News - February 10, 2010

City takes another crack at landscaping law

by Sean Howell

Menlo Park's City Council will continue to grapple with revisions to the city's water-efficient landscaping ordinance in a study session Tuesday, Feb. 9.

The city has refined its recommendations since the council first took up the issue at its Dec. 15 meeting. One key clarification is that a controversial proposal to limit lawn size in homes with new or renovated landscaping would only be optional, with homeowners allowed to calculate a "water budget" instead of adhering to the limit.

Engineering Services Manager Lisa Ekers told The Almanac that the limit on lawn size had been optional all along, though it wasn't communicated in the sketchy outlines of the ordinance as first presented. As an alternative to limiting lawn size to the greater of 500 square feet or 25 percent of total landscaped area, residents could adhere to water-use limits under a formula issued by the California Department of Water Resources, she said.

Still, that may not be enough to garner the support of Councilman John Boyle, who has argued against a restriction on lawn size — a concept the council majority supports. In an interview, Mr. Boyle said he is concerned that the city is trying to graft complicated and burdensome rules designed for large-scale landscaping projects onto smaller ones, resulting in "unintended impacts on quality of life for the typical Menlo Park resident."

The city is recommending that the revised ordinance apply to renovated landscaping projects of 1,000 square feet or more, following the guidelines set forth by the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency. Mr. Boyle said he would prefer that threshold be raised to the state's limit of 5,000 square feet.

His colleagues on the council, meanwhile, say that the ordinance represents a good first step toward getting residents to conserve water. It would require water-efficient irrigation systems and practices, and limit homeowners to using their irrigation systems at night.

Since the council last discussed the ordinance, the city's Environmental Quality Commission has recommended requiring covers for new or replacement pools or spas — a measure that would be difficult to enforce, according to Ms. Ekers.

The city expects to have an approved ordinance in place by the end of the month.

Tuesday's meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, located in the Civic Center complex between Laurel and Alma streets.


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