The yard cops will not be deterred


You’d think that after fining a family $347,000 last year for trimming some overgrown trees on their property, the city of Glendale could rest on its laurels. But there is no end to the zeal of City Hall bureaucrats, who are as determined as ever to let no good deed go unpunished.

A couple of years ago, Pete Anderson and Sally Browder decided to do something about a nagging bout of guilt. Like most people in water-challenged California, they were pouring gallons of H2O into their yard, feeding a nice green lawn like every other resident of their block.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” said Browder, a recording engineer and the mother of a little girl who happens to be one of my daughter’s buddies.


“Even if I had all the money in the world,” said Anderson, a musician, endlessly running the sprinklers “would be wrong from an ecological point of view.”

So they decided to starve their lawn.

While they waited for it to die, Browder began researching drought-resistant plants and making trips to the Theodore Payne Native Plant Nursery in Sun Valley. Last August, she and Anderson removed the dead grass, ripped out the irrigation system, built a decorative dry creek bed, and paved an area along the driveway with used brick.

In rich dark soil next to that, they neatly placed incensia, sage, blue-eyed grass, monkey flowers, Pt. Reyes manzanita and woolly blue curls, taking care not to squeeze the plants too close together.

“I like it a lot,” said next-door neighbor Rachel Stull, who helped with some of the planting. “I think it adds character” on a block that otherwise looks like “a planned community.”

But a City Hall emissary, working for the same Neighborhood Services department that was involved in the infamous tree-trimming fiasco, did not share this enthusiasm. He cited Anderson and Browder on Aug. 29 for having too much paving material and too few plants.

Anderson and Browder were dumbfounded. Until they got the violation notice, they had been unaware of a city ordinance requiring that 40% of their lot be fully landscaped. They thought they’d done a pretty nice job, so when two months went by without more contact from the city, they assumed the matter had been dropped.


Reader alert: No one living in Glendale should ever assume that City Hall has backed off. If your fence, flagpole, trees or anything else is the least bit out of conformity, the city’s good soldiers will always keep coming.

Anderson says a mix-up led to a missed appointment with an inspector. And then, before the year was out, he and his wife were slapped with another, completely unrelated violation.

“Pursuant to BSC V5.1001.8.2,” said the notice, “the paint on the exterior windows, frames, sills, doors is peeling/flaking, a substandard condition.”

What next, they wondered? Would their daughter be cited for riding a tricycle on the brick pavers? They had already intended to paint the house, but it was more than a little strange having City Hall order them to.

Then came Anderson’s call to a City Hall employee who mentioned “the photos.”

“What photos?” Anderson asked.

“We took some pictures of the house,” came the response.

Anderson’s reaction?

“It really creeped me out.”

He said the man told him he had “too much brick on his setback.”

“I want to comply,” Anderson told him, “but what am I supposed to do?”

At this point, it would have been easier to move to Burbank. But Anderson and Browder, who had now been billed $148 for city inspections, were too ticked off to back off. On Jan. 31, they went to City Hall for a meeting with Suzana Delis, a Neighborhood Services administrative analyst.

Anderson brought photos he had taken of other houses in Glendale with lots of paving out front and wondered why only his house was being targeted. He said the city asked for the photos as evidence, presumably so they could bust some more hardened criminals, but he refused to turn them over.


Browder, meanwhile, said Delis wagged a finger at them, saying she wanted their yard to have “no brown, all green” within 90 days. Browder tried to argue that the drought-tolerant plants would take some time to fill in. She says Delis told her there was no such thing as drought-tolerant plants, and Browder did her honest best not to pull out someone’s hair.

Delis was out of the office Tuesday and did not call back to give me her version of events. She might have been too busy researching this crazy rumor of drought-resistant vegetation.

The upshot?

Anderson and Browder have been given until April 30 to paint any rough surfaces on their house, to remove “excess paving” and to “fully landscape with live plant materials, and maintain at all times.”

And what if they don’t?

The notice is clear on that: “Failure to make the required corrections . . . may result in criminal charges being filed against you.”

Yahoo for Glendale, the city that never disappoints.

Joy Gaines of the city’s water and power department told me what I already knew: that water availability in California is always a concern. Her department encourages residents to use drought-resistant plants, and she said she would be meeting with city officials to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

At City Hall, Sam Engel, the head of Neighborhood Services, said Anderson and Browder should have checked with City Hall before doing anything in their yard. I told him I didn’t think people should need permission to do a socially responsible thing like conserve water.


Rather than harass Anderson and Browder, I told him, the city should make them a poster family for living in harmony with the environment. All his department can do, Engel insisted, is enforce existing ordinances. If citizens want them to be changed, that’s the business of the City Council.

When Engel looked at the landscaping photo I borrowed from Anderson and Browder, he said he thought their plants were too small.

“That’s dirt,” he said of the area between the native plants. “Is it not dirt?”

Well, he’s got me. There is indeed some dirt between the plants.

Anderson kissed his wife before leaving for work Tuesday morning and suggested she do her best to keep the gendarmes at bay. The family has already decided to make a concession and dig up some of the bricks. But if that doesn’t satisfy City Hall, Anderson is prepared to do hard time.