Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

If and when #OccupyLA leaves, does City Hall's lawn have to come back?

Could a grassroots #OccupyLA uproot City Hall's grass?
Could a grassroots #OccupyLA uproot City Hall's grass?
Mae Ryan/KPCC

As Julie Westfall writes elsewhere at SCPR's site, LA's Department of Recreation and Parks continues to play a key role in the city's response to Occupiers.

One of the three documents the City of LA will produce to counter the Occupy movement's legal efforts to halt clearance of City Hall Park will come from city parks chief, Jon Kirk Mukri. Mukri has already written to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa about how "soil has become compacted and extremely dry in turf areas and around trees. Trees and other plants are suffering from a lack of water and nutrients."

To people like ACLU Southern California director Hector Villagra, that's a fig leaf for the city's real desire to just make this spectacle stop.

In a piece for Huffington Post and at the City Watch website, Villagra made fun of the city's concern for the lawn, and set it as parallel to Bloomberg rationalizations in Zucotti Park. "New York mayor Michael Bloomberg explained that the increasing number of tents erected in the park made it difficult for the emergency services to ensure the protesters' safety, and the New York police then moved in, under cover of night, to clear the park of protesters and tents. There are reasons to question just how persuasive Bloomberg's justification was, but it at least sounds weighty."

Environmental policy could offer a third way toward a solution on the lawn, one water activists say could serve as a model for compromise and creative thinking across the board in the Occupy dispute here in the city of Angels.

Last week, the inimitable Emily Green entered the #OccupyLA fray with a thoughtful, maverick post on the City Hall park lawn. In the pages of the LA Times, she called out the LAT editorial board for parroting city officials' official lawn concerns, having "harrumphed about the taxpayer expense of replacing one of downtown's 'rare green spaces, and…worr[ying] that the 'majestic figs' are at risk" from the occupation.

Then she called for LA's leaders to follow the example of other cities that lack water and askits citizens to conserve…and lead by example.

For more than two years, the mayor and the City Council have been preaching water conservation. Yet since they instituted a citywide sprinkler ordinance in 2009, and even started paying single-family homes a buck a square foot to rip out lawns, by the Department of Water and Power's own estimate 54% of the water used by single-family homes still goes outside. The government is almost as profligate: 41% of its water is outdoor use. Much of this goes to lawns.

Now a petition is circulating to encourage the city to get this done. At, well-known west-side water activist Sherri Akers has joined Green's native plant parade.

The destruction of the lawn at Los Angeles City Hall following the Occupy LA demonstrations presents the city with a unique opportunity to replace the lawn with landscaping that is more in keeping with the sustainability and conservation policies that are promoted by the Mayor and the City of Los Angeles. While the City is urging homeowners and businesses to replace turf lawn with sustainable alternatives, we feel it is imperative that the City utilize this opportunity to set an example by re-landscaping to conserve water and create a habitat that fosters the pollinators needed to support our ecosystem. Not only would permeable hardscape and indigenous plants be naturally drought tolerant but in that they will not require fertilizers they protect our watershed as well. Such landscaping will serve to promote environmental awareness and responsible landscaping choices by others in a highly visible setting and will ultimately save the city money in both water usage and maintenance.

The petition's coming up on 200 signatures so far. In a cruel almost-sort-of-not-quite-irony DWP ended its residential rebate program for lawn replacement the day OccupyLA started occupying. If anybody down there knew anything about this they could have connected up the issues themselves from the beginning.