Under the proposed ordinance, grass and other non-drought-tolerant plants would be restricted to as little as 25 percent of the landscape for all new developments. The ordinance allows extra water for playing fields and for properties that use recycled water, such as the Google headquarters. The ordinance would not affect most homeowners.
The city held a meeting on the proposed ordinance on Wednesday evening at the Senior Center, after the Voice went to press.
"The idea is not to burden existing homeowners with additional costs," said Elizabeth Flegel, water conservation coordinator for the city.
There are two options under the plan. The first is to limit "high water use" plants and grass to 25 percent of the property's landscape. The rest can be landscaped with low water use and/or native plants.
The second option is to prepare a "water budget calculation" for the landscape design's needed water volume. The calculation can add up to no more than what is needed for equal parts low, moderate and high water use plants on the site, Flegel said.
There will be no ongoing enforcement of water use under the ordinance, but the city would check on each installation to make sure it follows the approved design, Flegel said.
Regardless of the option chosen there are also several design rules that must be followed in order to efficiently use irrigation systems, such as grouping high water use plants together.
The ordinance would only apply to properties going through the city's planning department for other reasons, such as building permits, variances and conditional use permits. The ordinance's biggest impact would be on new developments, such as office parks or subdivisions of the sort currently being built at Satake Estates, located on the site of the former Satake Nursery at the end of Marilyn Drive (the Satake developments are using drought-tolerant landscaping).
Making the ordinance more far-reaching would mean hiring more city staff, Flegel said — an additional cost burden during hard financial times for the city. It would also be unusual in light of what other cities have done, she said.
The city was spurred to draft the ordinance by state Assembly Bill 1881, which allows the city to create its own regulations instead of following one provided by the state.