I know you’re thinking we’re in a drought and we’re all supposed to replace our grass with cactus and succulents native to a desert climate, which is what this environmentally-sensitive Playa del Rey couple did five years ago.
Dozens of neighbors have done the same and thousands of people across L.A. as well but you are all criminals or could be if some Department of Public Works inspector decides to single you and issue a citation and you don’t rip out your desert garden and plant grass immediately.
Sure, tens of thousands of lawless thugs roam our streets and city officials selectively enforce laws or ignore them altogether when it suits their purposes but that didn’t spare Krieger and Saks.
About two months ago, Public Works Inspector Ron Henderson dropped by and cited the couple for a “safety hazard,” ordered them to remove the plants from the parkway tree lawn, which is city property but the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain. He was nice enough about it and sensitive to the fact Saks was dealing with the death of her father so he gave them 30 days to comply.
That didn’t sit well with Inspector Joanne Frampton who came by a week or so later and ordered them to remove the hazard “at once.”
So they removed the cactus and the rocks but left the succulents and the tall desert grasses and the flat stones needed to prevent erosion, all that Henderson had required originally.
“They were laughing and scoffing and treated us shabbily,” said Saks. “They made us feel like, ‘We have the power, you don’t.’ It was devastating. We did everything in good faith.”
I took the couple’s story to the Public Works Department. Michelle Vargas in the public relations office looked into and got back to me in an email with this information.
“The City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works is committed to public safety.
of the responsibilities of the Department’s Bureau of Street Services
is to ensure that there are no trip or safety hazards on parkways.
Residents that receive citations from the Bureau to remove plants,
drought-tolerant or not, in the parkway are asked to do so because the
plants may potentially hurt passers-by or vehicle passengers. In the
case that you described over the phone, a cactus with spikes may cause
a pedestrian to trip and fall, exposing the City to liability.
City’s policy on what is allowed on parkways include: soil, turf,
ground cover — all must be maintained, kept clean, and not
weed-infested. If residents want to plant other species that may not
be soil, turf or ground cover, a permit must be obtained from the
Department of Public Works Bureau of Engineering.”
She went on to say Public
Works loves drought-tolerant plants, is trying hard to fulfill the mayor’s Million Trees LA campaign and has embraced green building standards.
So I passed the story on the couple to their Councilman, Bill Rosendahl, along with the reply from Public Works.
“This is totally insane,” he said. “We’ve got to learn to work together. We’ve got to be more responsive to the citizenry. My sympathy goes out to these people.”
He promised to get hold of the couple personally and wondered aloud about the drought and the environment, saying: “Grass might be a thing of the past.”
An hour or so later, he got back to me after having a chance to talk with Public Works officials. His mood was a little lighter.
“We’re going to have a meeting with the couple and the officials and clear this up,” he said. “There won’t be any fines and we’ll straighten things out. We’ve got some work to do on the details but we need a new set of rules that reflect climate change.”