Letter: Go Slow on Bay-Friendly Landscaping

Piedmont resident Nancy Lehrkind sent the following letter to the Piedmont City council, which is considering a Bay-friendly landscaping ordinance June 4, and submitted a copy to Piedmont Patch.

To The Piedmont City Council Members:

Re: Proposed Ordinance Amending Section 17 of the Piedmont Municipal Code

The Government of Piedmont has the opportunity to educate and encourage its
citizens to plant California native plants, follow conservative watering practices and utilize drip irrigation where practicable. Piedmont has already adopted, in 2010, the Model Water Conservation Ordinance. In addition, East Bay MUD now has a tiered watering system which heavily penalizes excessive landscape water usage.

There are many objections which can be raised to the current proposed legislation, but one in particular seems a particularly misguided principal of governance. That is the legal adoption of an authority by reference which is allowed to continue to evolve without further review by the City Council.

For example, the City has adopted the Uniform Building Code as written in 1985 to govern construction practices in the City. When a newer version was written, the City Council reviewed it and adopted the newer version. Under this Proposed Ordinance, there is no future review of the evolving Stopwaste.org Guidelines, Scorecard, etc. Their future versions are all being adopted, by reference, in this law, with no limitation or review by our elected Council Members.

To require all citizens to follow, under penalty of law, in their landscaping renovations, whatever are the then-guidelines of Stopwaste.org is simply giving away the Council’s governing authority. We are continually being governed by the dictates of outside authorities (e.g. Calpers, Alameda County). Local governments of small towns like ours need to have our own control, on behalf of our citizenry, over any required landscaping practices.

Among other objections to this proposed legislation, I would cite the following:

1. The proposed law states that its intent is “to promote economic and environmental health in the City.” Bay-Friendly’s landscaping says that it is “a whole systems approach designed to support the integrity of the San Francisco watershed.” These stated intentions do not seem in synch.

2. The proposed law “tightens” up and changes the standards and application of the Model Water Conservation Ordinance we have just put into effect. This seems unnecessary and unreasonably over-regulatory, especially since we have had little time to gauge the effects of this new law.

3. For example, a) the Model Water Ordinance requires two inches of mulch to be installed in new landscaping; the Proposed Ordinance would now require three inches.

b) The Model Water Ordinance defines the square footage of “landscaping” to which the law applies without any hardscape; the proposed Ordinance includes square footage of decks, driveways, sidewalks, gravel areas to determine if the square footage of a resident’s project falls under the law, thus widening its triggered application. Modifying these threshold of applicability will require more staff time for review and implementation and thus increase the cost to the City.

c) The Model Water Ordinance does not apply to “renovations”: the Proposed Ordinance applies specifically to “renovations” meaning “any change, addition, or modification to an existing Building Structure or Landscape, including, but not limited to, tenant improvements.”

4. The proposed law makes the “finding” that “conventional landscaping” requires excessive maintenance and water which promotes erosion. This supposed rationale for this law conveniently ignores what everyone knows to be true, i.e. , all landscaping requires maintenance. Plants die and grow, needing care and pruning, leaves fall in the autumn and must be picked out of the mulch, grass actually retains rain water, prevents soil erosion and needs almost no care during the winter season.

5. The City Staff report states that this Proposed Law is simply a “mirror” of Section 17.11.10 which the City passed in 2009. This is absolutely untrue. Even a cursory reading of the two Ordinances will reveal the difference in who and what is affected. The only similarity, in fact, is that the Council, in enacting the prior law in 2009, also chose to give away their governing authority with no further oversight of subsequent changes.

6. The severe restriction on grass and prohibition of hedge trimming? Exactly how do these provisions “promote economic and environmental health in Piedmont”?

7. This law would be expensive for our City in terms of increased staff time to monitor compliance. This Proposed Ordinance modifies the thresholds already established in the Model Water Conservation Ordinance and will increase costs to the City.

Further actions, in the spirit of a “carrot” and not a “stick” could include any number of educational endeavors plus an amendment to the General Plan encouraging all residents to learn about and follow legitimate conservation practices where practicable. This law, with its extremely restrictive edicts, embodies an entirely wrong spirit of even hoping to promote “green” awareness and practices.

In addition, the Council could enact a ban on, or restrict the use of certain fertilizers and/or pesticides. Our City Government banned gas-powered leaf blowers to reduce noise levels. These are legitimate exercises of the government’s powers over health and safety concerns.

These are all very legitimate issues which Piedmonters need more time to consider. I urge you to slow down the consideration of this Proposed Ordinance, take more time to really explain to the affected citizens what it will mean for them in practice, and allow our garden clubs and other concerned members of the public to weigh in on this. We are all in favor of doing the “right” thing for our planet; Piedmont is an amazing town of very intelligent and conscientious people. How to effectively lead this effort should be a subject of longer and wider discussion.

Nancy N. Lehrkind

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garrett Keating June 04, 2012 at 11:12 PM
There's a lot of background in Nancy's letter that Patch readers need to understand to compare the two ordinances. But two quick points: 1. The Model Water Ordinance she sites is a state-wide ordinance of the California Code of Regulations. The ordinance being considered tonight is a much simpler, targeted ordinance specific to Bay Area communities. Where the ordinances overlap is in the size of the landscape projects to which the ordinance apply. Both ordinances only apply to homeowner landscape projects that are 5000 sq ft or larger. State-wide there are projects of this size (large developments) but in Piedmont there are very few. 2. The Piedmont ordinance will apply ONLY when the landscape project is part of a building project: new house, renovation or remodel. Stand-alone landscape projects of any size will not be covered by the ordinance. See http://www.piedmontcivic.org/2012/06/03/opinion-ceding-local-control-is-not-good-governance/ for a further discussion of this matter.
Minoter June 05, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Thank you, Garrett, for your clear and concise review of the proposal. Nancy's comments seem to be more political than related to reality.


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