California Reverses Itself in its Latest ‘Turf War’

Artificial Turf

Remember when the nags told Californians that it was most important to replace their lush, verdant lawns with artificial turf because real grass requires too much water? Now that faux turf has fallen out of favor among green strategists. Too many chemicals in the synthetic grass, they say.

Nearly a decade (more than eight years) ago, the international media dedicated a lengthy ode to artificial turf.

“The benefits of fake grass are hard to deny. Live grass guzzles some 2,200 liters per square meter annually, making the all-American lawn increasingly untenable in an era of skyrocketing water rates and excessive-use penalties. Over the past two months, since governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and decreed that water use be cut by 25% this year, synthetic turf companies report an avalanche of interest.”

As recently as the summer and fall of 2022 the state and local governments were providing financial incentives for homeowners to pull out their lawns by their roots and replace them with fake grass. A 2015 bill signed by Brown actually prohibited cities and counties from banning synthetic grass.

“​​Saving water and still having a beautiful lawn is the reason why many are choosing fake grass,” ABC’s Los Angeles affiliate reported at the time.

It was just last summer when an Orange County synthetic turf installer noted that “more and more, Southern Californians” were choosing phony lawns.

“If you’ve always had natural grass, you might wonder why artificial turf has become so popular.”

But favorites can change rapidly among the busybodies. Yesterday’s Astroturf heroes are today’s villains.

“​​Once hailed as a drought fix,” reads a recent CalMatters headline, “California moves to restrict synthetic turf over health concerns.”

Then just days ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that reverses the 2015 legislation.

“We made a decision at a time when the drought was so acute,” said State Sen. Ben Allen, the Redondo Beach Democrat who authored the bill. “I think it was a rash decision, quite frankly. I understand why we did it.”

The story follows a familiar line. Activists successfully bullied the food industry in the 1980s to replace saturated fats with partially hydrogenated oils (or, generally speaking, trans fats). Yet once they got their way, it was a matter of only a few years before they began to demand that the industry stop using hydrogenated oils because they were found to be unhealthy.

And they, again, got their way. By 2003, the federal Food and Drug Administration ordered the industry to label trans fats content on packaging, and by 2015, the FDA was prohibiting food companies from adding partially hydrogenated oils to their products.

As for California’s turf war, maybe it’s truly a case in which lawmakers learned from their mistake, the claim that activists made when it targeted trans fats after first insisting they were healthier than saturated fats. We can’t dismiss, however, the possibility that banning things has become for Golden State policymakers one of life’s simple pleasures.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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