March 30, 1990 - From the March, 1990 issue

Los Angeles’ Draft Landscape Ordinance: Performance Point System Monitors Development

The first of its kind for Los Angeles City: Draft Landscape Ordinance. Michael O'Brien with American Society of Landscape Architects explains the novel performance point system monitors the oridnance will introduce. O'Brien is a landscape architect and Chair of the landscape Ordinance Committee of the American Society of Landscape Architects. At the end of the article contains a segment from the ordinance. 


“All projects are scored on a performance point system, Landscape Points, which gives credit for conserving existing trees.”

In February of 1989, Mayor Bradley called upon the Planning Department to write new landscape regulations, to codify in one place the rules scattered throughout the Municipal Code, to contribute to the beauty of the City, and to further the ecological health of the City by means of water conservation and heat and glare reduction.

As a pro bono effort, the Los Angeles Section of the American Society of Landscape Architects assumed the task of writing the document, in what may be a first for the City—having those who will have to make the new regulations work write them.

The Section was conscious that the best rules are the ones that require the least effort to comply with. It was also conscious that laws should be built upon objective facts, and not upon changeable opinions. With this in mind, the Section assembled all current data on existing and projected ecological trends in the Los Angeles area, and used that as a basis for writing the draft ordinance. Purely aesthetic considerations are contained in one small section, or are listed as optional features.

Basic to any landscape are two elements, water and earth. In the new ordinance the City’s Xeriscape Ordinance returns, with some formerly optional features now required, and with somewhat stricter point totals mandated. There is also a set of minimal irrigation system specifications, written mainly by the irrigation industry, including the American Society of Irrigation Consultants.

As to the earth itself, several features of the ordinance restrict the amount and type of grading that may be done. The City’s current Oak Tree regulations have been revised to include all Native trees, and two new tree categories, Exceptional and Prominent, and have been made considerably stricter.

The emphasis has been changed from allowing any trees to be removed with an easily-obtained permit, to requiring the conservation of the above tree categories, with only certain exceptions. In many areas, especially the hills, this will require a change from the present bare flat pad type of development. However, a performance point system (the Landscape Points) which all projects have to score on, gives credit for conserving existing trees.

Further, landform grading is now proposed to be required, instead of being a desirable option. And certain areas, such as “Endangered Ridgelines” in the Canoga Park-Woodland Hills District Plan, fall under a flat ban on any grading, except for that necessary for required access.   

However, the Landscape Point system rewards the developer by forgiving a large portion of the required Landscape Points in these instances.

Other requirements that come from an ecological understanding of landscape include requirements for shading of structures from south and west sun, planting of bumper overhangs in parking lots, shading of most vehicular use areas, and provisions for onsite retention of non-woody plant waste.

Aesthetic considerations—Visual Enhancement—requires two main design features. The first is a requirement of open space in multi-family structures, similar to that presently required by hearing officers of discretionary projects. The second is that the use of lawn is severely restricted.

For parking lots, the proposed regulations are already familiar from the City’s Mini-Mall Ordinance, in the Draft extended to all parking lots of any kind. But the draft ordinance is by no means complete. Any portion can be rewritten, strengthened, or thrown out entirely.


Let’s have—for once—a wide-ranging ordinance that we all have written, and that we all can support, as we go about the improvement of our City.

 Impacts of the Landscape Ordinance

As taken from the draft ordinance:

By setting forth overtly articulated criteria, the ordinance ensures that all affected projects will be treated equally, and that applicants will know in advance of submitting plans what is expected of them.

The standard established is towards the mid to high end of standards common in Southern California: greater than the City of Commerce, but less than the City of Beverly Hills. In addition, the ordinance requires “just a little more” of each project: an extensive point system allows the designer to choose the features and techniques that are most suited to his or her project. The ordinance also provides for an Alternative Landscape Betterment Plan, for those projects seeking discretionary review as being well above the ordinary.

Economic Concerns

The ordinance will have no adverse economic impact on projects that are designed from the first to be “good” projects. It may have a positive impact by supporting the designer trying to convince the client who only wants to invest the minimum amount possible in his or her project.

The ordinance will have an adverse economic impact on those projects that are currently constructed with no, or vestigial, landscaping.

However, these impacts are far out­weighed by the official impacts of enhanced landscaping requirements. Statistics developed at U. C. Berkeley, for instance, indicate that planting 3 trees around each home in the San Fernando Valley (retail cost for 3 15-gallon trees is about $225) could save as much as 6 billion dollars, the cost of providing power plants to artificially produce the same amount of climate modification in homes.

It costs about one cent to reduce peak load energy demands on kilowatt hour by planting trees. Similar energy savings from improving efficiency of appliances would cost two cents and from electrical supply would cost ten cents.


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