It’s good to be green. But is it green to be brown? More to the point, can you be brown, dead and green? Kevin Doane thinks so.
The city of Costa Mesa does not. Here’s how it all started. Doane, a Costa Mesa contractor, was not the least bit sad to see 2008 grow dim then disappear in his rear view mirror.
The economy’s one and a half gainer onto the sidewalk from 20 stories up cost Doane his job, and he was counting every penny, twice. Actually, he was counting quarters, but we’ll get back to that later.
After hearing a drumbeat from the city of Costa Mesa and elsewhere about how saving water and using drought-resistant plants would not only save the planet but save some dough, Doane had an epiphany: If the city wants drought-resistant plants, what could be more drought resistant than a dead plant? No water, no money, no problem. It was perfect.
Doane put his water/money-saving plan into action not with just one plant but thousands of tiny ones — i.e., his lawn. Sure enough, not long after he stopped watering, his front lawn looked like a something out of the Dust Bowl and Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” — “Houses were shut tight and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in…and settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes.”
Doane believed that he had achieved total oneness with the environment and the city. It was the perfect lawn for a new age, so brown it was green, with not one drop of water or 1 cent wasted.
Unfortunately, the city disagreed and not all the neighbors were Steinbeck fans.
A code enforcement officer from the city referred Doane to something called the Municipal Code — a long, dry, humorless document that has more sections than a pomegranate cut eight ways, including “Title 13, Planning, Zoning and Development: Chapter 7, Landscaping Standards: Section 13-108, Landscape Maintenance“ which, as it turns out, is quite specific, and I quote: “The property owner is responsible for the maintenance of the landscaping on their property. Any dead, dying, or diseased trees, shrubbery, vines, groundcover, or turf, must be replaced within sixty (60) days of written notice from the development services or public services departments.”
Translation: Just because something is brown doesn’t mean it’s green. The aforementioned notice was written and delivered, 60 days came and went but the lawn was still dead, fully and completely deceased, not living, dearly departed and really, really brown.
Not long after, Doane was in possession of not only a violation notice from the city but the first bill for what would eventually grow to some $400 in fines, which is a lot of fines when you’re a contractor who isn’t doing any contracting.
Last month, Doane showed up at a City Council meeting during oral communications and used all 180 seconds of his allotted three minutes to communicate orally and energetically.
“I’m not going to water my yard. I’m not going to put in grass. I’m not going to do any of that,” Doane told the council. “…although you maintain that I need to because my citation says that I have to keep it green. If I have to keep doing this and getting pushed, I will get some spray paint and paint my yard green ... which my neighbors have all said, ‘Please, Kevin, don’t do that.’”
I have to vote with the neighbors on that one, Kev. As anyone who has been to Arizona knows, those totally convincing green gravel “lawns” need to be avoided wherever and whenever possible.
Friday, when the deadline to cough up the 400 clams came due, Kevin Doane and the saga of the “green lawn that turned brown but was supposed to be green” became an official, major league, big deal story — with television news crews from L.A. knocking on the door and traipsing all over the lawn, which the lawn didn’t mind at all since it’s been totally numb for months.
“You wouldn’t believe how funny this has gotten,” Doane said. “I’ve lived my life in anonymity.”
Not any more, Kevin. Your 15 minutes have arrived, more or less.
Just before time ran out on Friday afternoon, Doane made his way to City Hall to prove that he may be a protester but he’s not a law-breaker. He ponied up the 400 bucks in assorted bills and exactly 120 quarters.
“When I saw the bag I thought, ‘Oh God, I hope it’s not all quarters,’” said city of Costa Mesa cashier Larry Bell. So is that it? Is it over? Not as far as Doane is concerned. “I had to pay the fine,” Doane said. “If I don’t follow the rules I give up my day in court.”
Well, OK then. Stay tuned. Will Doane win his battle? Will his lawn ever come back? Does anyone know where grass goes when it dies? I don’t know. Forest Lawn maybe.
By the way, speaking of the natural order, did you notice Saturday night’s full moon? Did it look huge? It should have. Jan. 10 was the largest full moon of 2009, which is good to know, but what we do for the other 355 nights? I gotta go.
PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at email@example.com.