What drought? Blackhawk orders homeowners to green up
The homeowners association for this upscale, gated community has threatened to fine homeowners for brown or dead lawns and landscaping despite a continuing state drought emergency.
“We believe that allowing the drought to negatively impact the landscaping at any Blackhawk home does a disservice to property values throughout the community and is a violation of our CC&Rs,” wrote Mark Goldberg, the community manager for the association, in a letter that went out to 2027 Blackhawk homes, just east of Danville, last month.
Effective June 1, the association will begin “aggressive enforcement” of landscaping standards that could include issuing fines, filing lawsuits, doing landscaping improvements and handing the bill to the homeowner or turning off gate clickers to enter the community.
“We believe there is no longer any reason that all landscaping in the community cannot flourish as it once did”
Homeowners Assoc. Community Manager
“We believe there is no longer any reason that all landscaping in the community cannot flourish as it once did,” Goldberg wrote. He did not return several phone messages.
Ron Banducci, president of the Blackhawk Homeowners Association, said his group isn’t insisting on new lawns, but gives homeowners a choice to install low-water use landscaping in brown or bare areas.
“Nothing in the letter says people have to increase their water use,” Banducci said. “Some homeowners have basically stopped maintaining their landscaping and haven’t watered in months. We’re trying to tell residents summer is approaching and it’s time to tidy up.”
East Bay water officials say Blackhawk’s directive was too soon and appears to conflict with a state law that bars homeowner associations from penalizing members who cut back water use on lawns and plants in drought emergencies.
California water districts up and down the state still face mandatory water reduction targets from 8 to 36 percent, although the state water board may relax those mandates in May following the wettest winter in five years.
“We think the (Blackhawk) letter is premature, ” said Tracie Morales-Noisy, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the water provider for the area.
The letter stirred strong feelings, especially as Blackhawk is in a warm Contra Costa region with higher water use linked to thirsty lawns and plants.
“The Blackhawk HOA seems to have missed an opportunity to have a high-profile, well-respected community take a leadership role in water conservation,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, executive director of the San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental group.
Mike McSwenney, resident of a development near Blackhawk with a different homeowners group, said the letter was heavy-handed.
“The Blackhawk HOA seems to have missed an opportunity to have a high-profile, well-respected community take a leadership role in water conservation”
Executive Director, San Francisco Baykeeper
“Many of the lawns in our area went brown in the drought, and people were proud to cut back… Now the green is coming back with the rain.””
Resident of a development near Blackhawk
“Many of the lawns in our area went brown in the drought, and people were proud to cut back,” he said. “Now the green is coming back with the rain.”
EBMUD water conservation experts, however, note that installing lawns or any type of new plants will cause a temporary spike in water use as roots of the new plants adjust.
Banducci noted Blackhawk decided in the last two drought years to give people the option of installing synthetic turf.
John Coleman, the EBMUD board member who represents the Blackhawk area, said the homeowners group shouldn’t have sent out the letter before checking when the East Bay water board is making water supply and rate decisions this spring.
“They jumped the gun,” Coleman said.
EBMUD’s board is scheduled on May 24 to discuss whether to modify its drought rates and drop its controversial excess-use penalties that include disclosing names of customers who use more than 1,000 gallons per day.
By that time, EBMUD water officials expect the state water board will have decided whether to ease or eliminate a state mandate that the East Bay district must reduce water use 16 percent.
EBMUD officials opted to set an even stricter cutback requirement of 20 percent from its customers.
Originally published by the Santa Cruz Sentinel as “What drought? Blackhawk orders homeowners to green up”
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff