I am working on a letter that I will submit to our local newspaper and send to the city. Please have a look and comment.
Last week, April Fools Day to be exact, while talking with a TV interviewer about my parkway garden – Gayle Anderson’s wonderful interviews were aired live all day on KTLA, though mine was not among those shown – an official city letter arrived in the mail. Opening the envelope I was surprised to find a letter citing me for being out of compliance with the city ordinance on parkway landscaping. I was politely informed that I would have to cut down vegetation to no higher than twelve inches. The irony of receiving such a letter while at the same time being held up as an example of sustainable and responsible gardening was not lost on me or the reporter.
City ordinances help citizens in local communities live together peacefully, while preserving commonly held land use values. Unfortunately there are many outdated ordinances still on the books that preserve unsustainable and undesirable practices. This ordinance, Parkway Improvements, states that it is unlawful to plant or maintain any vegetation other than grass or “low lying ground cover plants less than twelve inches in height.” The emphasis is on preserving lawn as a neat and passable vegetative cover.
My reason for replanting the parkway is that lawn, especially on narrow strips, is extremely wasteful. It is nearly impossible to water these areas without providing a generous dose of water to the street, contributing to urban runoff that fouls our beaches. (South Pasadena has had enough press with regard to our connection with the beaches: Press-Telegram, “Long Beach beaches closed due to spill in South Pasadena…The city’s stretch of coastal beaches remained closed today after 22,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled in South Pasadena over the weekend, March 17, 2009.) Turf in general, but especially on these strips, consumes an excessive amount of water, generates a large quantity of green waste, and leads to the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Mowers and edgers pollute the air and turn a peaceful neighborhood into a noisy, unpleasant place.
My parkway is ablaze with wildflowers in the spring. The perennial vegetation is on average about two to three feet in height, though there are a few larger shrubs as well. I spend much time reining in the plants as they reach for the walk and the street. Once the wildflowers pass, I remove them and prune things back so that the walk is unobstructed. There are pathways across the median, though passage in places is difficult. I understand that this is a public walkway, and realize that people parking on the street or walking on the sidewalk may well inadvertently disturb the plants. This is the reality of gardening in a public space, and the pleasure that this naturalistic garden brings to me, and many of the pedestrians who chat with me while I’m gardening, makes it worthwhile.
It is my belief – though I have no hard evidence – that the complaint called in to the city was not about the garden. Rather it had more to do with poor neighbor relations. Ordinances that no longer reflect city values waste the time of city workers who must follow up on these complaints rather than dealing with more important maintenance issues. I will be discussing this particular ordinance with the Natural Resource Commission and city council to see whether it can be changed to encourage sustainable gardening practices that address air and water quality, conservation, and noise abatement. Hopefully the garden will be spared, though I would suggest you walk by – soon – to enjoy a bit of wild California in South Pasadena. Please let the city know where you stand on this issue.