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Use An Agapanthus, Go To Jail
updated: Nov 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thoughts From the Garden of Ed

Use An Agapanthus, Go To Jail
by Billy Goodnick

Those Agapanthus in your parkway strip could land you in jail for a year. No, I don't mean your plants are going to rat you out for falling behind on your child support. But aiding and abetting a plant that can grow more than eight inches tall in your parkway is a crime.

That ten-foot tall, bright pink oleander hedge that keeps your front yard nice and private? Add your attorney's number to your speed dial. I see a possible perp-walk in your future.

And I pity da foo' whose juniper inches over the curb into the street right-of-way. But not to worry, you'll get to see the sun when you're released into the County jail exercise yard from 9:12 - 9:18 every other Tuesday morning.

Check out the City of Santa Barbara Municipal Code. There are laws on the books intended to keep property owners from obstructing the free flow of traffic and pedestrians. Another law prevents street trees from succumbing to suffocation by well-intentioned folks who lay tar paper or plastic down to keep weeds from growing.

The subject of parkways-those horticulturally infuriating strips of dirt between the curb and sidewalk-seeped into my mind a few days ago while I was biking to work and spotted this delightful stand of orange cosmos flowers festively adorning in a street tree well. I had my new camera with me and squeezed off a few while the early morning rays illuminated my prey in golden rays.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew there was a height restriction for curbside plantings. I also knew for a fact that just like fences, front yard hedges couldn't exceed 42-inches.

So I checked in with Steve Sisler, a buddy in Traffic Operations with the City's Public Works Department. Always Johnny on the Spot, Steve provided me with a compilation of Muni Code "Excerpts Pertaining To Vegetation Maintenance With Respect To Traffic Safety." I know-seems heavy-handed. But as "big brother" as some of these rules and regs sound, it's all about keeping us safe.

Sure, this wall of green does an excellent job of protecting the resident from the visual offense of delivery trucks and yahoos sporting mullets. But the hedge also hogs half the sidewalks. Worse yet, it's bougainvillea, replete with needle-like thorns that can take the flesh off your face faster than a starving piranha. (see picture at top)

I know all my readers are staunch supporters of law and order, but before you dash out the door and fire up the chain saw to achieve full compliance and a good citizenship certificate for the fridge, take a deep breath. There is not, to my knowledge, a squad of flame thrower-armed Parkway Police patrolling the streets.

That's not to say there aren't enforcement cases. By all means, hedges get hewn, lantana get lopped and impervious parkways perforated. I've called in a couple of egregious cases myself, like when someone's hedge blocked the view of the sidewalk from a driveway. The last thing I want to see is a preventable flattening of a mom and baby in a stroller when a car backs out of a blind driveway.

So what DO you do with your parkway? Along Olive Street near East Cota, there's this lovely random sprinkling of, of…of (Damn! Does anyone remember what you call those black things that fall from olive trees?). OLIVES! (Thanks).

This tight silvery carpet of Dymondia margaretae is a no nonsense, drought and sun tolerant tough guy that forms a crisp carpet. It even displays tiny yellow daisy-shaped flowers for a good part of the year.

You can download the Plants For Parkways In The Public Right Of Way list at the City's website. The list of eleven low-water using ground covers will get you started and the plants fit with a wide range of garden styles.

I'm all for seeing some of those shipping container-sized blocks of foliage head for that great mulch pile in the sky. Sure, this cube of Xylosma is in a red No Parking zone and doesn't block the view of the intersection. However, it's just offensively ugly and requires inordinate amounts of gas-fume belching hedge trimming to keep it in check. Good riddance.

I know that if I lived across the street from THIS freak show, I'd much rather see the front of my neighbor's house than this heavy-handed amputation.

Now before you start writing letters to Silly Hall asking why downtown State Street gets to look like the set of a Tarzan movie while everyone else has to settle for avocado colored shag carpeting, there's a provision that allows the Parks and Recreation Director to grant permission for deviations from the rules.

I'm all for that when the greater good of attractive landscaping along a no-parking zone can be fulfilled.

The "take away" here is that we should all be aware of how our personal landscaping sometimes creates safety and movement problems for others. Take a look at what's going on along the front of your home and see if you can do the right thing. Beats the bejesus out of that embarrassing midnight call to Bubba the Bail Bondsman.

# # # #

Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.


# # # #

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 46544 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-21 10:26 AM

Nice, but how about posting the municipal code cites now that you have them?


 COMMENT 46550 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-21 10:57 AM

Where do me report something like this?


 COMMENT 46563 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-21 12:18 PM

I'm just waiting for when they haul me off for growing a large Pampas Grass in my yard. You'll never take me uhh... live, Copper!


 KDEF agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-21 01:59 PM

In reply to 46550'squestion? Who is responsible for shrubbery and vegetation other than street trees that grow into public sidewalks or streets? The property owner adjacent to the sidewalk or street is responsible for maintaining plants to keep them from encroaching into street and sidewalks and creating an obstruction or limiting visibility. Property owners will be noticed by the city to clear the vegetation. Vegetation encroaching into public streets and sidewalks should be reported to the Public Works Department at 564-5395. Enforcement of encroachments is complaint driven. It is only when you complain about the height of the agapanhthus in your neighbor's parkway space, is the City going to enforce the ordinance.


 KDEF agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-21 02:08 PM

Billy, What is your opinion of Pampas Grass? It is envasive. Would you recomend its removal either from the front yard setback or from the yard entirely? There are surely less evasive grasses that you could recomend


 COMMENT 46594 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-21 04:55 PM


Report the big shrub? Like the city of SB doesn't have enough work right now. Have you heard of furloughs? We're talking plants, right? If anyone calls the city about a big bush they should be ashamed. Just cut it if you have a problem.


 COMMENT 46602 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-21 06:20 PM

Billy Goodnick here, responding to a few of the comments.

1) I thought about posting the muni codes but they're so freakin' boooooring I didn't want to compromise my high literary standards. If you want to check them out, visit http://www.santabarbaraca.gov/ and search for Municipal Codes. If you can stay awake long enough to find this stuff, you're a better person than I.
2) You can report this stuff to the City Planning and Zoning Division by calling 805.963.0611. That's what I did.

3) Dan: Can't agree. Some oversized plants are truly a danger when they block the ability to see a pedestrian or if a vining rose had sharp thorns that protrude at eye level across the sidewalk. Safety trumps beauty. Don't worry about the furloughs - if it truly dangerous or a menace to society (sometimes zombies hide in oversized hedges) rat someone out--I did and the world's a safer place.
4) Pampas grass? Keep it in Argentina. Actually, in a "tame" garden in the city, I don't worry about it, but keep it away from "wildlands" as it has a tendency to escape and reseed. The only big problem with it in gardens is that it's ginormous and has wicked sharp edges that will shred you. I've used a somewhat dwarf and sterile variety called Cortaderia 'Comet' that stays at 6' tall and has bright variegated foliage. Really pops when you put it in front of a dark foliage hedge.


 COMMENT 46609 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-21 07:21 PM

Parkway strip - good in theory (questionable), poor in execution. I really enjoy trying to enter or exit a vehicle on the passenger side when parked next to a hedge or overgrown pile of dirt.


 COMMENT 46627 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-22 07:51 AM

Oh thank god we can now report the neighbor's fountain grass. We have nearly killed ourselves trying to pull out of the driveway. It blocks all visibility. Now if there was also a way to turn in the neighbor on the other side who parks the biggest flatbed truck as their own personal Dumpster maybe we'd have a chance to live to our 60s. In the mean time, quit driving so fast down Valerio everybody.


 COMMENT 46630 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-22 08:43 AM

Billy: what would you recommend to plant when your living room window looks right out to a parking lot? The Dymondia is nice, but isn't going to keep the headlights out of our eyes every night. I say to hell with the rules, and let common sense prevail.


 COMMENT 46640 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-22 10:37 AM

Can't believe you are a fan of Dymondia. It looks like a tired old sweater with holes in it. It's an eyesore! So many native plants to choose from instead.


 COMMENT 46642 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-22 10:52 AM

The worst example of parkway abuse has been the short picket fence erected on the parkway on Chapala near De la Guerra (?) outside what used to be a florist shop. Since the street is one way you could not park on that area since the fence blocked the driver's door unless the car was two feet from the curb. The city never would act on this. I guess because it wasn't a planting?! By the way I assume your concern with compliance with city ordinances is sort of tongue in cheek but you also mention riding your bike. If you live in the city there is an ordinance requiring you to license that vehicle--have you or has anyone else since 1954?


 BECKY agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-22 10:55 AM

SB/Goleta seems to specialize in planting the wrong trees in the parkways, breaking and pitching sidewalks and streets, dropping unsightly debris, and requiring the poor homeowner to maintain it, and threatening to fine them if they cut them down! Then they have the audacity to mandate what we can and can't plant in these ludicrous parking strips? Unbelievable!


 COMMENT 46691 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-23 07:46 AM

I refuse to waste water and effort on that dog toilet / parking strip.


 COMMENT 46747 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-23 11:50 AM

Billy, tell me more about this hedge-height limit, please!! Then take a look at several properties on the north side of Pedregosa between Laguna & Emerson.

Also, regarding sidewalk obstructions, PLEASE take your digital camera to the north side of Islay (between Laguna & Olive), middle of the block. Does the city have a vested interest/obligation to keep sidewalks clear enough to traverse? This Islay monstrosity is the most egregious thing I've ever seen.

Love your columns here!


 COMMENT 46904 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-11-24 10:35 AM

Leegro805: I'm done with this one. I don't know hedge height limits but you can find out by calling the City's zoning authorities. They deal with this stuff - it's all part of the land use zoning ordinances and codes.

If something's blocking the sidewalk, that's a public matter and you can call it in to the zoning authorities. Happy hunting.


 COMMENT 47923 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-12-02 11:18 AM

auntielala--what a great description of Dymondia.

I like it when used in area where the 'hole-y' nature is disguised. As Billy showed in the photo, between flagstones (as a contrast) or nudging the shoulders of garden stones, etc. Not going to look good filling in a geometric area like a parking strip fully and evenly.

It bears a close look--I love the leaf texture.

I love the tiny-leaved plants, and their names--Dymondia, Raoulia--crack me up.


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