Letter to the Downey Patriot

As a new resident of only one year, I have to say that I am very happy to call this city home. As a child of immigrant parents and growing up in the barrio, purchasing a home here through some hard work, a bit of sacrifice, and a little luck has become the fulfillment of an American Dream. I look forward to being a part of this established yet still growing city.

However, as a new Downey resident, I can’t help but to set an all-too observant eye upon my new city. For better or for worse, being new has made it easier to arrive at a piece of constructive criticism. It has to be said that this criticism is not exclusive to Downey – it’s one, in fact, that can be applied to many places in this country, especially here in the Southwest. Still, because Downey is now home, because I have no intention of going anywhere else, and because a little fault-finding can be a seed of change, I’ll just lay it out here.

Downey, you must end your long-standing love affair with your lawn.

I get that a nice, green and manicured lawn looks great. Drive down most streets in Downey and it’s there – lush, cool, fresh, tidy. I get that the concept of a lawn is a part of white-picket-fence Americana. I get that, at the end of the day, it’s your house and your lawn and you’ll do what you damn-well please with it. I get it.

However, in the face of the worst drought in California recorded history, these justifications are starting to sound more and more like excuses. Yes, we can shift focus towards improving the water usage of the state’s agricultural sector since they use 80% of the state’s water but there are things that we can all do here and now. With landscaping being up to 70% of your water bill every month, your lawn is a great place to begin.

Start small, perhaps a corner section of the yard, the one that gets too much sun and requires too much water. I’m not proposing that you have a barren patch of dirt as a substitute. While a year-round lush lawn is not natural to the Los Angeles basin, there are plenty of California native plants and trees that are drought tolerant, require a fraction of water use, and offer exceptional beauty. As an added bonus, native plants attract native insects and birds…and who among us would honestly hate having more hummingbirds in our gardens?

I’m not proposing you dig up your lawn tomorrow – these changes take a some planning, effort, and a little money. Still, with the continuing drought and an upcoming summer that might continue the trend record-breaking temperatures, it’s about time we start rethinking our increasingly inconvenient love affair with our lawn.

s.e.l.a.