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Rancho Ortega Blog discusses matters of public interest in South Orange County, including the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

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Governor Signs New Laws Aimed at HOAs and Water Conservation

There are big chunks of South County that are governed by homeowners associations, and some have complained that homeowners associations are among the biggest water wasters in the current drought environment, including overwatering common areas and enforcing landscaping rules that penalize residents for taking steps to conserve water.  The appropriately named Governor Brown has recently signed legislation that is being referred to as the “Brown is the new Green” bill.  According to the San Diego Union Tribune, under the new law which will take effect January 1, 2015 “HOAs will be prevented from penalizing residents for replacing their lawns with low-water plants over concerns about a neighborhood’s character. It doesn’t take away the power of HOAs to establish landscaping rules, as long as they allow for drought tolerant plants.”  The article goes on to point out that residential water use accounts for about 35% of California’s consumption.  In addition, statewide, approximately 25% of Californians live in a community governed by an HOA.  According to the Union Tribune article:

“Brown is beautiful, and around the state HOAs are penalizing good-intentioned homeowners who replace their lush, water-intensive lawns with attractive, well-designed landscaping centered around drought-resistant plants,” [Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego] said in a statement. “Allowing homeowners the freedom to use conservation-friendly landscaping is one important ingredient in reaching our goal of protecting our economy by saving water.”

In addition, Governor Brown signed a companion bill, Senate Bill 992, which takes effect immediately and “prevents HOAs from imposing fines on residents who reduce or stop watering landscaping after the governor has declared a statewide emergency due to drought, as Gov. Brown did in January. The protections do not apply in HOA neighborhoods that use recycled water.”

1 comment to Governor Signs New Laws Aimed at HOAs and Water Conservation

  • Jim Reardon

    “The protections do not apply in HOA neighborhoods that use recycled water.”

    Why not?

    It is a tangled web we weave. On the one hand, water conservation is is taking on the character of religion among government officials who can’t resist telling people how to behave. But these officials don’t actually believe their monk-like chanting, as witnessed by this exception which imposes an inverse subsidy on production and delivery of recycled water.

    But clever they are, because the hand that acts in this case is that of the HOA — not the government. Or so it will appear.

    Recycled water is water, after all. It can be used for virtually any purpose except direct human consumption. In California, it is even used on fresh food crops. But it must be MANUFACTURED, and the cost of this activity must be paid for by someone. Right now, recycled water in RSMWD is roughly $800 per acre-foot at the source (the back door of the water treatment plant). From there, it must be piped to the point of use by a costly segregated water system.

    Unfortunately, this source cost is only 10 percent less than the MWD charge for treated drinking water.

    Thus, forcing an HOA to use recycled water or allowing it to continue using it during a draught is a way to protect the water agency revenue while appearing to promote conservation.

    With continued subsidies, one day we’ll see water agencies start “relabeling” water as we do here in San Juan — delivering untreated groundwater through the recycled water system. That’s only one step from supplementing recycled water with potable water — and the circle is thus closed after which we have ceded total control of our future and the very definition of “cost” to water agencies and the state government.

    Will the grass be greener afterward? Not likely. Right now, it looks Brown.