City of Monrovia re-examines ‘Blighted Yard’ status during the severe drought

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Resident questions $250 fine for same – Tom Adams says City is biggest biggest offender…”we must end the madness.”

Photos and story by Terry Miller

A Monrovia city resident on Norumbega Drive received a $250 citation dated August 20 stating, in part, that the resident ‘s “landscape shall be continuously maintained with regular watering of plants/grass.”
Patricia Neville was quite taken aback by this seemingly heavy-handed citation which the city says “must be paid within 15 calendar days.” She actually received the notice on August 25.
The paradox here was not lost on the resident or this newspaper as we are in a severe drought and the state has mandated conservation of water, which is exactly what Ms. Neville has done.
Now, according to Ms. Neville, the city wants to ‘punish her’ for doing exactly what she and thousands of residents are mandated by law to do – conserve water.
The letter Ms. Neville sent to the city is printed here in, part:
“I am appalled to have received a $250 citation from the City of Monrovia for my partially green lawn last week. The photo accompanying my citation is enclosed.
“It is unconscionable to be issuing both over-watering and non-watering citations at this time.
“I believe the City of Monrovia is on the wrong side of history pursuing a dead vegetation ordinance in a severe drought.
“The eco-balance of our city is far more important than my neighbor’s view of my lawn. Regardless of all the other reasons to conserve water at this time, the wildlife are coming further down onto Norumbega to drink from our water sources and sprinkler runoff. I see the deer, raccoons and coyotes each morning at dawn when I go run up toward Canyon Park.
“I have been discussing the status of my front yard with Rick at the City for months, and have greatly improved my curb view with plants and grass, getting verbal sign off from Rick one month before receiving my citation in the mail.
“I request my citation be cancelled, and furthermore request the dead vegetation ordinance be suspended by the city until the drought is improved. I will use my unique situation to begin a campaign for suspension of the ordinance.
“Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing the City of Monrovia taking appropriate action that is responsive and appropriate to the circumstances.”
Ms. Neville did receive a response from three of the council members, one of whom was Tom Adams, who said:
“I am so sorry you have received this. I knew this day would come and I cautioned everyone at our last meeting against this type of punishment, particularly when the City Parks are the biggest offender.
“With your permission, I will bring this up Tuesday night at our meeting and see if we can end the madness.
“Thank you,
“Tom Adams”
We spoke with Tom Adams Wednesday morning. Councilman Adams said the community has to respect one another and that the city needs to clean up its own act before punishing residents. “Our parks’ sprinklers and irrigation systems along Huntington Drive are wasting water daily. I understand it is a challenge to get a perfect irrigation system, but the city needs to clean up its own act before punishing the people it is supposed to represent.” Adams also said the philosophy of “ratting out one’s neighbor,” as one resident said in a recent public comment period at council, is a sad reflection on our community. “We need more balance,” Adams said. “If the city can’t do it, we certainly can’t ask our residents to do it.”
We contacted the city regarding the “Warning or Administrative Citation” resident Patricia Neville recently received and were informed that citation was not only due to dead vegetation and or/ brown lawn but also issued due to “trash and old vehicle in the yard.” Enrique Macias, Jr., of code enforcement said that Patricia Neville had been notified many times of her violations in the past year.
Community Development Director for Monrovia City, Steve Sizemore, said the city first sends an “education letter” to the resident alerting them of a potential code violation. This was sent to Ms. Neville in September of last year. Then, as is policy, a second ‘warning” letter goes out, in this case May 14, 2014. In July an extension letter was mailed out and on Aug 20, the citation and order to pay $250 was sent out.
This is when Ms. Neville contacted Monrovia Weekly.
It seems clear that there is a lot of confusion about the city’s right to enforce the state mandate and what it all means to the average homeowner. It’s essentially about education, says the city.
“We don’t want to be the water police…” Mr. Sizemore told Beacon Media in a telephone conference call Tuesday afternoon with other members of the city.
The city also pointed out that a good lawn can easily survive and thrive on 3 days of watering per week. In fact, experts say that many of us over-water our lawns. However, Ms. Neville said that is true of an otherwise healthy lawn but not one that has essentially died.
The city was quick to point to the alternatives to lawns, with drought tolerant plants that are code compliant and help reduce one’s water consumption. Many cities offer rebates and assistance to those willing to put in drought tolerant landscaping.
These are the conditions which are set in place now:
No person shall hose wash any sidewalk, walkway, driveway, parking area or other paved surface, except as required for sanitary purposes.
Washing of motor vehicles shall be done only with a hand-held bucket or hose equipped with a positive shut-off nozzle.
No water shall be used to clean, fill or maintain levels in decorative fountains unless the water is part of a recycling (recirculating) system.
No restaurant, hotel, café, cafeteria or other place where food is sold, served or offered for sale shall serve drinking water to any customer unless expressly requested by that customer.
All customers shall promptly repair all leaks from indoor and outdoor plumbing fixtures within 48 hours of discovery.
All lawns, landscape or other turf area shall be watered down not more than every third day between the hours of 5 p.m. and 10 a.m.
No person or customer shall cause or allow water to run off landscaped areas onto adjoining streets, sidewalks, or other paved areas due to incorrectly directed or maintained sprinklers or as the result of excessive watering.
In response to our posting of Ms. Neville’s letter, the city send Beacon Media a clarification letter, which we print here it its entirety.
“In response to the letter published on your website dated August 31, 2014, we are happy to comment on how Monrovia’s Code Enforcement process intersects with the current Phase 1 water restrictions.
“The City of Monrovia is currently under mandatory water restrictions, which includes limiting watering of lawns to every third day from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. This request for citizens to restrict excessive water usage is consistent with California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued Emergency Drought Regulations, which increase restrictions on water usage.
“At the same time, our Code Enforcement officers our tasked with enforcing the Municipal Code concerning code violations. These two processes can co-exist. Our water conservation regulations do not suggest that property owners let their yards die. Blighted landscaping impacts a neighborhood in a negative way which could lead to a decline in property values of the surrounding properties. Even with a severe drought, overgrown weeds and unmaintained yards are not allowed. It is possible to have a landscaped property that is both visually appealing and compliant with conservation efforts.
“The City of Monrovia is unique in its enforcement of code violations. Violators are sent an education letter and a warning letter before any citations occur. The intent is to work with the violator to gain compliance. The citation is the last resort should the education process fail to yield minimum compliance. The City of Monrovia takes the drought and need for water conservation very seriously, as we do our enforcement of City Codes. We all need to work together to come up with practical solutions that achieve both of these goals.
“Steve Sizemore
Director of Community Development”
Ms. Neville added later in an email to Monrovia Weekly: “My neighbor across the street has the same letters and warnings from the City about lack of vegetation, and she was watering daily to try and meet the ordinance; however, given the new water restrictions, she will not be able to water enough to establish the lawn they are requiring.”
She is very concerned about a $250 citation. “There is one other neighbor within eyesight who has also been issued warnings recently and I do not know the status of his process.”
On Tuesday evening, City Council voted 4-1, Tom Adams dissenting, to amend Title 13, Chapter 13.20 of the Monrovia Municipal Code relating to water conservation. Key changes include:
” Establishing a baseline for the amount of water used by a customer over a five year average (the five year period prior to the Council declaring an emergency water shortage). The baseline sets where customers need to conserve from. For example, January baselines for 2015 will be based upon the average of the Januarys 2010-2014. The prior ordinance used the 1989-1990 billing year as a baseline.
o Council also requested a 45 day grace period for residents to approach the Infrastructure Manager with any concerns regarding their baseline amount.
” The term “recirculating” was added to section 13.20.080(a)(3) to match the State of California Resolution No. 2014-0038.
o [(3) No water shall be used to clean, fill or maintain levels in decorative fountains, ponds, lakes or other similar aesthetic structures unless such water is part of recycling recirculating system.]
” Staff titles and Department information was updated in various places.
” To coincide with fire protection policies, where fire infrastructure to a property is a part of the domestic water service (i.e. fire sprinkler systems), the Section 13.20.110(B) was amended:
(B) For a second or subsequent failure to comply with the plan, the Utilities Division may install, for a period of not less than 48 hours and until the customer satisfies the Department that failure to comply will not continue, a flow-restricting device in the customer’s water service connection at the premises. A charge of $25 for installing and removing the flow-restricting device shall be paid prior to removal. Exceptions to the use of flow restrictors are established in Section 13.20.090 (B) – (Health and Safety)
” Due to the severity of the drought and the amount of available local water supply, the ordinance will revise the allowable percentage of water to be used in Phase III, Phase IV, and Phase V of Section 13.20.080 to the following:
Phase III, which is currently set at 85%, will be set at 80%
Phase IV, which is currently set at 80%, will be set at 75%
Phase V, which is currently set at 75%, will be set at 50%
The City’s Water Conservation plan is in support of the Monrovia Environmental Accords Action 18 to adopt and implement policies to reduce per capita water demand by ten (10) percent by 2015 and thirty-five (35) percent by 2030 and Action 19 to protect the ecological integrity of the City’s primary drinking water source (i.e., waterways and associated ecosystems).
This is the first reading of the ordinance. A second reading of the ordinance is necessary by code for the amendment to pass and the it will brought back to the City Council September 16 for the second and final reading.
Patricia Neville met with city officials Wednesday morning, regarding her citation. The result as of deadline is unclear. We will follow up on the matter next week.


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