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Lawn removal during drought draws HOA fine
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SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — Drought-conscious California officials are rallying behind a San Francisco Bay Area woman who replaced her lawn with low-water native plants, then was hit with a fine from her homeowners association (HOA).

Fran Paxson, a retired teacher living in San Ramon, told the San Jose Mercury News in a story published Friday that she overhauled her front yard with more sustainable landscaping, getting a rebate from her local utility as a reward for the work.

But her homeowners association sent her a letter in July saying it was fining her $50 a month until she puts some of the lawn back, Paxson said. The association’s board raised concerns that her lawn-free look would reduce property values, she said.

California, in the third year of a major drought, adopted a statewide measure last month allowing authorities to level $500 fines against people who overwater lawns or otherwise waste water. For California and other drought-afflicted areas, Paxson’s problem marks yet another battle in a recurring conflict that’s pitting some HOAs against members who want to eradicate their lawns to save money and water.

Tom Bantz, a representative of the Twin Creeks South Estate homeowners group that fined Paxson, said in an email Friday that the penalty was assessed only because Paxson overhauled her front yard without waiting for required board approval.

The group plans to invite her to its October meeting “to discuss the matter as neighbors,” Bantz wrote.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency, and at the time specifically prohibited HOAs from penalizing residents for conservation measures, according to the governor’s website.

A bill authored by state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, also would bar homeowners groups from fining families for removing their lawns.

“It is time for people to wake up and realize we need water in California to put food on the table rather than to grow lush lawns,” Gonzalez told the newspaper. “She’s a hero.”

Paxson’s local water company, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, is examining whether it has the authority to make her HOA relent, said John Coleman, a director for the utility.