A water conservation plan that appeared designed by bureaucrats for bureaucrats was wisely scaled back Tuesday night by a unanimous Palo Alto City Council.
Residents of Palo Alto have done more than has been asked of them to save water. Lawns have been allowed to die and replaced with drought tolerant plants, use of grey water for plant watering has become a common practice and some are even paying to purchase recycled water for irrigation.
Yet the Palo Alto city staff, acting to implement an executive order issued last April by Gov. Jerry Brown, proposed a new permitting and regulatory system for any landscaping project that would require detailed water use calculations, city review and inspections. New staff would be hired to handle the permit applications and conduct inspections of completed landscaping work, just like building inspectors do currently.
Instead of sticking with the tough default plan required by the state or the tougher alternative plan developed by a Bay Area regional water agency, the city staff recommended the most onerous and burdensome plan imaginable. Prepared by the city's Development Services Department, it would have subjected every landscaping project associated with a new building, no matter how small, to city permitting and inspections.
The state requirements wisely exempt landscaping projects of less than 2,500 square feet, reduced in the regional plan to 1,000 feet and to zero exemptions in the Palo Alto plan.
The council did the right thing by rejecting the staff recommendation and adopting the state's model ordinance for now. A far more robust community discussion on the merits of more expansive regulation is needed, especially given the changes in landscaping strategies -- such as the use of native, drought-friendly plants -- that have already been implemented by a substantial number of residents.