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California Moves, Haltingly, Toward a Post-Lawn Future

The last, severe drought caused many Californians to rip out their lawns, but some now believe the emergency is over.
Homeowner Bill Crowell shows off his garden, designed to use less water, at his home in Santa Rosa, California.
Homeowner Bill Crowell shows off his garden, designed to use less water, at his home in Santa Rosa, California.Eric Risberg/AP

On the first Saturday of December in a northeast neighborhood of Fresno, California, Jeff Collins and his neighbors were putting up their Christmas decorations: strings of lights along identical gable roofs, animated reindeer, and inflatable snowmen. But for Collins, the task involved an extra step—laying down tarps to help the inflatables stay upright in his grass-free yard.

Collins had had the lawn ripped out in 2015, at the peak of one of the worst recorded droughts in state history. He opted for wood chips and Sago palms instead. “I just got tired of trying to keep the grass green,” he said. He’s planning to put in artificial turf eventually—his wife prefers to retain the look of a lawn—but he says he would happily move to a new development where drought-friendly yards are standard.