Jun 3 2012

OPINION: Ceding Local Control is Not Good Governance

An open letter expressing concern over a law dictating that private property landscaping must comply with an external agency’s changeable requirements, plus new City staff monitoring requirements.

Piedmont Landscaping Requirements To Be Controlled By Another Agency – 

I find this proposed ordinance [704] a very unreasonable intrusion by government power on how individuals choose to proceed in doing their own landscaping.  While I am “for” the environment and personally practice many forms of conservation in my own landscaping, I believe that educating people and making conservation easy for them is far preferable to making laws enforced against them.

I truly question the legal source of power in our elected City Council to pass this bill.  This is not “health and safety” or any legitimate City government interest I can find.

In Section 17.18.3 (b), the City is required to apply (whenever they are making an individual homeowner do his landscaping in compliance with this law) whatever is then the most recent version of the Bay-Friendly Landscape Guidelines, Scorecard and Checklist.    This means that our elected representatives are giving up their discretion to pass laws that govern all of us to an outside group (which is STOPWASTE.ORG).   This is absurd.  We elect these Council Members to make decisions about how to use our taxpayer money and how to best run our sweet little town.  We did not elect the people at STOPWASTE.ORG who may have some pretty radical ideas going forward about how we should be landscaping our yards.

So, if you read the attached checklist, if you are going to be landscaping more than 2500 sq. ft. of your lot at any time in the future, you will not be allowed to plant any plants which require shearing (e.g. hedges which are so lovely and useful in screening neighbors and providing privacy to our homes)  or any “non-native” plants (as defined by Stopwaste.org).  You will be required to submit a plant legend proving that 75% of your new plants are “adapted to the climate in which they will be planted as referenced by a third party source.”  You must “submit a statement signed by the Landscape Architect, Designer or Contractor verifying that installed plants meet this requirement.”  Grass is practically forbidden by this group.  Under the NOW provision 7, only 25% of your 2500 sq. ft. (or more) can be grass. 

Of course, because our elected City Council Members (under Section 17.18.3(b) will, in passing this ordinance, be giving power to STOPWASTE.ORG to change these “Bay-Friendly Landscape Guidelines” anytime they want, there is nothing to prevent these provisions from prohibiting grass entirely in the future-with zero input or protest from those of us who must then, by law, follow their Guidelines.

I believe this is a very unreasonable interference with private property rights.  If you agree, I urge you to write to your City Council Members and perhaps attend the City Council Meeting this Monday night at 7:30 p.m. when this law will be voted on.

Nancy Lehrkind, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note:  All opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

LINK:  Proposed Piedmont Ordinance adding landscaping requirements determined by StopWaste.org


12 Responses to “OPINION: Ceding Local Control is Not Good Governance”

  1. Nancy,
    WOW! Thanks for alerting us. This is unreal! I was the city’s rep to the Waste Management Authority (referred to as stopwaste.org in your letter and the proposed regulations) and if this kind of baloney had been going on when I was there I would have made sure the residents knew about it!

    As far as I can tell, Piedmont doesn’t have a problem with landscaping. This is just government forcing its citizens to spend money that they would rather spend on their building project than on a landscape architect, permits etc. Piedmont is unique. We don’t belong in a “one size fits all”. Why can’t I trim my hedge if I want to? Someone at WMA has decided it isn’t right?!

    Piedmont did great on recycling before recycling was even required in the county. Then after it was required, the amount of trash Piedmont put in the waste stream became remarkably smaller and smaller every year.

    I urge all of you to read the proposed ordinance. It is unbelievably too broad for Piedmont. If the Council feels Piedmont does have a landscaping issue, I think they should specify EXACTLY what the issue(s) is/are and adopt an ordinance that addresses that.

    Thank you,
    Patty White

  2. I have always appreciated Nancy’s fervor on issues in town but I think she is overstating the impact of the proposed ordinance. First as background, The Bay Friendly Landscape ordinance was developed by the Alameda County Solid Waste Authority (now known as StopWaste.org), a joint powers authority of 14 Alameda County municipalities organized to coordinate county-wide solid waste disposal. The intent of the ordinance is to facilitate water-wise landscape policies as a way to reduce green waste from going to landfills and to conserve water. If passed, the ordinance will have little impact on Piedmont.

    To have the ordinance apply to the development of your property, you must:

    1. Submit an application for a building permit or design review. That is, the ordinance only applies if you are undertaking a structural change to your property – home addition, remodel or fence installation. A stand-alone landscape project of any size that does not require a permit (almost all don’t) will not be subject to the ordinance.

    2. As part of that building project, propose a landscape plan that is 2500 sq ft or greater. As a point of reference, if your lot is 5000 sq ft and covered by more than 50% with structure, the ordinance cannot apply to you – you have less than 2500 sq ft for landscaping. If your 10,000 sq ft lot is covered 50% by structure, you have 5000 sq ft for landscaping. If you are not adding structure, you will not need a permit and the ordinance will not apply. Knowing your lot size and FAR, you can quickly determined if the ordinance can apply to your property. Do the remodel this year and the 2500 sq ft landscape project next year, the ordinance will not apply.

    3. The proposed landscape must be irrigated. If not all of the 2500 sg ft is irrigated, the ordinance does not apply.

    The ordinance does allow hedges and grass. 25% of the 2500 sq ft can be “non” Bay Friendly plants, so grass areas and hedges can be accommodated in the landscape.

    If you want to learn more about how the ordinance applies to Piedmont, read the staff report for Monday’s Council meeting at http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.

  3. Patti,
    Since your time on Council, Piedmont has adopted several policies that call for water conservation. The General Plan, Climate Action Plan, and Environmental Task Force all ads specific recommendations about water conservation and the adoption of Bay Friendly Landscape practices. The ordinance has had hearings at apart and Planning. Both Commissions purported and commented on how very little applicability it will have in Piedmont. But I agree that those meetings could have been spaced out over more time to give time for the community to understand the ordinance.

    You will be able to trim your hedge, reseed your lawn, install irrigation under this ordinance. As the staff report indicates, the ordinance will apply to very few applicants.

    Can you explain how you believe it is too broad for Piedmont?

    Editors Note: The ordinance applies to all property owners and automatically accepts any new rules chosen by StopWaste.org.

  4. Hmm, I’ll have to re-read the ordinance.

    Yes, it does allow hedges but you have to plant them where you want them to be when they are fully grown:  you’re not allowed to shear them!  Of my 2500 sq. ft., WMA wants Piedmont to tell me I can have 625 ft of grass?!
    How absurd!

    Piedmont’s goal should be to GET people to improve their property; not put up “gates” that stand in the way of beautification!

    Garrett, you say this hardly impacts Piedmont at all.  Then why adopt it?
    The ordinance is just one more piece of bureaucratic baloney that Piedmonters will have to deal with when they’re trying to get their project done.

    How many people do we have working in the Planning Department now?
    When I was on the Planning Commission it was two.  What are there now, four, five?  We’re a small town.  One of the wonderful things about us is that as a rule, we’re not complicated.  You need an answer you can usually get it from Marietta.   We don’t need WMA telling us how to run things:   we’ve been doing quite well on our own for 105 years, thank you very much!

    Piedmont already gets it’s green waste out of the waste stream by having green waste pick-up that is then composted.  It is NOT WMA’s mandate to regulate anybody’s water.  They should stick to their charge and stay out our business.  Piedmont is the most beautiful city in the county.  Please vote “NO” on this ordinance and help keep it that way.

    Thank you,
    Patty White

  5. The application of this proposed ordinance is broader than that of our recently enacted Model Water Conservation Ordinance. Under the new proposed ordinance, and I quote from it: “(iii) The following projects shall meet the most recent minimum Bay-Friendly Basics Checklist requirements, initiated on or after the effective date of this Ordinance, as recommended by StopWaste.Org or its designee: (1) new. . .rehabilitated landscapes and private development projects with a landscape area equal to or greater than 2500 square feet.. .” So then if you go to the Proposed Ordinance DEFINITION of “Landscape” (as just used in the above section), it reads: “Landscape” means the parcel area less the building pad and includes all irrigated planted areas and hardscape surfaces (i.e. driveway, parking, paths and other paved areas).”

    So I measure my “landscape area” which includes my driveway (28’x32′), my brick lawn banding (45 sq.ft.) and my front walk (175 sq.ft) and my small patch of landscaping around my garbage enclosure (27’x50′). That adds up to 2500+ sq. ft. and thus, under this Proposed Ordinance, my landscaping renovation of this little area will have to be planted with 75% native California and Mediterranean plants (an aesthetic which does not go with either my house or the rest of my landscaping). I would love to hear from anyone about how I went wrong on this calculation to determine if the new Proposed Ordinance would apply to me.

  6. Why adopt it? For the funding and to get Piedmont started on water conservation, one of the stated goals of our GP, CAP and ETF. Our Planning and Park Commissions support this first step. Very large projects that require high water usage is one place to start.

    For your project, a simple lot size/FAR calculation will quickly tell you if ordinance even applies. Staff cannot recall of any applicable projects. And if you do not need a building permit, you won’t even be going to Planning. You can do any type of landscaping of any size as long as you are not applying for a building permit at the same time. By all means improve away but consider Bay Friendly landscape – that is essentially how the ordinance will apply to Piedmont.

    BF landscaping has several benefits – waste reduction and water conservation. WMA adopted it as a waste reduction measure. And there are some beautiful BF gardens out there, especially in Piedmont.

  7. From: CLAY COLVIN [mailto:CLAY.COLVIN@newark.org]
    Sent: Mon 6/4/2012 9:21 AM
    To: Nancy Lehrkind
    Subject: RE: Looking for Minutes, reports, any

    Ms. Lehrkind:

    Sheila Harrington asked me to respond to your email regarding the
    adoption of the new Bay Friendly requirements.

    Just to clarify, the new regulations were not rejected by the City
    Council as they were never brought forward for their review. The
    adoption of the new regulations was one of the items required in order
    to obtain the final year of funding from the Import Mitigation Funding
    from StopWaste.Org. The City of Newark made the determination that it
    wasn’t economically sound for us to adopt new regulations for a year’s
    worth of funding and then be subject to the ordinance requirements for
    the foreseeable future.

    We didn’t see any problem with the standards themselves other than the
    impact they will have on our Public Works Department. The new standards
    will require additional man-hours that we simply do not have the budget
    to support on an on-going basis. We absolutely support Bay Friendly
    Landscaping but we have to do it within the constraints of our budget.

    If you have any questions, please contact me at (510) 578-4242.

    Clay Colvin
    Planning Manager
    City of Newark

  8. As a professional city planner, I am generally supportive of water conserving measures but preferably through incentives rather than a stick. If the critics are not misstating their objections, then it would seem that someone subject to the new regulations could not plant a plant that requires shearing. I cannot see any possible water-saving advantage to such a requirement, as long as the plant itself is reasonably water-conserving. Planting Cal natives or Mediterranean climate plants sounds fairly sensible but do the supporters mean that one could not plant, say, an orange tree, or even a rose bush? Councilmember Keatings comment that most people won’t actually be subject to it is not an answer as to whether it is a sensible policy. The cost of having to hire a landscape architect or similar professional to attest to conformance could easily cost who knows what, probably at least $500.

    I suspect this measure is only being put forward to qualify for a grant, but then most property owners will have the good sense to not ask the city what to plant.

  9. I support ways for the City to encourage residents to use environmentally friendly landscaping so perhaps those that raised objections to this ordinance can come up with some better ways to get that goal accomplished? It is really a change in culture aesthetic values that is at the core of this issue.

    But Garrett Keating’s description of how the requirements won’t apply hardly EVER….leads me to ask: why bother then?
    If this criteria were tightened up to apply more broadly, I too would be concerned that it would be yet another “hoop” to jump through when trying to improve one’s property. It seems like the City is trying to adopt this ordinance so that it can say it has a model ordinance on the books.

    I think we’d all agree that a non=regulatory approach is better than government rules and regulations. So perhaps civic boosters can start native garden tours and parties? More could be done to conserve water in some of the City’s parks. And what about making use of that obscure piece of unused City property up in Moraga Canyon as a demonstration garden?

  10. The ordinance is being proposed to fulfill Piedmont’s responsibility as a member of StopWaste, the joint powers authority of 14 Alameda County municipalities that oversees waste disposal in the county. Under this authority, Piedmont has adopted other ordinances – C&D, 75% waste reduction goal, civic Bay Friendly. Adopting these and the proposed ordinance does enable Piedmont to receive some funding but for those most part are intended to support county-wide efforts of waste reduction. Adopting Bay Friendly landscape policies is a stated goal of Piedmont’s General Plan, Climate Action Plan and Environmental Task Force.

    The proposed ordinance will apply if large, new single or multi-family developments are proposed in Piedmont. Water conservation of such large developments is currently regulated by a state-wide code requirement (WELO). In addition, by applying the BF ordinance to these projects, waste reduction is achieved in that BF landscaping practices are designed to reduce the volume of green waste generated. Transportation of green waste of county is large energy consumer.

    In Piedmont, the proposed BF ordinance applies only to new construction that also includes landscapes plans of 5000 sq ft or more. Other East Bay communities have set the landscape size for new development at 2500 sq ft. Stand-alone landscape projects of any size are not regulated by the ordinance. The current version of the ordinance does not prohibit shearing of vegetation.

    The ordinance does makes Piedmont “walk the walk” but starts that trip with a very small step. I think everyone agrees that water conservation and waste reduction are goals Piedmont must achieve and adopting regulations to that end seems to me the one way to start. Off hand, I can’t think of any environmental improvement that was achieved otherwise.

  11. I would think that tiered pricing from the water district would be adequate to encourage appropriate levels of water usage. If someone wants a tropical oasis in their backyard let them have it and pay the price.

    On another level, what is it about folks being elected to local or other government and being all excited about having carte blanche to regulate, tax, and control as many aspects of residents’ lives as they can dream up? The zone of regulation always expands, never contracts….

  12. As the great philosopher and writer Voltaire pointed out in his novel, Candide, in reality most of us have very little influence over what happens in the world.

    On the other hand, he gives his readers a means of gaining a sense of control over a small part of our lives: lower our expectations and “cultivate our gardens”.

    So please, allow us to sow some grass for our kids and animals; plant some flowers for intrinsic beauty; grow some veggies for safe, organic food; and even build a hot tub or swimming pool for exercise and family fun — all of this in our little patch of backyard space without the potential of rules and encumbrances to come. Thank you, Nancy Jacobs

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