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No Money Left For San Diego Turf Rebates Until July

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Photo by Nicholas McVicker

San Carlos residents Callie Mack and Phillip Roullard replaced their grass lawn with drought resistant landscaping to save water. April 13, 2015.

The city of San Diego's money for a program that pays homeowners to take out their lawns has dried up in one week.

The city of San Diego's money for a program that pays homeowners to take out their lawns has dried up in one week.

As part of his plans to beef up the city's water conservation, Mayor Kevin Faulconer added $200,000 to the city's turf rebate program beginning April 15. The program had run out of money a few months earlier.

In the past week, 350 residents and businesses applied for rebates. Even though the city added another $550,000 to the program from state grants and its stormwater department, no more applications for rebates will be accepted until the next fiscal budget takes effect in July, said Robyn Bullard, a spokeswoman for the city's Public Utilities Department.

Faulconer has asked for $250,000 for the turf rebate program in his fiscal 2016 budget.

Property owners hoping to get a rebate of $1.50 for every square foot of grass replaced apply first to the city, and then city staff visit their properties to be sure they qualify for the program.

Bullard said the city has not yet checked the properties of the 350 applicants, but said in the past the number of people who apply and don't qualify or don't follow through with actually taking out their grass is very few.

"It's not enough people that fall into that category to keep the program open and then run the risk of having other people applying and you don't have the money to give them," she said. She added that if any money is left over in this round of rebates, it can be used once the program reopens in July.

Even if property owners have let their grass die, they can still qualify for rebates, Bullard said.

"If there's proof that there's a lawn there or there's a lawn trying to be there, the goal is to get people to take out that lawn," she said.

She said property owners who just have dirt patches may not qualify, but dead grass likely will.

If all 350 applicants do take out their lawns, that will mean 500,000 square feet of grass will be replaced.

Bullard said unlike in previous years, artificial turf can be used to earn a rebate, but 25 percent of the property has to have natural landscaping to help with runoff.

The San Diego County Water Authority's rebate program has also been used up, but the Metropolitan Water District is still offering rebates.

Allied Gardens resident Joey Davis said he applied for the rebate on the first day it reopened and is waiting to hear back from the city.

He said while he's always had the nicest lawn on his street, he decided to apply because "the writing's on the wall."

"I'm doing the math. I know I'm in Tier 3 already, and I figured a big chunk of what puts me in Tier 3 is my lawn," he said, referring to the city's tiered system for charging water customers. People who use more water are charged more for each gallon they use.

But Davis said he won't replace his lawn unless he hears from the city and qualifies for the rebate, because he predicts landscaping his lawn will cost $2,000, even if he does most of the work himself.

"At that price point, it's not worthwhile for me to do it unless I get the rebate," he said. "I'm willing to contribute and help out with California's drought if it doesn't become a financial burden."

Another rebate program in San Diego is still available for property owners who buy rain barrels, Bullard said. Those interested in the rebate have to take photos before the barrels are installed, then buy rain barrels and set them up and then apply for the rebate of up to $1 for every gallon of storage capacity.

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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