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WATER: Bill would let agencies trump homeowners association rules

Measure could void HOA moves to limit drought-tolerant landscaping

Two of California’s most powerful forces —- water agencies and the property rights of homeowners’ associations —- may be on a collision course.
Southern California’s giant water wholesaler, Metropolitan Water District, is sponsoring state legislation to make ordinances from local water districts trump homeowner association rules.

Introduced Feb. 27 by Assemblyman Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Torrance, the legislation is known as AB 1061. No date has been set for a committee hearing.

Metropolitan says the bill clarifies how homeowners can install water-efficient landscaping without running afoul of association rules. With California in a drought and rationing under way or looming in many districts, the agency is looking for any way to stretch out its supplies.

But homeowners association representatives say the bill is unnecessary and a waste of time.

The bill concerns landscaping restrictions on so-called “common interest developments,” such as Shadowridge in Vista. These developments contain single-family homes governed by condo-like regulations. Nearly 25 percent of the state’s population live in such developments, Lieu said when introducing the bill.

There have been isolated instances of conflicts between homeowners eager to save water and associations that outlawed particular types of water-efficient landscaping.

Associations fear that if homeowners are allowed to violate such standards, the aesthetic appeal of their neighborhoods will decline, and property values with them.

Last year, a Shadowridge couple, Judy and Richard Bieksha, came into conflict with their homeowners’ association when they installed low water-use landscaping without first seeking approval. The dispute is still unresolved, said Norm Halus, a Shadowridge board member.

Halus installed low-water-use landscaping for his own home about 15 years ago. Halus says the difference between him and the Biekshas is that he consulted association architectural guidelines and sought approval before installing his landscaping.

“Any HOA worth its salt is keenly aware of the looming water shortage and is discussing ways to help reduce water usage,” said Linda Ralphs Kaeser, a member of the 4S Ranch homeowners association.

Consistency sought
AB 1061 would enforce a model conservation ordinance that state officials plan to complete next year. Local water districts would be able to use the model ordinance as a blueprint for their own conservation rules.

As long as the water districts obey the model ordinance guidelines, the bill specifies, anything in the rules of a common interest development that conflicts with district regulations or restrictions would be “void and unenforceable.”

“We feel it’s really important to have a consistent way of dealing with outdoor water-use efficiency,” said Steve Arakawa, manager of water resource management for Metropolitan Water District.

Metropolitan supplies most of the water used in Southern California, including San Diego and Riverside counties. The agency is pushing outdoor conservation as the best way to save water.

An estimated 60 percent of water used by homeowners is applied outdoors, Arakawa said.

Homeowners associations say the bill doesn’t advance the goal of conservation and could be counterproductive.

Critics see no need
The bill is just “feel-good” legislation, said Jim Fraker, vice president of the San Diego division of Professional Community Management. The company works with homeowners associations representing about 10,000 homes in San Diego County, including Shadowridge, he said.

“It’s kind of comical,” Fraker said. “It’s trying to micro-manage in Sacramento something that does not need to be micro-managed.”

Fraker said existing law already forbids architectural guidelines from restricting the use of low-water plants, so there’s no need to restate the prohibition.

Kaeser, of the 4S Ranch board, said she is concerned the bill’s language is overly broad.

The language could be interpreted to mean any homeowner “could pave over his entire front yard and park cars there with impunity, cover his entire front yard with pink gravel, plant any size cactus he fancied, stop watering everything and leave a dead front yard, etc,” Kaeser said.

Patrick Catalano, an attorney whose firm represents homeowners associations throughout the state, said the bill means little. Associations already allow drought-tolerant landscaping, as long as it doesn’t clash with the community’s character.

“Most homeowners’ associations would be happy (to accept drought-tolerant landscaping), as long as somebody doesn’t want a desert scene with a bunch of rocks where everybody else has lawns,” Catalano said.

However, Catalano said, the question of whether artificial grass would be compatible with lawn-oriented guidelines is a “wild card,” and whether the bill would mandate its acceptance is unclear.

Contact staff writer Bradley J. Fikes at (760) 739-6641 or bfikes@nctimes.com. Read his blogs at bizblogs.nctimes.com

This post:

http://www.northcountytimes.com/articles/2009/03/10/business/z49c4485bcb5277ed882575740056faf1.txt

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