Opinion: We’re in a drought. Why is it still hard to rip out your lawn in L.A.?

A sign over a highway in Glendale warns motorists to save water in response to the state's severe drought.
(Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

For months now California leaders have been telling people to conserve water, let their lawns go brown and switch to drought-tolerant yards. But Los Angeles rules have, in some cases, made it hard to be water wise.

Take, for example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which offers one of the most generous lawn-removal incentives in the state — $3 per square foot of grass replaced by low-water landscape. But the utility requires proof that you’re removing a healthy, green lawn in order to qualify for the rebate.

So all those responsible, drought-conscious Angelenos who let their lawns wither are out of luck. Or, they turn on the sprinklers again to green their grass in order to get the rebate to rip out their lawn. Or, they go on Photoshop and doctor their application photos to make it appear that their grass is still thriving. Either way, the rule doesn’t make sense in the current environment.

Now the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti are wisely removing barriers and increasing incentives for Angelenos to get rid of their lawns, which is not only good for conservation during the drought but will help Los Angeles reduce its long-term demand for water.


History has shown that water conservation measures enacted during droughts can become permanent water reductions. That’s why L.A. leaders should do everything in their power now to get people to rip out unused, ornamental lawns and replace the grass with low-water landscapes. Garcetti has proposed upping the lawn-removal incentive from $3 to $3.75.

But for maximum success, the city has to make it as easy as possible to get rid of the grass. That means relaxing the green-lawn requirement for the DWP rebate.

It also means making it easier for residents to install artificial turf in their parkways, the strip between the street and the sidewalk. Traditionally the city required property owners to install and maintain grass in the parkway. The city relaxed the rules a few years ago — spurred by the last drought — and allowed nearly two dozen grass alternatives that could be planted in the parkway without a permit.

But apparently, artificial turf wasn’t on the list and, according to the motion introduced by Councilman Bob Blumenfield, getting a permit to put fake grass in the parkway could cost as must as $2,000. The City Council voted this week to have the Department of Public Works develop a standard process by which residents could “plant” artificial turf in the parkway without a pricey permit.

This is a smart move. The drought and the focus on water conservation provide Los Angeles the perfect opportunity to encourage and facilitate a shift toward low-water landscapes. It would be a shame if outdated rules prevent Los Angeles from taking full advantage of the moment.

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