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City updates water efficient landscape rules

SOLANA BEACH — To comply with state regulations, council members at the Nov. 18 meeting unanimously agreed to update the city’s water efficient landscape ordinance.

The new law increases water efficiency standards through better irrigation systems, grey-water storage and onsite storm water capture and by limiting the portion of landscapes that can be covered in turf.

A plan review will be required for new projects with landscaped areas of 500 square feet. Under the old rules the threshold was 2,500 square feet.

A permit or plan check will be needed for residential and commercial rehabilitated landscape projects that are 2,500 square feet or more.

The current exemption for single-family lots that are being redone and do not require a permit has been removed.

Annual audits and a separate landscaping water meter will be required for all new multifamily, commercial and industrial projects. Single-family homes are exempt.

Existing enforcement measures will remain. Penalties include fines of $100 and $200 for first and second violations, respectively, and up to $1,000 and six months in jail for continued noncompliance.

The city will be required to report to the state Department of Water Resources annually, beginning Dec. 31.

Had the city not taken action the state regulations would take effect Dec. 1. The city ordinance had to be at least as efficient as the state model.

It is more restrictive in some areas and less in others.

“We’re suggesting higher efficiency plant and irrigation factors … in exchange for relieving single-family homes from installing separate meters and submitting irrigation audits,” Bill Chopyk, the community development director, said.

Pam Elliot, the city’s landscape consultant, said those two requirements could be costly and an impediment to development in Solana Beach.

In lieu of the audit and meter requirements, drip irrigation will be required in all areas except slopes and bio-swales. No turf will be allowed except in recreation areas.

“Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t have turf in your backyard in a residence because that has recreation utility,” Elliot said. Grass will also be allowed in an apartment complex with a common area.

“What we’re trying to do is de-incentivize the use of turf as a default,” she added.

In March 2011 Solana Beach adopted its first water efficient landscape ordinance to comply with state regulations at the time.

The governor issued new orders in March in response to the ongoing state drought.