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Goleta Council Considering New Rules to Defer Landscaping for New Developments

All new Goleta developments going through city planning channels soon will be asked to move forward without landscaping, at least until drought conditions improve.

Faced with a bleak rainfall outlook in the fourth year of drought, and armed with ever-changing mandatory water-use restrictions ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, the Goleta City Council on Tuesday directed staff to draft a policy delaying all development landscape installation until normal conditions resume.

That could take months or, more likely, years.

The new rules — yet to be clearly defined by staff and adopted by officials — apply to recently approved developments, as well as those under construction, still going through the planning process or others that voluntarily revise landscaping plans.

Excluded projects include those irrigating with recycled water or involving habitat restoration and erosion control.

According to the Goleta Water District, which requested the deferral change, there are 37 development projects in various application phases and, when completed, they will require 110 acre-feet of water.

Council members suggested developers could still install irrigation infrastructure at the time of construction, which is typically a condition to receive a certificate of occupancy.

“I think our community at large is looking at us to do something,” Mayor Paula Perotte said, referring to complaints that the council continues to approve development but asks residents to let their lawns die.

Brown’s executive order requires mandatory regulations statewide for the first time ever, asking for a 25-percent cut in potable urban water use compared with 2014 numbers. 

For Goleta, which declared a Stage 2 Drought last September, the goal is a 20-percent reduction, said Ryan Drake, the water district’s water supply and conservation manager. He said state mandates were originally supposed to be compared to 2013 numbers, a more recent change.

So far, Goleta has fallen short of a goal to reduce water use by 25 percent, recording a district-wide reduction of just 15 percent.

A Stage 3 Drought will likely be declared in May, Drake said, restricting watering that causes runoff, manual watering without a shutoff nozzle and watering times outlined in Stage 2.

The big difference would be increasing water rates, which the executive order authorizes the Goleta Water District to do, Drake said.

If Stage 4 or 5 were declared, the water district would prohibit all outdoor irrigation and could increase penalties for exceeding water use up to $1,000 (Stage 5).

“If you defer landscaping, you’ll have dust,” City Councilman Michael Bennett said. “There’s no way around it.”

Mulch or bark were suggested as ways to combat dust stirred up by the lack of grassy lawn.

Drake said the district was still waiting for further regulations from the state water board, since dust wasn’t addressed in the executive order.

Council members asked to partner with the water district to develop strategies, possibly one including expanding its reclaimed water system or existing lines.

Drake answered questions, saying agriculture use wasn’t seeing big reductions, and that the water district had to guarantee water to new developments that already had vested rights to property and water prior to Stage 2.

On a positive note, he said the governor’s order could make more funds available for rebate programs that offer incentives for those who curtail landscaping and water use.

Public speakers weren’t sure landscaping would be a big enough change to curb drought, although the water district said outdoor irrigation usually accounts for 50 percent of a site’s overall use.

Kimberly True, a local landscape architect, asked that the council let developers add some trees as canopy.

City Councilman Roger Aceves said he’d prefer the council defer landscaping on a case-by-case basis so staff had more flexibility, but staff said either option — a blanket mandatory or conditional deferral — would require the same amount of work.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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