"...city officials told the Has they were violating several city laws that require that 40% of residential yards to be landscaped predominantly with live plants." This was up in the City of Orange.
Here's a news flash to the government of the City of Orange: we live in a desert.
See all that orange? Along the coast we get less than 10 inches a year (maybe this year we'll beat that). The inland areas before you hit the mountains in earnest gets up to 15. Simplistically, 10" of rain a year was the traditional definition, but now we take into account evaporation driven by sun, which we have a lot of. But no need for quibbling. You know how when you drive up I-5 to Orange County and you go through Camp Pendleton? That's what your neighborhood looked like before huge numbers of people showed up (actually, it's wetter than coastal San Diego). We might like the way our neighborhood looks, but if you consider the growth Southern California is expected to have in the next few decades, you have to ask seriously where the water for all those rosebushes is going to come from.
So why don't people xeriscape more? Cultural inertia. The U.S. was settled from its east coast, a largely temperate part of the world with plenty of rainfall, similiar to the places that European immigrants were leaving. So, having a lawn is a status symbol, and it's what your grandparents were used to anyway. But familiarity can make us accept strange things. Think about it this way: if people in Maine started planting palm trees and putting heaters around them to help them survive the winter, wouldn't that seem a little strange? Now look again at those green grass lawns all over Southern California.
Granted, xeriscaping won't be everybody's thing, but we at least shouldn't have local governments forbidding us from doing it. And anyway, don't you ever wonder how much your water bill at home goes up because of all the lush green landscaping around shopping centers and corporations? Check out the Theodore Payne Foundation, a Southern California group with information about using native flowers and plants.