San Jose homeowner's water-saving lawn replacement plan backfires

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) -- A San Jose homeowner wanted to help with the drought so he replaced his front yard of dying brown grass with cobblestones. 

His plan went awry after city officials told him he's breaking a city ordinance and could be fined up to $2,500 a day. Glenn Sumabat has lived at his North San Jose home for the past five years. 

He calls transforming his front yard from brown grass to cobblestones was a labor of love. He spent more than $5,000 with the intention to save water.

"It's a project I'd be proud of because I'm making the community nice," said Sumabat. '

Last month, Sumabat got a letter from the city inspector that said what he did was illegal and if he didn't remove the cobblestones by next month, he'd have to pay a fine of $2,500 a day."I almost passed out," said Sumabat. 

"How can you do that? I didn't even know."Back in 1999, the City of San Jose passed a Front Setback Paving Ordinance. It states that depending on lot size -- half of the first 25 feet back from the sidewalk can't be paved. To enable rainwater to seep through and prevent flooding to streets, at least half of the setback must be permeable, such as landscaping, rocks, or other permeable material.

"He selected the wrong material for fully replacing his lawn," said Cheryl Wessling from the City of San Jose's Planning, Building and Code Enforcement.

Wessling said the ordinance was initially meant to address parking complaints but it also addresses drainage and flooding concerns.

"What you don't want is a surface that's impermeable that would cause more runoff," said Wessling.

Sumabat has been approached by neighbors who are interested in doing the same thing. He warns to check in with the City of San Jose first. He also hopes the city will think twice about amending the law.

"It's heartbreaking," said Sumabat. "I did so much on this."