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An ease for the water squeeze

HOAs are becoming more receptive to water conservation measures

Posted: March 16, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 16, 2014 2:00 a.m.

The faint line of a seam can be seen in artificial grass on the center median on Magic Mountain Parkway between Railroad Avenue and Valencia Boulevard as cars pass by in Valencia. Photos by Dan Watson.

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Six years ago when Santa Clarita Valley water officials told residents to cut back on their water use, a Valencia couple we shall call Jack and Jill complied by turning off their sprinklers.

“We don’t use water unless we need to, and it’s not a necessity to have a green lawn,” Jill said in an interview with The Signal last week. “But I lived in an area where green lawns are expected.”

So when their lawn turned yellow, the couple was in for a long-running battle with their Valencia South Valley Homeowners Association.

“We got fined, and they kept sending us letters that were very nasty and were so negative,” Jill said. “They told us that the lawn needed water and that (the yellowed lawn) was not compliant with the rules.”

Eventually, Jack and Jill were forced to comply, she said.

“I signed off on it with respect to the terms and conditions,” Jill said, adding she’s not happy about being forced to waste water. Their HOA could not be reached for comment Friday.

These days, though, it’s the renters who keep the sprinklers running, Jill said. The couple no longer lives in Valencia. They still own the home and thus didn’t want their names used in an article about a situation many Santa Clarita Valley residents worry about today.

Last month the Santa Clarita Valley Water Committee, made up of local water purveyors, ordered residents and businesses to cut water consumption by 20 percent.

As one HOA resident posted on The Signal’s Facebook page: “Lawn police showed up in November when my lawn was asleep and told me it was too brown. Thousand dollars later it’s green. Water police are coming and are going to tell me to stop watering so much.”

A recent check with local property management companies, however, indicate at least some HOAs today are more lenient, understanding and tolerant of water-saving measures than the Valencia couple experienced six years ago.

Drought-tolerant HOAs

“Green lawn” alternatives are seriously considered by homeowner associations these days, said Brad Watson, owner and founder of Property Management Professionals, which represents several homeowner associations in the Santa Clarita Valley, including West Hills and West Creek.

“I’m seeing a trend with (homeowner) associations now being more accepting when it comes to drought-tolerant options,” he said in a recent interview. “Associations and their boards of directors are shifting toward a drought-tolerant approach to landscaping.

“I even have large master plans updated to include architectural guidelines that allow for artificial turf,” he said.
James Beard, community manager for the Valencia Summit Homeowners Association, said he’s also seen a softening in attitude over nine years in the business.

“I’ve seen a turn-around in attitude,” he said. “I would say in the past we weren’t as tolerant as we are now.”
However, some HOAs, it seems, are not as enlightened as Beard and Watson say.

“Some HOAs are still very stringent,” said Bill Boise, former vice president of the homeowners association representing cabin owners in the Bouquet Creek area.

“You can’t put a flipping plant on your lawn without someone freaking out,” at least in some HOAs, he said.

Looking natural

Before about five years ago, when the trend began toward alternatives to thirsty lawns and plants, associations were reluctant to approve alternatives to well-watered lawns — such as artificial grass — because they looked just that — artificial, Watson said.

“The issue previously was that there wasn’t any acceptable products out there that looked good,” he said. “But now there are some great products out there that look natural and look great.”

Case in point: the “faux grass” laid down by city officials on some of the Magic Mountain Parkway medians between Valencia Boulevard and Railroad Avenue.

“We like it, and it is definitely easy to maintain — no water required,” city spokeswoman Gail Morgan said. “At this time, we do not have any plans for more of the artificial turf, but all options are on the table for future consideration.”

“Artificial grass is an acceptable alternative to natural turf,” said Dan Masnada, general manager of Castaic Lake Water Agency, which was among the water purveyors that called for a cutback in water use.

“One of the benefits is that it is permeable and allows rain water to percolate into the ground instead of running off,” he said. “Current types of artificial turf are very realistic looking.”

Masnada pointed out that the cost to install fake grass is recovered over time in reduced watering bills. Valencia Water Company has installed artificial turf in front of its office, he noted.

HOA approval

Still, residents who live in HOA-governed areas should consider their options before ripping out their front lawns, Watson said. HOA approval is usually required before taking such action.

Homeowner associations still have the power to take a homeowner to court and/or obtain a court injunction “for you to return the state of your home to its original state” if lawn alternatives are not approved.

The Water Conservation Action Plan approved last month calls on residents and businesses in the Santa Clarita Valley to take reasonable actions to reduce water consumption and eliminate any water-wasting practices.

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