I'd look at the options from http://www.rainbird.com/landscape/products/controllers/index.htm
. Avoid batteries. It's worth the effort to cable up power to the unit, even if it means burying an outdoor power supply cable.
I'm in somewhat the same boat. I'm in southern Florida rather than southern California, so water is plentiful, but I'm looking at ways to reduce the size of my lawn and replace parts with native Florida flora (and fauna for that matter.)
A few of the projects I'm contemplating:
- Areca palm hedge on two sides
- Small orange grove
- Coconut palms
- Doing something with my pond (~ 60 x 25 feet, so it's pretty big -- but muddy and not making the fish in there very happy atm.)
You're right that cable power does seem to be more reliable. In the research I've done in the last 24 hours, most other people suggest avoiding batteries. A Rain Bird system is definitely a possibility.
The problem is that the house currently lacks any outside electrical outlets. Now, in a major rehab, adding electrical outlets has a low marginal cost when the wiring needs to be redone, anyway. The interior needs a lot of structural work before it's time to rewire, though. So while it's a great long-term solution, it doesn't help in the short term.
I did notice that the Melnor unit was extremely hot from direct sunlight (a southern exposure). I took the existing batteries out, let everything cool down, and then put the existing batteries back in. It did start working again. I'm going to get an umbrella to try to keep the unit from overheating. It might keep plants alive until a proper cable unit can be installed. Also, it will only work if the problem was caused by excessive heat, rather than bad wiring.
As far as flora...the tree crew removed a diseased, overgrown jacaranda and a mulberry that had no space to grow. A fruiting avocado tree remains, as well as what I believe is a guava (if it is, it's not been getting enough water to fruit). I've not decided which other plants to add. Any citrus would be limited to one small orange tree. There will also be a pergola with grapes providing partial shade.
Fauna are small lizards, hummingbirds, and other small birds I can't identify. Snails may be a concern when it cools down and they stop estivating ("hibernating" during a hot, dry summer).