BRENTWOOD — While many East Bay residents and water agencies are doing all they can to conserve water during the drought, some homeowners associations have been slower to get on board.
Brentwood residents Christina Bell and Peggy Menzie, whose homes are within the Shadow Lakes homeowners association, wanted to replace all or part of their lawns with drought-resistant landscaping. But Menzie was told she couldn’t do it, and Bell was told instead to paint her dead lawn green.
“It’s not realistic for people to have a ton of grass,” Bell said. “To allow homeowners to remove parts of their lawn and place drought-tolerant plants would be a great compromise.”
Earlier this summer the city asked its residents to lower their water usage by 35 percent from 2013 levels, prompting homeowners to do more to conserve water. The added incentive of rebates offered by some water companies to property owners who replaced lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping, eased the pain.
Last year, Menzie, a freelance landscaping designer and certified master gardener, tried to get the association’s board to approve her drought-tolerant landscaping design, but her application was denied.
And after Bell submitted an application with the HOA last month to replace part of her lawn with less-thirsty plants, a flagstone walkway and a small patio with a bench, a member of the association’s board told her it would not be approved. The person instead recommended Bell paint her lawn green if she wanted to make it look better.
“My grass is literally falling apart,” Bell said, adding that she doesn’t think grass paint would be safe for her family or the environment. “It is turning to dust because it hasn’t been watered, and having no flexibility and telling me to paint it is not an option for my family.”
Multiple water districts that serve Brentwood encourage residents’ efforts to convert their lawns to drought-tolerant gardens by offering rebate programs to lessen the costs of doing so.
New state legislation also supports homeowners’ desire to take water conservation seriously.
Assembly Bill 2104, which took effect Jan. 1, states that homeowners associations can’t prevent residents from modifying or removing their lawns to make room for drought-tolerant plants.
That didn’t help Fran Paxson of San Ramon, who replaced her lawn with drought-resistant plants and ground cover while the law was pending last summer. She was notified by her homeowners association that she would be fined $50 a month until she restored at least 25 percent of her yard back to grass.
Attorney Stephanie Hayes, who represents Shadow Lakes, said that the association recognizes that expectations for green lawns are no longer possible with the ongoing drought. She also pointed out that the association’s guidelines for landscaping — written several years ago — emphasize drought resistance.
“They are getting up to speed and consulting with legal counsel on what it can or cannot do,” Hayes said.
Bell is waiting for the board’s decision on her application. She said she hopes it will respect the new laws and public policies.
In the meantime, Menzie took matters into her own hands and tore out her lawn and installed the drought-friendly landscape denied by the board last year.
The action got notice from the HOA, which sent her an email asking to meet. Menzie refused but did send a copy of her design to the board.
“I’m ready to pay a fine,” Menzie said, adding that she will also fight it.
Contact Rocio Hernandez-Zarate at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/rociohdz19