Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Thinking Outside The Hose

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 15, 2016] ©2016
What is so rare as a day in June that is not gloomy?
Actually, for once San Diego’s May Gray-June Gloom season is welcome at our house given how stringent the watering restrictions are. A day without sunshine is an automatic deduction in our water bill. As hard as we’ve worked to conserve water, we sometimes feel we are single-handedly underwriting the Metropolitan Water Authority’s infrastructure improvements. What annoys us is that they do not seem the least bit grateful.
I’ve written before how we’ve let our grass be overtaken by kikuyu, a grassy-looking weed that is fortunately drought tolerant. We’re just not ready to let the grandtots have to dodge cactus.
Given that this is year four of the Great California Drought, a variety of lawn solutions are in evidence in our neighborhood. A few people have gone for artificial turf. Others have gone for “natural” landscaping. I wrote once before that I considered “attractive native plants” an oxymoron. If the plants are attractive, they’re native to somewhere else. But I will concede that some of the new low-water landscapes on my block are genuinely attractive even if the plants might not be strictly local.
A few neighbors have gone for just letting the lawn die. As in brown and dead. I couldn’t help but reflect that the very lawn that now gets you the Brown Badge of Honor would only a short time ago have brought a nasty note from the Town Council for failing to maintain your property. Such are life’s ironies. Now, if your grass is too green, will you get a warning that your neighbors have complained you’re keeping up your lawn?
Of course, we’d have to think twice about advising everyone to just let their grass die. It would almost certainly cause the collapse of the Mow & Blow biz, the major (only?) growth industry in Southern California. There’d be nothing to either mow or blow although if it would herald the end of those 130-decibel leaf blowers, I know lots of people who could get on board with it.
Inquiring minds want to know: Could dead lawns be the first of a domino effect of previously impermissible property-value-lowering constraints in La Jolla? Could clothes lines be allowed next? What about chickens? The clothes lines certainly make sense for energy conservation and whatever else you can say about chickens, they’re gluten-free.
If clothes lines are permissible, could real estate For Sale signs be far behind? A lifetime La Jollan friend sniffs that the presence of either would be irrefutable evidence that the town has gone to hell in an off-season lobster trap.
The drought has already brought changes to San Diego that no one would have predicted. Like, for example, the Water Police. Dare to irrigate after 10 a.m. or before 6 on your two allotted watering days – and for more than the time limit – and you risk the wrath of the water gendarmes.
California communities across the Southland are now having to balance property values against the realities of the drought. Glendale, for example, is reconsidering its ban on artificial turf in front yards, so long as it adheres to a certain quality standard, which as you might guess, is determined by the good fathers of Glendale. Translation: None of that Home Depot stuff need apply.
This property values issue is serious stuff. Every time I’ve been on jury duty, it’s been a property dispute. In 1988 I spent two long weeks on a case between two neighbors in Carlsbad after one of them planted tomato plants in his front yard in violation of the CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions). It polarized the entire neighborhood. I’m guessing that the CC&R folks are still not speaking to Team Tomatoes 28 years later. 
The much-hyped El Niño of the Century didn’t, alas, appear. Well, at least not in San Diego. In spite of predictions last fall that the next diluvian phase was upon us, we got one third less rainfall than normal.  (Can we sue for breach of forecast?) So despite the easing of water conserving requirements in the rest of the state, I doubt much is going to change here.
Ever looking for ways to save water, my husband and I have spent many an hour surveying our property to make decisions about what we’d really like to save and what, worst case, we might have to let die. The Sophie’s Choice of horticulture, as it were. Already we think we can hear our plants pleading with us:
 “Save me!” 
“No, save ME!” 
“Screw her – I bloom more!” 
“But I’m more drought resistant!” 
“Don’t believe him – he’s an annual!”
We’re really trying to think outside the hose. But if the spring marine layer will just hang on a while longer, we‘re good.  So gloom away, June!
Only a few short non-drought years ago, this lawn would have elicited
a nasty note from the Town Council

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