A Murder Most Green: Why L.A. Lawns Are Being Offed

The city is now offering $2 per square foot for homeowners to replace their lush lawns with water-friendly alternatives.

los angeles lawn kill

Up to 50,000 square miles of American ground is draped in lawn. That's a lot of wasted water! (Photo: Dan Bachmann / Getty Images)

Sal holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

The American lawn is a living, breathing, well-coifed, well-watered example of something called status-quo bias—the idea that we engage in an activity not because of its intrinsic value, but rather because our neighbor is doing it.

Suuuuuure, your manicured lawn looks uhh-mazing. Suuuuure, you truly enjoy walking barefooted through its moist blades on a chilly fall evening. But, really, is your front lawn fundamentally good? In a word: no. Keeping the grass outside your bay window as bright green as the Jones’ is not only an unnecessary expense, it’s akin to premeditated eco-murder.

The EPA says that 70 million pounds of pesticides are used annually to keep the turf on our useless lawns thriving and bug-free. And turf grass is the main reason why Americans waste four billion gallons of potable (a college word for drinkable) water each day. Go ahead, bathe in the pool of guilt, American lawn owners—you’ve earned it. Actually, don’t—said pool is probably filled with potable (drinkable, remember?) water. And America’s in a drought. And we need every drop. 

I digress. What to do about your lawn?

Well, the lovely enclave of Los Angeles—such pretty people, such pretty weather, maybe you’ve heard of it?—is paying homeowners to assassinate their grasslands. The city’s Department of Water and Power is now offering $2 per square foot for proprietors to replace their lush lawns with water-friendly alternatives.

Says The Atlantic Cities:

Incentives vary by jurisdiction. Pasadena and Burbank both offer $1 per square foot, while Long Beach tops the list at $3.

But, beware, the offers are also idiosyncratic. Pasadena forbids the use of artificial turf, while Glendale limits it to backyards. And most programs are explicitly looking to avoid tricksters. You have to prove your lawn is alive before you can get funds to kill it.

The program has garnered a modicum of interest since its inception in 2009, with over 850 homeowners relandscaping a total of 1.5 million square feet of grass in the city.

Given that nearly 50,000 square miles of American ground is draped in lawn—for some perspective, Louisiana is 51,843 square miles in size—we’d need something of a grass Pluto shot (a regular ol’ Moon shot won’t work) to rid the land of the free and the home of the brave from the wrath of the lawn.

But, before you go firing up the blowtorch to lay waste to the blades on your land, you should know just how much money a non-lawn can save you. Another thing to know: What, exactly, is considered a safe and approved alternative to lush grass?

Southern California Public Radio has the answers:

Two bucks a square foot can mean a few thousand dollars in the pocket of the average homeowner, and the DWP hopes that will boost interest. And you don’t have to replace it with gravel and cacti.

L.A. recognizes the same wide menu of lawn alternatives that other utilities do, including shrubs, vines, trees, succulents and perennial plants. The utility will also kick in money for using weather-based irrigation systems and eco-friendly sprinkler heads.

Still not convinced? Need another reason to turn your back on your lawn? A gas-powered mower emits about as much pollution per hour as 11 cars. 

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