humorous parody that happens to illustrate the point and even addresses the topic of this thread:

    "The Peasant's New Property"

    Not so many years ago lived a peasant, though he didn't think of himself as such, who thought so much of real property ownership that he spent most of his time slaving away in his cubicle at work to acquire enough money to purchase some. He had little time for friends, family, or other amusements; in fact, the only thing he thought much about was his bi-weekly paycheck. His schedule contained labor for almost every hour of the day, and as one would say of a peasant, "He is out in the fields", so one could say of him, "He is in his cubicle".

    The suburb where he desired to own property was very gay; every day many strangers from all parts of the globe arrived. One day two swindlers came to this suburb; they made everyone believe they were real estate agents and declared that they could sell the finest property one could own. Their architecture and design, they said, were not only exceptionally beautiful, but the homes and land possessed the wonderful quality of having its ownership unperceivable by any man who was irrational or unpardonably stupid.

    "That must be wonderful property," thought the peasant. "If I were to own such property I should be able to find out which of my fellow men are irrational, and I could distinguish the clever from the stupid. I must have this property without delay." And he gave a large sum of money to the swindlers, in advance, that they should set to work without any loss of time. They prepared lots of paperwork and pretended to be very hard at work. They asked for commissions and all sorts of fees which were quickly drawn from the man's bank accounts, and they appeared to work until late at night.

    "I should very much like to know how they are getting on with my purchase," thought the peasant. But he felt rather uneasy when he remembered that he who was irrational or stupid couldn't perceive its ownership. Personally, he was of the opinion that he had nothing to fear, yet he thought it advisable to send somebody else first to see how matters stood. He told everyone he knew what remarkable quality the property possessed, and all were anxious to see how bad or stupid their neighbors were.

    "I shall send my friend who is an accountant to the agents," thought the peasant. "He can judge best the ownership, for he is intelligent, and nobody understands his office better than he."

    The accountant went to the property where the swindlers sat, perused the paperwork and asked lots of questions. "Heaven preserve us!" he thought, and opened his eyes wide, "I cannot see any ownership at all," but he did not say so. Both swindlers requested him to come near, and asked him if he did not admire the exquisite deal they were offering, pointing to the paperwork on the desk. The accountant tried his very best, but he couldn't see it. "Oh dear," he thought, "can I be so stupid? I should never have thought so, and nobody must know it! Is it possible that I am irrational? No, no, I cannot say that I was unable to perceive the ownership."

    "Now, have you got nothing to say?" said one of the swindlers, while he pretended to be busily punching numbers into his calculator.

    "Oh, it is quite the deal," replied the accountant looking through his glasses. "To finally own real property! I shall tell my friend that I like the deal very much."

    "We are pleased to hear that," said the two agents, and described to him in great detail the minutiae of property ownership. The accountant listened attentively, that he might relate to his friend

  • Re:I presume... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @02:05AM (#31341448)

    Have you ever been to California? It is pretty conservative once you get a hundred miles away from the coast.

    If I were his neighbor, I would tear up my lawn if it would save me that much water. I'm trying to figure out why they needed 58,000 gallons to water woodchips though. In the Phoenix area the cities paid people to convert their lawns using xenoscaping (rocks). It looks very good, especially in the southwest. It's the developers that need to get on board with it. Maybe the city should mandate that 40% of a yard needs to be grass-free. That would help in the drought, uses fewer chemicals, and frees up time from not having to mow.

  • Re:electrolytes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Techman83 (949264) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @02:28AM (#31341578)
    What are electrolytes? Do you even know?
  • by hallux.sinister (1633067) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @02:41AM (#31341694)
    and I can tell you all from personal, first-hand knowledge, that California, collectively and in general, has lost its goddamned marbles. This is exactly the kind of stupid shit that helped me conclude I should live somewhere not-foaming-at-the-mouth insane, and it's why I moved away, and why I will never move back. Should call it Crazyifornia. I know this sounds like a rant, but I can back this up. Ever heard of Proposition 65? For over a decade now, any business that uses ANY chemical or compound which is on this miles-long list of substances "known" to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defect, or other reproductive harm, has to post notices (known as Prop. 65 Warnings) in prominent locations around their businesses. So a restaurant which cleans its windows with an ammonia-based cleaner has to have a warning, same as the business which uses such things as hydrofluoric acid, 95% hydrogen peroxide, radioactive materials, etc. This is just GREAT, because those signs are EVERYWHERE and it does no good, because you can't tell from them which businesses are displaying the sign because of a single little bottle of blue cleanser, and which ones have 50 barrels of phosgene (COCl2) in the basement. This is but one of a hundred examples of Calinsanity. Sadly, I can't think of any viable solution to the problem.
  • Astroturf! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pentalive (449155) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @02:52AM (#31341772) Journal

    If I could, I'd astroturf my lawn.

    A guy in a suburb of Sacramento (Natomas) did just that and had a better looking yard than many of his neighbors but the city cited him anyway.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @02:57AM (#31341818)

    That only works when you craft laws using omniscience.

    Many laws explicitly build-in discretion.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:00AM (#31341854) Homepage Journal

    Yeah it depends on where you are. If you have a farm in my state you are allowed to put a tank on the roof on your primary residence but runoff from your land definitely does not belong to you. I think if you owned a big shearing shed and collected the water from the roof you might be in trouble.

    I assume that Colorado, like Queensland in .au is an upstream provider of water, while places like California and South Australia are downstream consumers where the laws should be different.

  • Re:Fire hazard (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sensiblemonkey (1539543) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:02AM (#31341874)

    Speaking of which... they live in a desert.

    Prior to European settlers moving in and stomping on everything, the Los Angeles basin was a savanna with oak/walnut woodlands and not a desert.

  • by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker@NoSPAM.gnu.org> on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:51AM (#31342192) Homepage

    Laws made to that effect are either communist (enforcing a community good over personal freedom)

    Just to clarify your definition of communism, then, I have a few questions.

    I live in Denmark. As a consequence, I pay high taxes.

    In return, I get free health, free tuition at universities, free public libraries, almost free public service television with no ads, welfare you can live on (if only barely) and a mythical free lunch ;)

    Yes, I give up the personal freedom to spend my tax money the way I like. But in return, I get (more) healthy, educated and informed compatriots. This is a benefit to me, just as it's a benefit to my compatriots that their tax kroner was invested in my education---otherwise I might not have gotten it, but now that I have it I can return more tax money to the community pot.

    Yes, the tax-paid benefits have their biggest effect on the recipients of those benefits; but the second-order effects are valuable to us all.

    Is that communism? If so, I want more of that :-)

  • by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @04:26AM (#31342458)

    I agree with Sitting Bull on this. Nobody owns land. It belongs to everybody. When you use it, you rent it from the community.

  • by wisty (1335733) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @04:56AM (#31342678)

    Just a word of warning - native Australian plants are often highly flammable. Big, lush, high water gardens are reasonably fire protection. Gravel (or pretty stones) is better. (That's a little debatable, as greenery can shield a house as long as it doesn't ignite). Bamboo burns like the oversized grass it is.

    Also, woodchip is dry wood. It's not remotely safe in a fire.

    There are some hardy (but not flammable) plants that are good - some succulents will only burn if there's a blow torch on them, but be very picky with drought-resistant plants.

    Also, avoid natural (uncleared) bush like the plague. A combination of trees, shrubs, and undergrowth can melt aluminum, especially if it's on a hill. It looks nice and environmental to be living amongst trees, but the environmental footprint is horrendous (they clear *how many* acres for their driveway?), and it's a deadly place to be if a fire starts. Imagine 10-20m flames from the natural bush, then think about the showers of embers (including burning branches carried in the fire-fueled tornado - yes, the energy from a fire can create a tornado).

    I prefer to live in a low-impact cluster of cement boxes, and go to the bush when I want to enjoy it. Maybe when I have a family I'll look at something with a bit of a yard, but only one that's big enough to play in.

  • news for nerds???? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by owlnation (858981) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @06:50AM (#31343404)
    Does /. now have a gardening section? How is this article news for nerds? Yes, I get there's a grasping at straws relationship to YRO -- but surely this is too far removed from nerd news even for that? Was it a virtual lawn? Did the lawn run linux? Was the lawn someone's overlord?

    I'm surprised at kdawson, this looks more like the kind of crap article that samzenpus regularly inflicts on us.
  • by Narpak (961733) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @08:05AM (#31344096)

    Is that communism? If so, I want more of that :-)

    As a Norwegian I would say that what you descripe is more or less what we have here; Social Democracy [wikipedia.org]. Interestingly enough when it comes to land rights all land ultimately belongs to the nation; yet individuals and companies have various rights to use and administer the property. The only place I know we have something like a HOA (Home Owners Association) is for appartment buildings/complexes and what they can or can't do is severly limited by the confines of the law. As far as lawn goes I have not yet heard about anyone having to maintain theirs in any particular or mandated way. Property value is of course interesting, but enforcing arbitrary standards for appearance isn't part of our way of doing things.

  • by temcat (873475) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @08:16AM (#31344216)

    Whatever the silly laws say, you should NOT be entitled to keeping or increasing value of your property. Others may not damage or steal your property, but the value of your property should be totally your problem.

  • by jimbobborg (128330) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @08:41AM (#31344510)

    I also live in VA and the mandating of lawn mowing is for safety. It's tough seeing a Copperhead or other poisonous snake when you can't see the ground. You didn't have that problem in Maine because there are no poisonous snakes in Maine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @09:50AM (#31345396)

    Yeah, the financial crisis that came about by the HUD creating a huge market for high risk loans was definitely caused by not enough regulation.

    All those evil bankers that helped Fannie comply with federal regulations by making all those high risk loans to people who shouldn't be buying houses are the real cause, right?

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @10:04AM (#31345620) Homepage

    > What makes you think the price you paid for the property included those rights?

    The property is in the United States of America.

    It's time to stop all of this HOA and similar nonsense.

    It doesn't actually do anything positive. All it does is prevent those in the neighborhood with any clue or taste from improving their property. Ultimately you're saddled with BS restrictions that don't do anything productive. They have no impact on property values and actually make the neighborhood uglier and look more "manufactured".

    "Borgville" doesn't enhance property values. Out of state real estate speculators do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @11:07AM (#31346492)

    Discretion? By the very nature of the law it should be applied all of the time indiscriminately, anything else is corruption.

    I must applaud the genius of Gary Gygax and Dave Aronson who has the insight to place Good vs. Evil perpendicular to Law vs Chaos on the alignment charts. It gives you the kind of mental flexibility to realize that there can be good corruption and bad corruption. Looking the other way to save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water during a drought falls under Chaotic Good, in my book.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @11:41AM (#31347000)

    Ahhh... the ubiquitous "prop 65 warning".

    Yes, sometimes it's a bit silly. However, the "nicer" places will do what they can to get rid of the sign. Also, I never knew that imported balsamic vinegar had lead until I saw the Prop 65 warning at Whole Foods. Labeling the entire building is a CYA tactic. You only have to label certain items in a setting like a grocery store. Whole Foods did that, and it was helpful. Obviously you don't assume the organic broccoli you just paid twice as much for is going to give you cancer, unless it's got the warning in which case you don't buy it.

  • by ktappe (747125) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @11:50AM (#31347136)

    then any law which, when enforced, would have insane consequences (like this) must be abolished.

    No, any law which, when enforced, would have insane consequences, should be fixed. Most laws really do have good intentions. (I'm sure you'll disagree with this but you'll be wrong.) The problem is that those who draft the words of the laws are often insufficiently intelligent or learned to be able to envision consequences such as this. That is why there is this concept called a "revision."

We will have solar energy as soon as the utility companies solve one technical problem -- how to run a sunbeam through a meter.

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