Southern California environment news and trends

Greening the aftermath of Occupy L.A.

Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Hundreds of Occupy protesters gathered downtown LA for a march through the financial district

Occupy L.A.'s days are numbered. The city has said the encampment cannot continue indefinitely. Officials are negotiating with protesters about decamping in exchange for office space and farm land where they continue their efforts, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Regardless, whenever the protesters voluntarily decamp or are kicked off the City Hall lawn, they're going to leave behind some very dead grass. This has been one point of complaint for city officials.

Last month Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, "Look, our lawn is dead, our sprinklers aren't working . . . our trees are without water."

In a Nov. 7 letter to the mayor, Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks, detailed the damage done to the two-acre site, which has more than 80 trees and 100,000 square feet of landscaped land. 

The bill Occupy L.A. has racked up was estimated to be $120,000 earlier this month, which doesn't include repairs to the lawn and irrigation system that Mukri said have been destroyed. 

Some individuals have compromised the park's irrigation system by disabling sprinkler heads, and vandalizing the various irrigation valves located throughout the park.

Additionally, the persons now living on the grounds of the park have: 1) created several unsafe conditions; 2) monopolized the park grounds, thus limiting access for other park users; 3) greatly impacted (Recreation and Park's) ability to properly maintain and irrigate the park; and, 4) caused damage to the park grounds including landscaped areas, hardscape areas, and trees.

But does it really matter if the lawn was destroyed? Perhaps this could be an opportunity for the city.

As Emily Green suggests in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, it's about time the city put the water conservation policy it champions into practice.

In 2009, the City Council instituted a sprinkler ordinance and began paying single-family homes $1 per square foot to get rid of their lawns. The Department of Water and Power estimates 41 percent of the government's water use is outdoors, Green wrote. 

The city should lead by example and adopt plants that are meant for "our Mediterranean climate," but Green attributes the lag in landscaping progress to Rec and Parks lack of maintenance knowledge: if they can only take care of grass, grass is what there will be. 

Green's solution is to turn City Hall into a test garden. Maintenance staff can learn to better tend to whatever ends up on what used to be the lawn, and work on managing the space more effectively. If the non-native fig trees and grass remain instead of drought-tolerant trees, they should be more effectively irrigated, she wrote.

Karen Klein, a Los Angeles Times editorial board member, went one step further.

"The city shouldn't just re-landscape with plants that save water; it should create a native-plant oasis in the middle of the city, one that might serve as a model for other civic green spaces," she wrote.

Nature that is often lost to development could be preserved in the city's center with plants that attract birds and butterflies and educational opportunities, Klein argued.

Is the dead lawn at City Hall a blessing in disguise? What other alternatives are there to a water-guzzling lawn?

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