The Shame Game: Celebrities Under Fire for Lush Green Lawns

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Lush, immaculately landscaped lawns in Los Angeles' wealthier neighborhoods have long served as a status symbol. . (Photo: Boston Public Library/flickr)

Drought shaming, the finger-wagging social media phenomenon that’s turned neighbor and against neighbor and squashed some serious joy, isn’t new in California.

Hashtagged snitchery — and offline, water conservation-based narcing — during the state's historic drought first appeared in earnest last summer at around the same time Gov. Jerry Brown enabled local authorities to slap flagrant water wasters with serious fines for partaking in verboten activities like washing a sidewalk off with a garden hose or operating a non-water-recirculating ornamental fountain. Finally a real way to get those neighbors-you-kind-of can't-stand-but-would-never-personally-confront into some serious trouble!

With the drought situation growing even more dire (Brown approved mandatory water restrictions earlier this spring) as summer approaches and fines for offenders dramatically increasing, the #droughtshaming movement has now shifted its focus from local water wasters (i.e. that guy at the end of the cul-de-sac who sneaks out to wash his jeep in the driveway at 2 am) to the rich and famous.

When it comes to not practicing water conservation, celebrities are an easy target. This is particularly true in the moneyed hillside neighborhoods of Southern California where it’s not necessarily an obscenely large manse that acts as a status symbol but the lush, green landscape that surrounds it. You can have the fanciest faux chateau in all of Brentwood but if your massive expanse of turf grass isn’t up to snuff, well, neither are you.

"When we are in crisis, everyone blames everyone else,” Jon Christensen, an environmental historian at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently explained to The Guardian. “People say: ‘I’m doing enough, but my neighbours aren’t.’” But as Christensen notes, “what is new is the class warfare that has now come into it. There is a lot of focus on the fact that the rich and famous use more water than others.”

Elaborates The Guardian:

In Los Angeles, one of the most unequal cities in America, while lawns in poorer parts of town have mostly gone brown — because residents do not want to risk fines, because they do not want to pay higher bills anyway, because they may have less immediate incentive to worry about property value — lawns in hyper-wealthy places like Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Pacific Palisades are still reportedly overwhelmingly green.

Beverly Hills, a leafy 'n' luxe burg best known for its high property values and high-maintenance lawns, has been singled out by the California Water Board as one of the most egregious water wasters in the entire state. Up to 50 to 60 percent of water used in Beverly Hills is used for lawn irrigation according to Mayor Julian Gold. The city has been tasked with reducing consumption by 36 percent by this time next year, something that Gold takes extremely seriously.

"The fines [up to $1,000 for individuals who continue to water their lawns more than the allowed two times per week] are not the answer to the question," Gold recently told CBS News. "Even somebody who's got a mega-mansion, with a huge lawn and tons of money, has to understand that at the end of the day, if there's no water coming out of the faucet, it's their faucet also."

If the fines fail to act as a deterrent, Gold is considering other measures: "I'm going to go knock on their door and tell them to stop. I think it's going to come down to neighbors policing neighbors."

Of course, many well-heeled Californians with extra-large yards have since changed their water-wasting ways over the past couple of years. (The state's historic drought is now entering its fourth year). Some have embraced xeriscaping; others, those emotionally unwilling to fully let go of their radiant green turf, have opted for artificial grass. It’s those who have appeared to have done nothing, particularly self-righteous celebrities who actively champion social and environmental causes, who are feeling the #droughtshaming wrath.

Case in point is Sean Penn.

Earlier this month, Page Six posted an array of aerial shots depicting celebrity manses surrounded by immaculate, blindingly viridescent landscapes that don’t exactly scream “historic drought.” The homes of Jennifer Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, Hugh Hefner, and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West all appear on the list. Barbra Streisand is also fingered by Page Six as being drought-insensitive although her publicist, Ken Sunshine, begs to differ: “She has cut down her water usage by over 50 percent in the last several months and she is going to take further steps to conserve water.”

Based purely on aerial photography and not much else, Page Six goes on to note that Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts and Cher are among a small handful of Hollywood denizens who have made some effort to swap out water-hungry turf for more sustainable landscaping options.

Outside of the Page Six piece, Twitter user Miles Farquad recently took it upon himself to call out a certain Montecito resident named Oprah Winfrey.

The wherabouts of Miles Farquand are currently unknown.

And you'd certainly want to think twice before calling out super-rich person Larry Ellison.

Will #droughtshaming software CEOs, media magnates and famous entertainers on Twitter make much of a difference in the end? Will the Playboy Mansion's rolling, golf course-esque back lawn in Holmby Hills get a makeover from the Turf Terminators? Will the producers of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" dedicate an upcoming episode to native plantings?

Probably not.

However, dropping names like Kimye into the mix when discussing water conservation (or a lack thereof) is helping to generate a national conversation. And action or not, a conversation is an excellent place to start.

Via [The Guardian], [CBS], [Yahoo News]