An Alternative To The Water Police In San Diego's Mid-City

May 04, 2015
Megan Burks

With mandatory water restrictions come water cops and drought shaming – what some call tattling on wasteful neighbors. But a group of mid-city residents has found a new strategy for coping with drought.

They've formed a support group of sorts for neighbors interested in conservation.

It's called Transition Streets and Jamie Edmonds is its lead. He's a retired firefighter who's always had penchant for making earth-wise choices in his home.

"If it's yellow we let it mellow. If it's brown we flush it down. I've been doing that since I was a kid," Edmonds said. "I grew up here in San Diego. We live in a desert. People have to get that through their heads."

The idea of Transition Streets is not just to spread the conservation gospel among neighbors; it's to build encouragement and accountability into the conversation. Participants – often people who didn't know each other prior to the program – meet regularly to discuss conservation strategies.

In January, Edmonds rounded up 13 of his neighbors through flyers and the social networking site to give the program a try. Together they worked through the Transition Streets workbook on saving water and energy. It teaches readers how to measure their usage and take cost-free steps or make investments to reduce it.

"The purpose of Transition Streets is to make that change proactively, transition into a high quality of life that's not reliant on cheap, abundant water," Edmonds said.

Organizers say the program can save homeowners up to $900 a year and cut their carbon emissions by 1.3 tons. But Edmonds said there's another, equally important outcome.

"Yeah you save a bunch of money, yeah you reduce your carbon footprint, but you also create a support community that is invaluable," Edmonds said. "I don't see how you put a price on that."

On a recent evening, Edmonds' group gathered in an Oak Park backyard to share updates. Solar powered lights flickered on as the shadows blurred into dusk.

Melinda Roth said she had replaced the last of her incandescent light bulbs with more efficient models since the group last met.

"The next big project is going to be running the rototiller and digging up the yard," Roth said.

She said she was hesitant to take on the project – Roth doesn't love drought-tolerant landscaping – but said learning from other group members about the wide variety of native plants and the Transition Streets lesson on water consumption encouraged her to push forward.

After seven meetings, Roth has an easy rapport with the group. Their meetings start with hugs and laughter echoes throughout.

Edmonds' wife, Leslie, said she believes this kind of exchange is more effective than a state mandate or a fine.

"Knowing your neighbors is essential. I mean that's part of our plan, to devise ways to meet everybody and engage people, because it's where you start the conversation," Leslie Edmonds said. "This stuff is not going to happen from the top down, it's going to happen neighbor-to-neighbor."

The mid-city group is one of 14 piloting the Transitions Streets program in the United States. It started in the United Kingdom in 2007. Today there are more than 1,000 participating neighborhoods in 20 countries. The pilot groups are adapting the workbook for U.S. policies and culture before a nationwide rollout this fall.

Some in Edmond's group plan to inspire change in other households by starting their own groups as soon as this month.

But what about renters or neighbors with little money to spare?

Edmonds said Transition Streets is for renters and homeowners alike because it's not about expensive retrofits. It's about awareness.

After showing off his recent $8,000 investment – a rubbery, white coating on his roof that keeps his home cool and helps him collect rain water - Edmonds heads over to a sidewalk where he lifts a cement lid. He then rattles through one of the lessons in the Transitions Streets workbook: reading the water meter.

"You can't manage what you don't measure," Edmonds said.

Photos (from top): Screenshot of KPBS local news story, Jamie Edmonds (second from left) with neighbors at a Transition Streets meeting, and an aerial photograph of Jamie's home. Courtesy of KPBS.

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