Water woes: American Canyon bans front lawns in new housing

AMERICAN CANYON, Calif. (KTVU) - American Canyon, in Napa County, has taken a step other cities might follow: banning front lawns in new housing.

"We're not requiring anybody to do anything other than in new development," city council member Mark Joseph told KTVU, "let's not have lawns in the front or the sides. We're leaving it in the backyard because that's often where kids play."

The ordinance comes in the midst of a four year drought and Governor Brown's call for 25 percent reductions in water use.

American Canyon was considering the ban as early as last year, however, because it is hurting for water more than most municipalities.

The city of 20,000 has no reservoir, and relies entirely on the state for water. That allocation has been slashed to only five percent of its maximum, forcing American Canyon to shop around for supplies.

The ordinance doesn't affect homes that already have front lawns.

That was welcome news to longtime resident Ray Jackson, who planted his lawn 20 years ago and still waters it twice a week.

"Our lawn is very precious to us," Jackson told KTVU, as his sprinklers ran Friday evening. "We've seen other lawns torn up around here, and we cherish what we have."

The "zero front lawn" ordinance doesn't appear to affect anyone in the short term because the last new housing construction was before the real estate market collapsed.

But American Canyon is in the early planning stages of a huge new "town center" development along Highway 29.

It would cover 300 acres, with a 200 room hotel, several parks, and a new school.

It also proposes 1,500 homes, townhouses and apartments.

Residents, who have torn-up and covered their lawns in tarps, wonder if a new development is wise.

"What about every single unit you're adding?" Yolanda Ybarra wondered, "How does that help our drought, by adding more?"

Before anything can be built on the site behind the Walmart Supercenter, hard questions must be answered.

"Until we can say where the water is coming from, I don't think anyone wants to bring it to a vote yet," admitted Councilman Joseph, "it's an unresolved issue."

Residents like Ray Jackson will keep watering, figuring if the city can expand during a drought, homeowners can try to preserve their own investment.

"The first thing people see is your home as well as your yard and so it makes a difference to us," explained Jackson, "we're not trying to impress anybody, just take care of what belongs to us."