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Glendale yard cops are at it again

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Here we go again, back to my favorite place in all of Southern California -- the city where no good deed goes unpunished.

Glendale.

This time it's not about the ban on frontyard fences, or a threatened $347,000 fine for a little tree trimming. This time we've got a case of City Hall yard cops cracking down on a resident who has gone native, replacing a green but thirsty lawn with drought-resistant plants.

Socially responsible?

Yes.

In compliance with city code?

Not on your life.

If this seems like déjà vu all over again, that's because the case is quite similar to the one I wrote about in February. Back then, Pete Anderson and Sally Browder were threatened with "criminal charges" after switching from water-guzzling landscaping to native California plants and a rock bed.

"No brown, all green," an ever-vigilant Glendale official had warned, but the city backed off after a little crusading here in this space.

With that in mind, Glendale resident Dvoshe Walkowiak wondered if I could make another house call.

"Please," she said in an e-mail. "Glendale is out of control."

Always happy to help.

On Monday afternoon, I drove out to the house in question. Walkowiak lives on the western edge of the city, and as I approached, I saw one green lawn after another, with sprinklers running at some houses.

In a drought, shouldn't they be the people who are cited?

The offending property stood out like a sore thumb. Instead of lush, neatly manicured grass, I saw decorative rocks, mulch and a couple dozen native plants.

The miscreant responsible for this abomination greeted me on the front porch of the house she rents with a friend and two children. Walkowiak, a union organizer, said the owner pretty much leaves the landscaping to her and Quintin Carter, the guy she lives with.

The frontyard had been nothing but crab grass, which yellowed as always last summer, and this naturally caught the attention of Glendale's ever-vigilant inspectors. The city has five employees out and about, looking for precisely this kind of subversive behavior.

"They said we had to have it green within 30 days or we'd be fined," Walkowiak said. "I thought, 'OK, I'll rise to the occasion.' "

And so she began drenching the crab grass. "I was out here every night," she said. "It was lush, it was green."

But the water bill was going up, and she wasn't any happier with green crab grass than she had been with brown crab grass.

"We live in Southern California, which is a desert, and there's a drought going on. I wanted to do something ecologically responsible and redo the garden with native plants."

She began by investigating ways to kill the lawn, and came upon a remedy that could accomplish two vitally important things at once: Stave off a water shortage, and save the newspaper industry.

"You lay down the newspaper on the lawn," Walkowiak said, "but it has to be 12 sheets thick."

Sure, the L.A. Times might have shrunk a bit in recent years, but it's still fat enough to kill Walkowiak's grass. Chalk it up as yet another advantage we hold over Internet-only news sources.

I poked around in the garden for the remains of my columns, but couldn't find any. As critics have suggested, though, my words were like fertilizer, and from a bed of ink-stained mulch has risen a field of beauty -- and the water bill has been cut by more than half.

"This is white sage, this is pitcher sage; here we've got coast sunflower, Mulholland oak," Walkowiak said, leading me on a little tour past yellow poppies and all the rest.

Sure, the yard is a work in progress, and the stacks of old newspapers had to have been a bit of an eyesore.

When I visited, trash bags filled with mulch were still scattered around, the curb strip was still pretty scraggly, and it'll take a year or two before the native plants mature and fill in.

Unfortunately, the folks at City Hall are not a patient lot. Walkowiak and Carter received notice last week to appear at City Hall tomorrow and explain why they are still in violation of city landscaping standards. If they don't, the case will be referred to "the city attorney's office for potential legal action," and they will be fined $74 for further inspections.

This can be avoided if they quickly "remove all weeds and install plant materials or decorative ground cover elements (tree bark, pebbles, river rocks, etc. . . . ) on front lawn. Bare areas must be landscaped or covered."

Walkowiak is confused.

"Is this a bare spot?" she asked, pointing to the space between two plants. And what is the city calling a weed? Might the inspector have confused some of the young native plants with weeds?

Two doors away, neighbors Julio Escobar and Maria Valencia said they thought Walkowiak's yard looked great, but they weren't surprised by the hassle. A city inspector had stopped by their house, Valencia said, and threatened to write a ticket if they didn't mow the lawn.

Sam Engel, who runs Glendale's Neighborhood Services unit, said the city is certainly not opposed to drought-resistant landscaping, but rules are rules. Engel checked out the property Tuesday and said he thinks Walkowiak -- who had an unrelated battle recently over the use of a backyard garage as an office -- is close to being in compliance.

The yard was thick with weeds until very recently, Engel said, but Walkowiak has done a lot of work since then. The curb-strip crab grass, though, is going to have to be dealt with soon, he said.

Walkowiak sounded ready for a fight when I told her that. And she said there's no way she's paying a nickel in penalties for conserving water.

"Look at the Verdugo Hills," she said from her frontyard, gazing into the distance. "They're not green. Should we fine someone?"

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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