Galt officials hope a little-known rule requiring some model homes to feature drought-resistant plants will encourage homebuyers to use less water while landscaping.
Any Galt development with three or more model homes must landscape one of the homes with plants that require little water. It's required in the city of Sacramento as well, said Chris Glenn, a project manager for Kimball Hill Homes, which has built homes in Galt in recent years.
"We wanted to demonstrate anyway we could that you can save water on your lot," said Orvell Fletcher, who was on the 1991 Galt City Council when the city's landscape manual was adopted. "(Developers) kind of liked the idea, something new and something different."
Galt is one of a growing number of cities that require subdivisions to have water conservation gardens in model homes. Assembly Bill 325, adopted in 1990, requires cities and counties to adopt water conservation landscape measures. It went into effect three years later.
Currently, only one subdivision in Galt has model homes -- the Hofmann Co.'s Keystone subdivision, with 263 lots west of Carillion Boulevard, said Senior Planner Sandra Kiriu.
Keystone's model home garden on Stoneybrook Drive in Galt's Northeast area contains a few green plants surrounded by lots of bark.
Drought-resistant plants can include fountain grass, salvia, yarro, manzanita, sage brush, cat mint and verbena.
However, in Galt, homebuyers aren't required to use drought-tolerant plants, Kiriu said. In fact, anyone who buys a model home with the water conservation garden can tear it out and put in a lush lawn, Kiriu said.
"I know it was a popular thing in the '90s," she said. "It always comes up in drought years."
Galt's requirement is common in places where it gets hot in the summer, said Mary Neher, who oversees model homes and water conservation gardens from the Hofmann Co.'s Concord headquarters. Communities in Contra Costa County, where Hofmann actively builds homes, don't require water conservation gardens, Neher said.
"We've done it, and it hasn't been a problem," said Glenn, the Kimball Hill spokesman.
Kimball Hill hasn't had a drought-tolerant garden in Galt because the firm hasn't built more than two model homes in a subdivision, which exempts them from the requirement, Glenn said. But the firm has installed such a garden in Sacramento's Natomas area, which has four model homes.
In Lodi, city officials are encouraging developers to install plants requiring little or no water. The Orsom Laam Jr. Xeriscape Garden on Turner Road is used as a demonstration for developers on how water conservation can be used in gardens. Another such garden is located at Lower Sacramento Road and Corbin Lane.
Some Placer County communities employ a water-conservation gardens on their model homes in addition to Sacramento.
The emphasis on water conservation in Galt is based on a quietly approved requirement by the City Council in 1991 that says that any subdivision with three or more model home must have a front yard demonstrating water conservation in front of one of them, said Jeff Gamboni, a Stockton landscape architect.
Gamboni developed the 1991 landscape manual for the city of Galt and still reviews subdivision plans to make sure they comply with the city's landscape regulations. He performs the same work for the city of Dublin and advises Grupe Development, a major Stockton developer, on landscape issues.
Gamboni reviewed Keystone's landscape plan. He has also reviewed plans for the Schmidt Family Farm subdivision in western Galt, where construction is scheduled to begin this year.
Galt City Councilman Tom Malson, who sat on the Planning Commission when the city's landscape manual was adopted in 1991, said that developers in Galt haven't said anything to him about the requirement.
"It mustn't be a big burden on them," Malson said.
"If I recall right, we were in, or just coming out of a drought," Malson said. "It just made sense to us at the time. We tried to forestall installing water meters."
In fact, Fletcher recalls developers installing drought-resistant gardens before the landscape manual was adopted.
"We had a gentleman's agreement with developers that they would comply," he said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.