Water & Drought

Sacramento planning commission to consider allowing artificial turf in front yards

Sacramento considers lifting ban on artificial turf

Sacramento officials are considering lifting a three-decade-old ban on artificial turf in front yards. The move may be controversial.
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Sacramento officials are considering lifting a three-decade-old ban on artificial turf in front yards. The move may be controversial.

The Sacramento Planning and Design Commission will consider a proposal Thursday that would allow residents and businesses to install currently off-limits artificial turf in front and side yards, part of the city’s efforts to cut water use by 28 percent.

A city ordinance in place for three decades requires living vegetation in front and side lawns and explicitly prohibits artificial turf in plain sight. The city does not restrict use of artificial grass in backyard spaces that are not visible from the street.

The ordinance was originally imposed in 1984 to maintain aesthetic unity when artificial turf looked more fake and was designed primarily for athletic fields and golf courses, according to a report by the city’s Planning and Design Commission. Since that time, artificial turf has improved in appearance, durability and maintenance requirements, according to the commission report.

The proposed change would require artificial turf to reach a minimum pile-height of 1.25 inches to ensure a lush, grasslike quality. Swatches of artificial turf and a sample installation guide will be presented at Thursday’s hearing.

The City Council would consider the proposal if the Planning Commission approves it Thursday.

“Nothing says artificial turf will be required; it will just be an option that people don’t currently have,” said Joy Patterson, the city’s principal planner. “Right now, people are looking for ways to save water while still having an attractive lawn.”

A review by Planning Commission staff, at the request of Councilman Jeff Harris, found artificial turf to be drought tolerant, with excellent built-in drainage and no irrigation requirements.

However, some critics are concerned that some of the materials that make modern artificial turf seem real may be toxic. In particular, they have questioned the safety of the ground-up, recycled tires that make up the tiny “crumb rubber” pellets that are intended to give the surface more bounce and mimic dirt.

Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby in June also worried that artificial turf could contribute to heat problems and burn pets and children. She cast the lone “no” vote when the proposal came to the Law and Legislation Committee.

City of Sacramento water conservation efforts have included hiring additional staff to issue citations for water waste and to help local residents and businesses reduce water use. The city restricts outdoor irrigation to two days per week, and only on specific days.

Sacramento County and several cities in the region – including Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, Roseville, and West Sacramento – already allow artificial turf in front yards. Roseville and other California cities offer residents rebates for replacing grass with artificial turf; Sacramento does not.

Sacramento officials are considering lifting a three-decade-old ban on artificial turf in front yards. The move may be controversial.

Brenna Lyles: 916-321-1083, @brennmlyles

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