At last night’s city council meeting, a proposed Bay-Friendly ordinance for residential landscaping was discussed in great detail . . . and with great confusion. Because the language of the ordinance was difficult to decipher, a frenzied flurry of emails had circulated throughout town during the day, with residents terrified it would result in a city of postage-stamp lawns and bereft of its beloved clipped hedges.
But by the meeting’s end, Teresa Eade, senior program manager of StopWaste.org (the Bay-Friendly agency), had assured Piedmonters that the city can modify the Bay-Friendly ordinance to fit its needs and the concerns of its citizens. She also helped to assuage fears by explaining that you can have a lawn and still be Bay-Friendly (just use it as a surface for recreation rather than an enormous green carpet) . . . and some hedge shearing is perfectly OK (just use plants that are the appropriate size so shearing is minimized).
Ultimately, the council decided to postpone its vote in order to work together with StopWaste to craft language that would be clearly understood and be sensitive to the community, while still having “teeth.” In other words, the city will not be regulated by an outside agency, it will write its own ordinance with the assistance of an agency that has expertise in landscaping for a more sustainable future.
City Planner Kate Black did a commendable job of explaining that — as the city originally interpreted the ordinance — it would actually apply to zero homes in Piedmont because of the high threshold for irrigated area (over 5,000 square feet) and a combination of other factors.
I’m pleased that the city council made the decision to contemplate a Bay-Friendly ordinance that will be appropriate for our town — protecting the environment as well as the aesthetic and privacy concerns of its citizens. And with this careful crafting, we should all be proud to have it apply to a significant percentage of large-scale landscaping jobs, rather than setting thresholds so high that it will take effect in only the rarest of circumstances.
Below are the comments I made to the City Council at its June 4 meeting:
I would like to express my support for the Residential Bay-Friendly Ordinance under consideration this evening. As a Piedmont resident and Bay-Friendly Qualified Landscape Professional, I have as much passion for beautiful gardens as I do for environmentally responsible landscape design. And I am confident that the two can indeed go hand in hand.
I am aware that many Piedmonters have concerns that Bay-Friendly is the antithesis of the image of our leafy, well-maintained gardens. That is not at all true. Bay-Friendly simply means that when designing, installing and maintaining our gardens, we should contribute to the health, diversity and sustainability of the San Francisco Bay ecosystem.
It means send less to the landfill.
It means nurture the soil with compost and mulch.
It means conserve water with less-thirsty plants, where possible.
It means conserve energy by mowing and shearing less, by shading buildings and paved areas, and by using local landscape materials.
It means protect water and air quality by maximizing permeable surfaces, avoiding pesticides and overuse of fertilizers, and planting trees to remove carbon dioxide and absorb air pollutants.
And it means create wildlife habitat with a diverse plant palette.
If Piedmonters believe these practices are wise, then Piedmont must be a Bay-Friendly town. And it's crucial that our city have responsible landscaping guidelines on our books, just as we have responsible building codes.
Upon reading the proposed ordinance, I became aware that very few if any new landscape projects will be required to comply with the Bay-Friendly guidelines—due to the proposed 5,000 square foot minimum of irrigated area. I would like to see that threshold lowered to 2,500 square feet, as our neighboring cities of Berkeley, Emeryville and Albany have done.
And I'd like Piedmonters to rest assured that there are literally tens of thousands of plants with origins not only in California and the Mediterranean, but South Africa, Australia, Central Asia, Chile and Mexico that are well adapted to our climate — and thus Bay-Friendly. Many of these plants can be delightful substitutes for the standard species we see throughout Piedmont's formal gardens.
Let's do the right thing and put Bay-Friendly on the books, and get down to the business of creating gorgeous gardens that are healthy for us, our children and our beloved Bay.
Enjoy the accompanying Bay-Friendly garden photos.