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Bay Area hung up on clotheslines

Sun-drying saves energy, but most folks think it's unsightly

Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer Sunday, April 22, 2001


It's cheap, easy to install, and the state's energy czars call it ''the ultimate money-saving'' substitute for one of the biggest energy-suckers in the house.

And although hardware stores can't stock enough clothesline, many Californians are forbidden from using it. It's just not pretty enough.

Even in the death grip of an energy crisis, many California neighborhoods would rather look good than save money and power. And so the clothesline is a social pariah, banned in neighborhoods from San Francisco to San Ramon. Shunned for looking low-rent, scorned for bringing undesirable elements into a community. Like the public display of undergarments.

"It's just unsightly," said Linda Appleton, president of the board of directors of the Blackhawk Homeowners Association. The public airing of laundry -- dirty or clean -- is forbidden within the gated East Bay community.

"But Blackhawk is doing its part to conserve energy," Appleton was quick to say. "You can drive around here at night and you'll see that people have their lights off. Blackhawk is black at night."

But string up a couple of mismatched socks on a line in the backyard? No way. And clothesline shunning isn't just gated community snobbery. You can't fly your knickers outside in one neighborhood in the middle-class working city of Crockett, either. Apparently, not owning a dryer is as bumpkin as not having a phone.

Forgotten in the bullrush of technological progress is the romance of the clothesline. The whiff of sunshine on a blouse. The neck-gouging stiffness of a collar fried too long. The plein air pleasure of sheets rippling in a light wind, or the artistry of a linen-framed Venetian alley.

Forget romance, critics say. This is about more than saving a few watts. It's about property values.

"It's akin to graffiti in your neighborhood," said Richard Monson, president of the Pasadena-based California Association of Homeowners Associations. The sight of damp dungarees could drop property values 15 percent, Monson estimated.

While many fondly remember hanging clothes outside as children, and lines are still plentiful behind row houses in San Francisco's sun-challenged Richmond and Sunset districts, Monson said few of California's estimated 35, 000 homeowners associations allow them.

"When you see (clothes drying) you think of slums. You think of low-class areas. You think of poverty," Monson said.

You don't think Venice. You think tenement.

Tom Caulfield can't understand the resentment. Soon after his power bills started soaring last fall, the retired Berkeley resident bought a bag of clothespins and hung his family's garments in the backyard for the first time in 30 years. Sun-drying twice a week has shaved 20 percent off his power bill, aesthetics be damned.

"You just have to remember to take everything in when the dew falls," Caulfield said. "It's really not a big deal. But then again, I'm retired."

He's a member of a growing minority. Officially, though, many Californians would sooner allow skunk breeding in their apartment complexes than corsets to be dried off balconies. Privately, critics hide behind coded phrases like, "It's not visually appealing," and "My neighbors might not like it."

A property manager at one of San Francisco's hot new addresses -- One Embarcadero South luxury condos across from Pacific Bell Park -- said clothes drying could lead to more nefarious balcony practices.

Once you allow people to string up their flannels, said Dan Barrett, then they'll want to fly flags and hang hammocks. That's why the rules ban hanging anything on the balconies of One Embarcadero South, where the selling price for units starts at $700,000.

"Only Willie Mays can have his shirt flying above Pac Bell Park," said Barrett, manager of the One Embarcadero South's Owners Association.

But aesthetics aren't the reason you don't see a lot of air-drying in ritzy Atherton. It's not banned there, and there's plenty of room to hang a line on the one-acre lots that are the average. One longtimer thinks the reasons behind line-avoidance run deeper.

"Times have changed," said John Sisson, who has lived there for 41 years. "You don't see horse manure on the streets, either, but you don't hear people talking about that. Society has evolved."

As usual, some Bay Area free-thinkers are bristling at being told where they can hang their pants. An underground shirttail rebellion may be brewing.

"We've had such a run on (clotheslines) that they don't exist right now," said Gary Siegrist, manager of Orchard Supply Hardware in Berkeley. "As soon as they come in, they're gone."

The big test will be this summer. Getting some Californians to use a clothesline may be harder than getting them to carpool. Too many love their Maytags as much as their Mustangs.

On a hot afternoon this summer, Californians are expected to use 1,000 megawatts of electricity to dry their clothes -- while burning 970 watts to power air conditioners, according to the California Energy Commission. An electric dryer costs $85 to run annually; 50 feet of clothesline will set you back $3.29. Trees not included.

Some say California needs a leader on the clothesline issue. Somebody with clout and influence to stand up in the face of air-drying discrimination and say, "Enough is enough. It's OK to wring out your undies in the backyard."

The office of Gov. Gray Davis -- always looking to lead on energy conservation issues -- has been alerted.

"That's an interesting idea," said Davis spokesman Roger Salazar when asked if the governor would be making any public statements on behalf of clotheslines. "I'll make sure the governor is told of that idea."

The cheerleaders on the Energy Commission's Web site have already begun beating the drum. "And here's the ultimate money-saving tip for drying clothes:

Use a clothesline! Let the heat of the sun dry your clothes, and don't use the dryer at all."

If only it were that simple. Until the rebellion surfaces, the clothesline is destined to be hung out to dry. It's just not pretty enough.

E-mail Joe Garofoli at

-- Martin Thompson (, April 22, 2001


Gawd........! How have people gotten so far from reality? God help us all if the economy really tanks. With brainless citizens like these, what chance at even basic survival will those families have? California is in crises! But I guess you don't KNOW that if you can afford $700K homes. These people must have their bills automatically withdrawn from the bank and never really have a clue. With this kind of "think tank" in California, TPTB are going to have to get their attention. TURN OFF THE DAMN POWER!!!! When the AC doesn't come on, maybe they will go, "huh"? and look into why! I tell you, I can hardly stand the stupidity anymore. Raised there, but did escape, thank God. Taz

-- Taz (, April 22, 2001.

And so we see the truth. The animal loving, tree hugging, liberal lunatic majority in CA outlawed cloths lines. What a pack on tight assed hypocrites.

My wife would hang me if I didn't get the clothes line up early in the spring.

-- Tom Flook (, April 22, 2001.

Here, kiss my sweet white panties, dare I go over my baseline and get penalized for being energy efficient. Fredericks of Hollywood here I come!

-- pantie fairy (pantiefairy@panties.crouch), April 22, 2001.

Taz, glad you got it. and BTW that was $700K for a condo not a house. Even dumber!

In FL the 2000->Ch0163->Sectio n%2004>statues provide for effecient use solar energy.

163.04 Energy devices based on renewable resources.--

(1) Notwithstanding any provision of this chapter or other provision of general or special law, the adoption of an ordinance by a governing body, as those terms are defined in this chapter, which prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources is expressly prohibited.

(2) No deed restrictions, covenants, or similar binding agreements running with the land shall prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources from being installed on buildings erected on the lots or parcels covered by the deed restrictions, covenants, or binding agreements. A property owner may not be denied permission to install solar collectors or other energy devices based on renewable resources by any entity granted the power or right in any deed restriction, covenant, or similar binding agreement to approve, forbid, control, or direct alteration of property with respect to residential dwellings not exceeding three stories in height. For purposes of this subsection, such entity may determine the specific location where solar collectors may be installed on the roof within an orientation to the south or within 45&; east or west of due south provided that such determination does not impair the effective operation of the solar collectors.

(3) In any litigation arising under the provisions of this section, the prevailing party shall be entitled to costs and reasonable attorney's fees.

(4) The legislative intent in enacting these provisions is to protect the public health, safety, and welfare by encouraging the development and use of renewable resources in order to conserve and protect the value of land, buildings, and resources by preventing the adoption of measures which will have the ultimate effect, however unintended, of driving the costs of owning and operating commercial or residential property beyond the capacity of private owners to maintain. This section shall not apply to patio railings in condominiums, cooperatives, or apartments.

History.--s. 8, ch. 80-163; s. 1, ch. 92-89; s. 14, ch. 93-249.

-- (, April 23, 2001.

Thanks for the info, Perry. We are partially solar now. I think all new homes should have to be solar to meet code. It just makes sense in areas of high sun light. At least be able to heat your water. We have solar hot water and it literally comes out boiling about 3 pm. Thats when I run the DW or washing machine, take showers, etc. Taz

-- Taz (, April 24, 2001.

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