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Landscaping Your Yard? Check If New Regulations Apply

Unincorporated areas in the county now must adhere to low water use landscaping rules.

Editor's note: Scott Lefaver, AICP, Santa Clara County Planning Commission Chair co-wrote this article with Patch reporter Paul Lukes.

Drought or no drought, an ordinance that went into effect in February is designed to save water in the county.

Los Altos and Los Altos Hills-area property owners living in the remaining pockets of unincorporated Santa Clara County, now have three options to conform to a new ordinace for landscaping new single- and two-family dwellings and those that are substantially rehabilitated:

 • Water budget option: The total landscaped area and its water savings needs to be 25 percent less than if the landscaped area were 100 percent grass or sod.  

Plant restrictions option: Within the non-turf area (which must be 75 percent of the landscaped area) at least 80 percent of the plants are native or low water use.

Native plant emphasis option: at least 60 percent of the plants and trees must be native with no turf grasses.

If the total landscaped area is less than 5,000 square feet, the turf area is less than 1,250 square feet and the majority of plants are either native or low water use, property owners are exempt from the ordinance.

The Board of Supervisors of Santa Clara County recently adopted this landscaping ordinance to reflect the needs of its unincorporated area as well as to meet the requirements of State law, Assembly Bill 1881’s suggested model ordinance. 

The Board not only directed staff to write a specific county-wide ordinance, which reflected the unique character of Santa Clara County, it also requested the County Planning Commission to assist in its writing. 

As the staff and Commission began their task, both realized many of the elements in the State’s model ordinance needed to fit the more rural developments within our County as well as to take into consideration unique County areas. 

The staff and Commission decided to use the basic concept of the State’s model ordinance, look at other local ordinance examples, and at the same time, ask themselves the best way the County could save water and keep it applicable to more rural development.

The staff and Planning Commission decided the ordinance should apply to new single family and two-family dwellings and those that are substantially rehabilitated. It should also apply to any project that needs a grading permit, a use permit or architecture and site approval. 

The ordinance does not apply to such things as community gardens or the commercial cultivation of agricultural products.

Also, no formal landscaping plan is needed as long as the options on the list above are followed. 

Although there is no specific water saving goal in the ordinance, it was put together with the intention that the County will conserve water consistent with the State of California’s goal (as stated in SB 7, The Water Conservation Act of 2009) of reducing water usage 20 percent by 2020. 

During the hearing the Native Plant Society supported the use of native plants and avoidance of invasive plants. 

Similar support was given by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission through a letter sent to the Board.

By a unanimous vote, the Board passed the new regulation in December 2010, and it is now being implemented. 

County officials are anticipating the new ordinance will have an important and direct impact on water usage in unincorporated areas. 

Read about where we spend our water here in Majority of Our Water Use Goes to Landscaping.

Tom Nyren September 11, 2011 at 02:31 AM
Native plants have nothing to do with saving water. Is just the desires of a small group of people pushing their personal agenda on the rest of us! Haven't we had enough of that. They want native plants, put them in their own yard! Leave the rest of us alone!

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