By Joel Robinson
In east Orange (the sprawling part, where history was erased), my mom received another code violation for her native habitat garden in her front yard. It has been five years since we won our legal effort to preserve our native habitat garden. And here we go again
The city responded to an anonymous individual's complaint that the vegetation exceeded a maximum height requirement of 42 inches extending 20 feet from the sidewalk towards the front of the house. Many other neighborhood front yards obviously violate this code, but the city will only focus on our yard. They say that the high vegetation obstructs the view between pedestrians on the sidewalk, drivers on the street, and drivers leaving their driveways. Many city trees and landscapes also violate this code. If it is such a serious safety issue, then why obligate only one yard to the 42-inch rule and ignore the rest of the neighborhood?
During a site visit 5 years ago, Howard Morris, head of landscape for the city, said that he appreciated the use of taller evergreen shrubs around the perimeter of the yard in order to hide the interior seasonal dormancy of native grasses, herbs, and small shrubs. In fact, the head of planning and code enforcement also admitted that there was nothing wrong with our yard. Of course, I had an attorney present during that meeting.
This year, the new code violation letter happened to arrive when our evergreen shrubs finally reached the level of maturity to provide habitat for nesting birds. Melodious songs could be heard from the male goldfinches, song sparrows, Bewick's wrens, and other species hoping to attract mates. Many shrubs were blooming as well, including the lilac, coyote brush, toyon, lemonadeberry, and encelia. All sorts of pollinating insects buzzed and flitted around the splashes of yellow, purple, lavender, white, and pink. Even a treefrog could be heard croaking from a shady spot underneath a shrub! The larger shrubs conveniently blocked the radiating heat and unpleasant view of the excessively wide street.
Sadly, during this spring's nesting season, my mom was obligated to trim down all the hedges to the 42-inch height requirement, which exposed defoliated undergrowth and removed many of the flowers and fruit. Now the native habitat garden is visually and biologically degraded. Because shade was removed, the soil is now exposed to more sunlight, the plants will lose more water, and erosion will increase. Birds and butterflies have lost some of their nesting, cover, and foraging material.
All the while, the city promotes on their website and newsletter that they are going green by encouraging residents to install a native landscape similar to ours.
Our yard requires no water, herbicide, or fossil fuels. It requires no maintenance. It is the least polluting yard in the entire neighborhood. The city has never recognized or celebrated our efforts to go green. Instead, we have been threatened with code violations, fines and jail time. I don't believe the city really wants to go green. They seem to be “greenwashing” for marketing purposes. Let us not forget that this is the same city that unanimously approved The Irvine Company's proposal to build thousands of tract homes through the native shrub-dominated foothills of Orange County's last rural open space.
On our eerily quiet 1970s “cul-de-sac” (literally “ass of the bag” in French), it is clear to see that the height of our native shrubs is not a safety issue. Nothing dangerous ever happens in our sterile, stucco suburban environment. Right now, some of our neighbors may be secretly dying of sheer boredom. It is false logic to blame a shrub for the dangerous decisions of humans. Every time nature is pushed back for the sake of “progress” there is a profound increase in irresponsible behavior, such as driving faster, jogging with earphones, ignoring surroundings, blaming others for personal negligence, wasting water, polluting the air, killing the wildlife, and on and on…
We wrote a letter of concern to the mayor and hope to receive a response in a few weeks.