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O.C. city sues couple who removed front lawn to save water

Some Southern California cities fine residents for watering their lawns too much during drought conditions.

But in Orange, city officials are locked in a legal battle with a couple accused of violating city ordinances for removing their lawn, which they did to save water.

The dispute began two years ago, when Quan and Angelina Ha tore out the grass in their frontyard. In drought-plagued Southern California, the couple reasoned, the lush grass soaked up tens of thousands of gallons of water – and hundreds of dollars – each year.

Quan and Angelina thought they were doing something good for the environment.

“We’ve got a newborn, so we want to start worrying about her future,” said Quan Ha, an IT manager for Kelley Bluebook. 

But city officials informed the Has that they were violating several city laws that require residents to cover significant ports of their front lawns with live ground cover. On Tuesday, the two are scheduled to appear in Orange County Superior Court to challenge a lawsuit the city filed against them. They are fighting City Hall, saying their yard looks fine.

Soon after the city complained about the yard, they covered the dirt with wood chips, with help from neighbor Dennis Cleek.

“It’s their yard, it’s not overgrown with weeds, it’s not an eyesore,” said Cleek, whose own yard boasts fruit and avocado trees. “We should be able to have our yards look the way we want them to.”

But city officials determined the fix was not acceptable, saying city codes require that 40% of the yard be landscaped predominantly with live plants.

“Compliance -- that’s all we’ve ever wanted,” explained City Atty. Wayne Winthers. Last summer, the couple tried to appease the city by building a fence around the yard and planting drought-resistant greenery – lavender, rosemary, horsetail and pittosporum, among others. They sent a photo to city officials in October but say they received no response.

A few months later, they heard from the city, which said their landscaping still did not comply with city standards.

“They put up a nice fence but [the photo] didn’t show anything about how they had complied with code, as far as the frontyard goes,” Winthers said, “nor did it include a site plan.”

At the end of January, the Has received a letter from the city informing them they had been charged with with misdemeanor code violations and must appear in court.

“It’s just funny that we pay our taxes to the city and the city is now prosecuting us with our own money,” Quan Ha said. “Doesn’t it waste funds to go back and fourth in court, rather than sending pictures, e-mails and having phone conversations?”

Winthers said he hoped the city could work out a compromise with the couple. “We know times are tough, but we’re willing to work with them; we’d be more than happy to,” he said.

Meanwhile, the couple said there had been one bright spot: They reduced their water usage from from 299,221 gallons in 2007 to 58,348 gallons in 2009.

-- Amina Khan

Comments () | Archives (38)

Only stupidity mixed with stubborn arrogance saves the jobs of these county officials.

This proves the government is full of idiots. These people are HELPING the environment and the government seems to want them to waste money watering it. What the heck?!

So they're being sued with their own money for SAVING water?

What next?

Suing us for putting awnings over windows?

Suing us for lawn gnomes?

Suing us for putting up decorations for whatever holidays we like to celebrate?


Stupid bureaucratic fools.

They should just plant cacti. Most of SoCal is a desert anyway.
If they alone saved 230k gallons of water, it makes me think that the problem that Socal farmers have with not enough irrigation water could be solved just by changing some laws and giving a small tax break to people who give up lawns for something that uses less water.

Since mowing lawns is a major source of air and noise pollution, this would have other benefits as well.

City of Orange you have got to be kidding! At least once a year we get mailed notices to conserve water any way we can. Prices on water are rising. The water companies say they do not have enough reserve supply for the influx of new residents. You are doing a disservice not only to the Has but to every living creature that consumes water in southern California. Your policy does not reflect current environmental needs. Change it and stop harassing these folks for doing their part in conservation. Alternatively maybe the EPA would be interested in taking Orange to court.

Jacob...are you nuts? Are perhaps you are one of the OC bureaucrats in question?

There is no drought, that is the climate in that location. If you don't like it, live someplace else. The problem is, too many people are living in a place that cannot sustain them w/o major artificial intervention.

It's almost as if people have decided to live on the moon and are complaining about how expensive it is to live as they try to have a lawn like they had in Missouri.

Orange is requiring people to have an amount of vegetation that would otherwise not exist if people didn't live there. The solution is to stop watering your lawn and let the let be as it would be with whatever native vegetation that the natural rainfall would sustain.

We live in the city of Orange and received a citiation stating that our grass was not green enough amoung other cosmetic complaints. We were complying with the Governor's request to water only three times per week. We were saving water for the community and our lawn looked acceptable. They continually harrassed us and threatend jail time. Their system is complaint driven and if you have an elderly neighbor who dislikes you and has a lot of time on their hands you are singled out. The Police Officer (yes, our neighbor called the police department) that was assigned to our case would not return phone calls. We finally sent her a letter and she still did not respond but escalated the case to prosecution with the City Attorneys office. They threatend fines, arrest warrents and jail time. The assistant City attorney was the only one we were actually able to speak with, Wayne Winthers. He was agreeable as long as we complied. It is horrible to live in this city with the ridiculous enforcement of 'Neighborhood Pride' standards. And we moved here because the hospital that we need for our premature, auto immune disorder children is here. So sad. I have photographs of our offensive residence if anyone is interested.

Incredible! Shame on Orange County city! They should set an example and praise the young couple for being environmently friendly and cost-effective in reducing their water usage. Shame, Shame, Shame!!!

I usually go enjoy going to the Block in Orange but NO MORE...I am BOYCOTTING their mall and city. No money of mine will be wasted on this city!!!!!!!!!!

The city of Orange officials are ridiculous and retarded. This is an clear example of government wasting taxpayer money. Enough said.

I used to live in Orange County and had fond memories. Now I realize the city government is insane and I'm glad I don't live there anymore. This isn't 1960 anymore, city officials; it's 2010 and intelligent folks are more concerned about the environment rather than a Pleasantville appearance.

I was born and raised in Orange...property rights aren't respected there or anywhere else in SC. I'm very glad I left.

Good for the Ha family! And good luck to them in their fight against the rapacious OC bureaucracy! Not only does it sound like they saved water, but also it seems they still kept their yard looking nice. Not that the latter matters, if they'd chosen to keep old appliances and broken down cars in their yard instead it shouldn't make a difference.

For those who think you have a right to a nice view when you buy a house, think again. If you were buying the view you'd have bought the neighbohood instead of your tiny little 1/8 acre lot.

If you don't like how the neighbor's yard looks, close your blinds, move or buy their property.

I am facing the same problem with city of Alhambra, the ordinances was dated in 86, I had try very department in the city try to get the city official to hear my case, and none of which respond of cause, and then in Mid. Mar. 2010 I received a call from the code enforcement ask me to remove the astro-turf.

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