California’s storied history of environmental leadership is punctuated by its constant battle with prolonged droughts and the challenges they bring. Historically, in a bid to combat these water shortages, synthetic turf emerged as a stop-gap solution, offering a green facade with seemingly minimal water requirements. Its low-maintenance and water-saving benefits made it an attractive option for school districts and municipalities alike. This perspective was coodified during the tenure of then Governor Jerry Brown, who supported a law prohibiting cities and counties from banning synthetic grass.
However, as more information surfaced about the potential environmental and health risks of synthetic turf, especially the harmful presence of “forever chemicals” or PFAS, California’s priorities began to shift. These chemicals, linked to severe health risks and environmental contamination, became a cause for concern among health experts, environmentalists, and the community. Addressing this rising concern, Assembly Bill 1423 was introduced, aiming to ban PFAS in artificial turf. Many anticipated that Gov. Gavin Newsom would provide a decisive response against these harmful chemicals. However, in a twist, Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill, citing concerns over regulatory compliance and enforcement.
Yet, in a strategic move echoing the state’s dedication to genuine sustainability, Governor Newsom approved Senate Bill No. 676, introduced by state Sen. Ben Allen. This pivotal legislation undoes the earlier Brown-era prohibition, allowing local governments to discourage synthetic grass and instead promote drought-tolerant landscaping using water-wise plant species. In the bill’s text, it is clear that California recognizes the pressing need to address long-term water conservation and the impacts of climate change. While drought-tolerant landscaping is emphasized, it distinctly excludes synthetic turf from its definition. By doing so, the bill allows cities to prioritize natural, living solutions that don’t come with the baggage of potential chemical contamination.
Sonoma County Conservation Action and various environmental groups now have a clear path to promote sustainable alternatives to synthetic turf. These initiatives symbolize California’s ongoing commitment to informed decision-making and the importance of adapting policies in response to new, vital information. As California continues prioritizing natural, sustainable solutions for its landscapes, it offers lessons to other regions. The state’s journey underscores the significance of balancing immediate benefits with long-term implications and the value of continuous evolution in environmental policymaking.