Native gardeners in Homeowners Associations are no longer outlaws

Governor signs Assembly Bill 2104

Bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez

Bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblywoman District 80. Image licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Have you heard of Homeowners Associations fining residents for their native gardens, or intimidated into keeping their non-native grass? This situation has been covered in the press, including reports of gardeners being sued for their appropriate choice of water-wise gardening practices. In many parts of California, there are large segments of the homeowner and apartment-dweller population that live in what are legally called Common Interest Developments or, as we often casually call them, HOAs.

We’ve struggled to help individuals and landscape committees for these communities change their practices to include the native plants that suit their gardening conditions. These “CC&Rs,” (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions), are limitations and rules placed on the units by a builder, developer, neighborhood association and / or homeowner association. All condos and town-homes have CC&Rs; as do many developments and even old, established neighborhoods.

One of the largest areas of control is front yards. In many associations grass is mandated. Plant lists are often restricted to a specific set of species and rarely do native plants appear on these lists. Homeowners who applied to their landscape committees for exceptions to these restricted palettes were often turned down, and neighborhood compliance has been enforced by peer pressure as well as financial injunctions.

Finally, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez introduced a bill to stop this contrary practice. With Gov. Brown’s signing of Assembly Bill 2104 on September 18th, homeowner association residents can now replace their lawns with native plants, without fear of reprisal. AB 2104 says CC&Rs cannot prohibit an owner from installing low-water solutions using landscaping or other water conservation measures. CNPS Legislative Analyst Vern Goering made sure that CNPS supported this sensible bill which goes into effect on January 1.

Additionally, two other bills related to this issue were signed into law:

  • Assembly Bill 2100, introduced by Assemblymember Nora Campos was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 21. It prohibits HOAs from fining a homeowner who stops or reduces watering landscaping during a Governor-declared drought.
  • Senate Bill 992, introduced by State Senator Jim Nielsen, also approved by the Governor on September 18th, prohibits an association from imposing a fine or assessment for yard maintenance issues related to under-watered plants and reducing or eliminating watering of vegetation or lawns during a drought.

As we know, landscaping uses about 60% of the home water budget. Many of our native plant species are wonderfully drought-tolerant. But remember that this isn’t just about water saving: native plants offer an unparalleled habitat value, as well as a connection to our unique heritage.

This makes a perfect segue into the coming winter, which will be followed by California Native Plant Week in April 2015. These bills give us a greater opportunity to connect with people throughout the state and into the Baja region. It also connects us to other organizations. Vern Goering lists some of the partners that CNPS members and supporters may love to connect with: Pesticide Action Network, Wholly H2O, California Releaf, Pesticide Watch, Coastkeeper Alliance, Southern California Watershed Alliance, Stop Waste, Planning & Conservation League, as well as many local based groups / efforts such as Bay-Friendly Landscaping & Gardening in the San Francisco Bay area.

You can get a copy of each of the three bills plus other information here:

  1. Sign in to a CNPS account using our Conservation Director’s email address – and Password – CNPSTracker.
  2. Click on ‘My Favorites’ then ‘2013-14’ for a list of bills. Click on the bill number for more information (the numbers aren’t in numerical order).

Assemblymember Gonzalez says, in this YouTube video, “Landscaping in HOAs should be able to be permanently replaced.” Time to plant some natives.

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