Yes, I am one of those who has long been a recycler, water conserver, thousand points of light types, believing if we each did our little bit it would add up to a big difference. Patt Morrison (with her buckets in the shower to catch every drop and taking restaurant water glasses outside to empty on plants) is one the few people I know who makes me look like an amateur. However, my kids will tell you how I have hammered the message home. My son's car when he was in high school was an electric one — watching him in it always reminded me of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but in addition to no gas station stops, he could park for free in Santa Monica.
So it was natural that sooner or later I would get rid of my lawn. I stopped using sprinklers long ago, but it was at the point where either I had to get new sod or get rid of it so there wasn't really much of a choice. Finally I took the ten minutes necessary to go to the SoCal Water Smart web site. It's very clear, easy to follow and lists everything step by step. That's the good news. It's also important not to do anything to your yard before starting the process. Then you estimate the square footage that is currently grass - mine was around 500 square feet - take 5 photos of the area - upload the photos to the application, answer some other questions and wait a few weeks.
I was soon "pre-approved." The next step was hire people to help dig up and remove the lawn. It turns out that is expensive because grass (and at least three inches of dirt underneath) is heavy and has to be hauled away to be dumped properly. Then came the money to buy new dirt. I also invested in brown paper I was told to put down before the new dirt was put in to prevent any grass seed that remained from growing through again. My neighbor told me of a source for free mulch, but I had to pay for collecting it and bringing it in.
The fun part was choosing the plants. The Water Smart site lists those that are approved as drought resistant — and it is required that eventually forty percent of the space will be covered with more or less native plants.
My next door neighbor went all succulents, which looks good with her home, but they are not my thing and are a little jarring against my Cape Cod style house. Plus I wasn't about to part with my dozen rose bushes. So to cover my lawn area my first choice was lavender, sage and rosemary — might as well get some fragrance, attract some bees and be able to use them in cooking. But by now it was December, and the quality of those that were available were not very good. It turns out that even though our sun shines most of the time, the better nurseries follow the traditional seasons. Irises are also on the list and this was one of those times procrastination really paid off. I had several very large clumps of irises that should have been separated years ago, so I dug those up and interspersed them in between the lavender. Much to my surprise, they are thriving, blooming and look like it was actually planned.
So after all this — and you are given a window of about four months from preapproval to completed project — I sent in the photos of my new "water smart" landscaping. Within weeks, I heard back by email that all had been accepted. Sounds good, right? Well, six weeks later, I was still waiting for my rebate check and so I called. Turns out that while I had been approved on paper, DWP needed to do a site check which had just been done a few days before. So when would I get my check? "In eight to ten weeks after the final approval."
Yes, those same people who start sending you pink envelopes threatening to turn off your power if you are ten DAYS late in paying them....the same people who get away with estimating bills and then socking you with an extra thousand dollar charge you have to pay immediately because you are told their new satellite reading system didn't work. (How much did that cost?) Yes, those same lovely people have a program that takes over three months to rebate you the money you have put out. In the end I received my check five months after I started spending money and three months after I had been told it had been approved, but it did come.
After...Photos by Cari Beauchamp
All that said, I would do it again in a heartbeat. At least I am not out anything for doing the right thing and I have a front and back yard I am really enjoying. It's much more attractive than browning grass and is supplying me with lovely fragrances. After a month or two, the mulch had merged with the dirt to the point that I ended up covering most of the area in bark and assume that will have to replenished every six months or so. In the end, my rather low end excavation and planting cost around $2,500 and I got back just about as much I had spent. While I had already been cutting back on water, now I am using even less.
A result of my heightened awareness is that I am even more sensitive to what I see driving around town.
I find myself particularly outraged by the ridiculous strips of grass between the sidewalks and the street. They are everywhere. And when the sprinklers are going, they seem to water more of the street than they do the grass. Talking to a couple of reporters who cover the issue of water, I am told that owners are responsible for those strips and while the phrase "eminent domain" should always raise concern, you can't help but wonder why the cities are not talking about coming in and replacing that grass with drought resistant landscaping. This raises the question of who is in charge, and reporters tell me that that is a large part of the problem.
Evidently in Los Angeles there are several different departments with overlapping responsibilities, and getting a straight answer to who, what and where is no easy feat. So if we can have a czar for keeping movie business jobs in the area, why can't we have a drought czar who can make some real progress? While the turf removal rebate program is a good start, the one-homeowner-at-a-time approach is a drop in the — excuse the pun — water bucket. We need to get serious.
Cari Beuchamp's latest book is the anthology, "My First Time in Hollywood," in which more than 40 legends of the film business recount their first visits to Southern California.