16 May 2009

Thank you Florida Legislature, now it's your turn Charlie

photo by Chris Zuppa, the St. Petersburg Times

In a surprise move from an organization better known for its pandering and grandstanding, the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 2080 and it now sits on our mannequin of a Governor's desk, awaiting his signature.

Senate Bill 2080 empowers any homeowner in Florida to install what's called a Florida Friendly yard, despite what their homeowners association has to say. If you're a Floridian, call the Governor's office and insist that he sign this rare breath of common sense.

Now for some background, since most of you reading this aren't Floridians. Florida is home to a vicious form of governance called a Homeowners Association. States all over the country have HOAs enshrined in law, but Florida's HOAs are particularly empowered. What this means is that if you buy into a neighborhood with an HOA, that HOA writes and enforces the covenants and restrictions placed on a homeowner. Restrictions like banning yard signs or wash lines, forbidding certain paint colors, limiting the number of guests a homeowner can entertain, etc. All of this is Gladys Kravitzism is passed and decided upon in the name of preserving property values. This stuff would be an irritant and little more except for the other side to these deed restrictions and covenants. Florida law grants these HOAs enforcement power and most of them don't hesitate to use it.

Last October, a 66-year-old man was jailed without bail over his brown lawn. He'd run afoul of his HOA and they had him arrested and jailed because his lawn had died. Here's the story from the St. Pete Times.

Anyhow, most if not all of the HOAs in Florida require that all lawns be sodded with lush, green St. Augustine grass. St. Augustine is the only real lawn grass suited for our climate. Sort of. It can handle our sun and heat without any trouble. However, what it can't handle is that it doesn't rain here in the winter. From October to May, it's as dry as a bone and St. Augustine grass will turn brown and die within a matter of weeks. Enter the sprinkler system. St. Augustine needs to be irrigated at least once a week in order for it to eek by. In order for it to look its best, it needs to be irrigated a lot more than that and it needs that irrigation year-round, even during our rainy season.

Public enemy #1

Senate Bill 2080 will allow anyone to tear out his St. Augustine lawn and replace it with a landscape that doesn't need to be irrigated. How revolutionary. Predictably, HOAs are having shivering fits while the water authorities can barely contain their glee.

So omnipresent has St. Augustine grass become that 62% of the potable water used in the great state of Florida gets sprinkled on lawns. I was barking like a mad man about it last March. Sixty-two per cent. That is an unconscionable amount of water wasted in the name of preserving property values.

It gets worse. Florida is in an extreme water crisis. We're three years into a serious drought and municipal water supplies are dwindling all across the state. Until someone finds a solution, we're headed for a world of hurt. This crisis could have been avoided to begin with and could be mitigated now if we do something about that 62% number.

Water is a limited, public resource. How other people use it is a concern all members of a community hold in common. The water people waste on their lawns really is going to start affecting everyone and it will happen a lot sooner than people think it will. Charlie, please sign Senate Bill 2080.


  1. Nothing worse then a group of retired yankee lawyers running around on their golf carts measuring your grass and telling you that you can't, according to the HOA by-laws, back your truck in to your drive way or that you should be using mulch not pine straw in your landscaping.

    I so don't miss living in Fla.

  2. There are so many beautiful xeriscape plants that can take the place of water hogging lawns. Here in Los Angeles conservation is a big deal to the point that homeowners will get fined for overwatering their lawns.

  3. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's humans and their ridiculous contrivances such as insisting on growing plants where they are not meant to grow. California is - and has been for some time - in catastrophic drought counditions. It is no secret that the west is undergoing climate change and that Southern California is sucking what water is left into its great maw. Only now, decades after the problem's been identified, are officials starting to do something about it - commercials about water conservations, hiking water prices, etc....but NOT ONE single mention of xeric landscaping. Not one mention of tearing out sprinklers and allowing these stupid lawns to die. We live in Coronado and on this entire island there is one yard that is lanscaped appropriately with desert plants. Just one! We rent out house and of course the landlords insist on having a lawn. I become enraged ever time I mow, thinking the entire time "I'm in a coastal desert! What the hell am I doing mowing the lawn?!" I will never understand why people spend the money to install sprinkler systems so they can grow grass, so the can sprinke fertilizer, so they can pull weeds and then fork out the money for it all and spend hours maintaining it when, if landscaped with native plants, there would be virtually no work.
    The desert here is absolutely beautiful and in the spring is as colorful as any temperate zone. You really hit a nerve with me on this one!

  4. In metro Tampa, we're at the point where sprinkler system use has been banned all together. At least temporarily. A lush, green lawn is an entirely invented aesthetic and it's completely unsustainable. Completely.

  5. Jeff, for the life of me I will never understand the appeal of suburbia anywhere but here even less so. I live in a perfectly charming, urban neighborhood with property values four times that of a comparable tract house out in the hinterlands. The motive of trying to control one's neighbors for the sake of property values is a sham. Control is control and whatever its veneer, it's juvenile and pathetic. Where in FL did you live Jeff?

  6. That Florida, a state with an average of 60 inches of rain a year is having water problems is inexcusable and due entirely to the idea that the good life is surrounded by an artificially maintained green lawn. Most of Florida is a natural, semi-tropical savannah with pockets of palm and hardwood woodlands. Grass is a natural here, just not the kind that you can trim to a three inch height. The plants native to this part of the world are interesting, beautiful and authentic. Why people insist on growing high-maintenance non-native species is beyond me. Let Florida be Florida already and stop trying to make it look like somewhere else. This whole topic hits a nerve with me too. Grrr.

  7. I'm in agreement with the insanity of our water consumption and foolish legislature, but really wanted to compliment you on the use of "Gladys Kravitzism"--brilliant to read with my morning coffee...

  8. Thank you Kevin. Really, there's no better word for it.

  9. Not to make light of a situation; because it is a very SERIOUS one....we have plenty of water here in Canada so PLEASE, PLEASE come and invade us. I am all for sharing the wealth under one Nation.

  10. You're about a year too late Brenda. The administration most likely to entertain such a notion is gone gone gone.

  11. Sorry just now getting back to you Paul, I lived on the east coast in Indian River County for about 13 years (the 80's - early 90's). I reside in Western North Carolina now.

  12. That's certainly a beautiful part of the country. There are a lot of Florida condo commandoes with summer homes up there. If you need your fix I'm sure it's not too tough to find. hah!


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