Warning issued for homeowners switching out lawns

Local water districts want homeowners to rip out their grass and replace it with draught resistant landscaping. The government is willing to pay people to make that switch, but they will have to follow the rules exactly or there will be no rebate.

Therese O'Connor's Sunnyvale lawn used to look like her neighbor's yard with a big beautiful lawn. But now, it looks like a dirt patch with drought resistant plants that attempt to not waste a drop of water.

"They call it the California desert because it looks like, you know, everything is gone and now just plants and rocks are growing there," says O'Connor.

Six weeks after putting in the landscape she read an article in the San Jose Mercury News.

It explained how drought resistant lawns were becoming a big thing in part because the government is offering cash incentives.

"I read it and it said 'Santa Clara Valley Water District will give up to a $3,000 rebate to those who pull up their lawn," says O'Connor. "And I thought that is great, let me call up and find out if I could get some money."

She couldn't, not because she didn't do the work, but because the water district didn't see the lawn beforehand.

She complained to 7 On Your Side and we checked the rules, but they are unforgiving. Still 7 On Your Side went to the water district and made a pitch, saying she should get the rebate and explained she was just six weeks behind the curve.

"From what I understand, she never got the pre-inspection and so we have no way of verifying what was out there before she changed out her landscape," says Jerry De La Piedra from the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

7 On Your Side raised the fact that it just seems unfair.

"The other thing to keep in mind though is whatever we do we have to do for everybody. So if we make exceptions for this case, we have to make exceptions for everybody and that opens the door for a lot of people taking advantage of the system and getting free public money from the district, which is not what we want to happen," says De La Piedra.

It is true the rules are unforgiving.

For those who do follow the rules, do get money back.

"We heard about the rebates because we called our water supplier and they came out and measured the land and told us, with 1,900 square feet, that we could get 75 cents per square foot of rebate if we took out the lawn," says San Jose resident Adele Bihn.

Bihn received about $15,000 and that sealed the deal.

Now O'Connor knew 7 On Your Side's pitch was a long shot, but wanted to serve as an example before a lot of other homeowners made the mistake.

"Even if I can't be helped, maybe other people will know and find out. And if they have the idea of water conservation and less maintenance, then maybe they'll hear it on Channel 7 and they'll decide, 'Hey, I had better call before I get my lawn done,'" says O'Connor.

Often you can get multiple rebates from various government agencies, so check with your city, county and water districts before you do anything.

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