The native landscaping community assembled at Mission City Hall to make one request — that city leaders implement an ordinance protecting native plant gardens.
In August, the City of Mission mowed down Elizabeth “Betty” Perez’s yard after they issued a citation due to a complaint from a neighbor. Perez is a botanist who practices natural landscaping, meaning she grows plants and trees indigenous to the Mission area instead of a more typical manicured lawn.
To the untrained eye, Perez’s yard looked overgrown with weeds. But when the city cut down the plant life on her property, they unknowingly destroyed years of dedication to cultivating a habitat for local wildlife.
Although initially angry, Perez ultimately wanted to advocate for education and change within the Mission community, encouraging the native landscaping practice. She addressed the matter at the Aug. 14 Mission City Council meeting but did not hear back from the city. As a response, she gathered her peers at the Nov. 13 meeting to speak her piece once more.
“I am one of many Valley citizens, who want to see changes in city code,” Perez said at the meeting. “We are the best of citizens because we care. And we know that our warming planet will only get worse and that we must act as individuals to help stop the awful trend by using less water on our lawns, growing more native trees and growing native plants, which act as nectar sources, shelter and food for our unique insects, birds and reptiles and other native animals that depend on them.”
Nine other people spoke in support of Perez and encouraged the city to adopt an ordinance protecting and promoting indigenous vegetation. Several more did not provide public comments but sat in attendance to show support.
They educated the council on the ecological benefits that follow natural landscaping, such as an increase in native wildlife, which leads to economic benefits through tourism. The local propagators also spoke about the ease of maintenance that comes with native plant yards and low water bills, which has been a hot topic during the summer months.
Local botanist and plant science educator Joey Santore explained how native plant life helps cool the air through transpirational cooling. He said plant leaves have microscopic pores that allow them to take in CO2 and let out water. When they let out water, it cools the air.
“If you remove the plants, that then bakes the soil. And in a place like here where it’s 105 degrees for four months out of the year, that ends up basically warming up the entire area because we’ve got so much asphalt,” Santore said. “We need to have an ordinance in place where people aren’t mandated to have lawns. We live in a desert, it makes absolutely no sense to have a lawn here. If people have it, that’s fine. They should be allowed to have it, of course. But people should also be allowed to have these alternatives.”
Through a Zoom call, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Professor Alexis Racelis spoke about his research on urban heat islands, which is when cities replace natural land with dense concentrations of pavement that absorb and retain heat.
Racelis explained that Mission ranks in the top tier of municipalities in the RGV for the urban heat island effect, causing residents to feel temperature increases by 7 degrees.
“It’s not the worst, but there’s an extreme difference when you compare it to areas with native plants,” the professor said.
Other speakers provided examples of other Texas cities with natural landscaping in their city code, such as South Padre Island and Lewisville.
When the public comments concluded, Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza addressed the native plant enthusiasts and their request. She explained that the city is currently combing through the charter and ordinances to update them accordingly.
“Our ordinances are ongoing but that is something that we’re working on now. And I know that we will be reaching out to some of you to help us with these ordinances, especially when we come to talk about these types of issues,” the mayor said. “…we’ll get everybody involved and we’ll get it done.”
At the end of the meeting, Councilmember Jessica Ortega said she enjoyed learning about the benefits of native plant gardens and admitted she is uneducated on the matter. She suggested the council hold a workshop to discuss the ordinance further.
“Maybe we can get with the certain individuals that we already know that grow these types of plants and maybe have some type of signage to inform people in general that are passing by,” she said. “They can get a daily education on why their yard is full of native plants.”