It's called the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, and the proposed guidelines from the California Department of Water Resources have building owners, developers and landscapers more upset by the minute.

The guidelines, required under a 2006 state law, set landscaping and water-efficiency standards for all outdoor areas larger than 2,500 square feet. The goal is two-fold: to reduce water usage and runoff. Cutting back water use has recently become a top priority due to drought conditions; many regions of California face either huge water rate hikes or outright rationing.

Laws controlling water use and landscaping have traditionally been set at the local level. But AB 1881, the 2006 law, requires cities and counties to adopt water-efficiency standards by Jan. 1, 2010. They can adopt the state ordinance "as is," make changes to it or adopt other water conservation plans.

Last spring, the Department of Water Resources came out with the first draft of the guidelines, and it raised howls from the building and landscaping industries. The department issued a revised version late last year that addressed some of the industries' concerns. The requirements are still seen as harsh, however.

Among other things, the ordinance requires:

- All landscaped areas greater than 5,000 square feet to have water meters installed.

- More frequent use of drip irrigation systems.

- Installation of weather sensors to prevent sprinklers from going on during rain, snow or windstorms.

- Using only plants on government lists for the specific microclimate of the site or for water conservation.

- Filing of irrigation and drainage plans to local authorities.

- Inspections to ensure compliance.

Building and landscape industry representatives argue that these requirements are too expensive and would not save significant amounts of water.

When the guidelines were in draft form, La Canada-Flintridge-based landscape architect Ronnie Siegel protested to the department:

"The largest problems are the huge amounts of extra time needed to prove compliance and get plans approved, and the additional cost to the client, which often prohibits them from doing what is best for the
environment."

The revisions to the draft did not ease the concerns of the industry.

The inspection issue is a particularly thorny one for building owners, since it could delay occupancy certificates, according to Rex Heim, chief executive of the California Business Properties Association.

The Department of Water Resources is reviewing the revised guidelines and they will most likely go on the books by midyear.

Carted Away

Grocery store operators have forced the city of Los Angeles to back away from aggressive measures to control the spread of abandoned shopping carts.

Last year, Councilman Tony Cardenas proposed an ordinance requiring all grocery store operators to either erect posts around parking lots to keep shopping carts on site or to install wheel-locking systems that activate once the cart passes over sensors on parking lot perimeters.

Cardenas' office commissioned a count two years ago in his San Fernando Valley district and found almost 7,000 abandoned carts in five months. After that, Glendale adopted an ordinance placing the burden on stores to keep carts on site and Cardenas used it as a model for his proposal.

"Containment systems like those discussed in the ordinance would cost up to $40,000 per store location," said Matthew Dodson, director of local government relations for the California Grocers Association. That would end up costing a chain like Vons, which has 22 stores in Los Angeles city limits, nearly $1 million.

After discussions with Dodson and other industry representatives, Cardenas agreed to a compromise plan: Stores, which have to place ID tags on their carts, would be required to take added steps each time they were found to have five or more carts off premises.

For the first violation, the store must submit a cart containment plan to the city but would be on its own to tackle the problem. For the second violation, the city will require the store to choose from a menu of containment options, which could include containment systems or more frequent use of trucks to pick up abandoned carts. After the third violation, the city will issue specific containment requirements.

"We want to give the stores every opportunity to fix the problem themselves before the city steps in with any forced spending," said Jose Carnejas, Cardenas' chief of staff.

The proposal is expected to come back before the City Council within the next 60 days and could be approved by midyear.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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