Lawn watering disputed

Two Birnam Court Wood residents’ attempt to comply with state guidelines for water conservation during California’s plaguing drought raised the ire of their homeowners association, which notified the women that their brown lawns were not allowed under HOA regulations. However, a recently passed state law prevents HOAs from requiring residents to water during a drought.

Last week, neighbors Mimi Tompkins and Stephana McClaran received unexpected letters from the Adobe Creek Homeowners Association that informed them that their lawns are “brown and/or in need of maintenance.”

“While the association encourages all owners to conserve water during the current drought conditions, it is felt that significant reductions in irrigation can be made while still maintaining the appearance of the landscaping,” the letter stated. Although HOA representatives said that watering is not mandatory due to the new law, the letter does not imply that action is voluntary, ending with “Please take steps to either irrigate your front yard or share with the (HOA) board what your plans are for bringing your landscape into compliance...”

“The two of us were just really amazed,” McClaran said of the complaint. “It’s absurd. We’re a middle-class housing development that looks pretty. So what if it looks brown now?”

McClaran’s sentiments have been echoed throughout Petaluma and across the state — even the lawn in front of the Capitol in Sacramento went brown back in May.

“This is one more thing that I can do,” Tompkins said of her choice to stop watering. “I’m not proud of the way my yard looks. It doesn’t give me pleasure to go out and walk past it on the way to my car. But nevertheless, I would feel worse if I was wasting water just so my grass could be green.”

On July 15, the State Water Resources Control Board approved mandatory emergency regulations intended to further reduce outdoor water use statewide. Six days later, Assembly Bill 2100 was approved by Gov. Jerry Brown, which prohibits HOAs from imposing a fine or otherwise penalizing homeowners for “reducing or eliminating watering of vegetation or lawns” during a drought.

Tompkins and McClaran are both aware of the new law protecting their right to conserve water, and McClaran said she’s currently writing a rebuttal to the notice she received.

“I am not pouring one drop of potable water onto my lawn,” McClaran said. “It is going to stay brown until it rains, and when it rains, it will come back on its own.”

HOA representatives said if homeowners decide not to water, they can convert their grass into a water-wise garden at their own expense, a process that requires the resident to submit design plans for approval by the HOA.

“If they have elected to let their lawns die completely, then we encourage them to replace their lawn with (drought) tolerant, low-water usage plants,” said John McGinnis, president of the Adobe Creek Homeowners Association.

McGinnis and property manager Beth Ainslie confirmed that letters were sent out, but said that no fines or penalties are being imposed.

“The association has to encourage conservation, but they also have to address their responsibility to preserve the appearance of the community,” Ainslie said. “Ultimately, if the owners wants to just turn off their water, they can. And the board realizes that. That is their choice.”

McGinnis and Ainslie said developing new association policy regarding landscape watering will be on the agenda at the next Adobe Creek Homeowners Association board meeting.

(Contact Allison Jarrell at allison.jarrell@arguscourier.com)