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L.A. parks want exemption from citywide drought rules

July 22, 2009 |  6:00 am

One month after the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power barred residents from watering on days other than Mondays and Thursdays, city officials are looking at loosening the law for the city’s parks department and other large landowners.

With temperatures topping 100 degrees in the San Fernando Valley, the parks department secured an emergency exemption allowing it to water its parks, golf courses and athletic fields on any day of the week until the law is rewritten, said Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

“All the Valley parks are turning brown,” said Mukri, whose agency received the exemption Monday. “It’s not that one is worse than the other. They’re all showing stress.”

The City Council is scheduled to meet today to discuss the effect of the drought rules on park facilities. Tuesday, the DWP's Board of Commissioners forwarded to the council a proposal to change its watering law to allow cemeteries, colleges, school districts and other larger property owners to irrigate more frequently -- as long as they show they have reduced their water use by 20%.

Mukri said his agency has cut water consumption by 40% over the last two years and will continue installing drought-friendly irrigation systems. Facilities including Griffith Park and five city golf courses already use recycled water and are therefore allowed to water on a daily basis, he said.

Still, the notion of an emergency deal for the parks department drew fire from one outspoken critic of the DWP’s water policies, who complained that the average ratepayer does not get such consideration.

“I think the city needs to follow its own rules,” said David Coffin, a member of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council.

Last year, the DWP banned watering between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and prohibited restaurants from serving water unless a customer specifically asked. On June 1, the DWP also limited outdoor watering to Mondays and Thursdays. The new changes proposed by the DWP would give flexibility to ratepayers with more than three acres of land that need landscaping, said Tom Erb, the DWP's director of water resources.

Although the parks department is now allowed to water its facilities on additional days, that option will not be available to other large property owners until the council approves the changes to the law, Erb said. A council vote is not expected for a few weeks.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, who introduced a motion to allow daily watering at city parks and golf courses, said the existing rules have affected not only the grassy turf but also the health of the city's trees and the greens at its golf courses. If the grass on those greens dies, replacement could be costly, according to park officials.

Councilman Tony Cardenas, who represents part of the Valley, said he had noticed the effect of the drought on Richie Valens Park in Pacoima and Bradford Park in Arleta.

Coffin, who is also a candidate for state Assembly, said the city would take its conservation policies more seriously if it experienced their effects firsthand.

“As much as I hate to say it, the only way to force them to address the overall water situation is to let those things turn brown,” he said.

Mukri disagreed, saying parks deserve special consideration because they are open to anyone to use. “I couldn’t just come up with a picnic basket and jump on your front lawn,” he said.

“As people’s lawns die, they’re going to need a refuge and we can provide that,” he added. “I live in North Hollywood and I adhere to the [water conservation] ordinance. And I can tell you right now, my lawn is dead.”

-- David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall