WATER WATCH: City Council Opposes Proposed State Stormwater Bill SB1298

Reprinted with permission from Glendora City News

Article and photo by: Aaron Castrejon

Glendora City leaders expressed concern July 12, 2016 over a proposed state senate bill aimed at giving local governments power to set water rates and finance storm water projects.

The council voted 4-0, with Council member Mendel Thompson absent, to send a letter of opposition to the state Legislature, League of California Cities, California Contract Cities and Governor Jerry Brown regarding SB 1298, urging them to vote against any legislation that would subvert Prop 218. (Click to read the City’s letter here: Senate Bill 1298 Glendora Opposition Letter)

Council member Judy Nelson and Mayor Pro-Tem Gary Boyer requested to agendize and discuss the item at the July 12 City Council meeting after business owners raised serious issues with the cost of implementing a stormwater permit possibly passed on to them.

“There was such concern at the meeting amongst business owners about the potential cost that could be assessed on properties without voter approval,” Nelson said.

SB 1298 could conflict with existing law under the Proposition 218 Omnibus Implementation Act.

Prop 218, a California constitutional amendment, protects taxpayers by limiting how local governments and charter cities can increase taxes, fees and charges without taxpayer consent.

The Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit went into effect in December of 2012. The MS4 permit requires municipalities to implement measures to clean polluted storm water emptied into each city’s catch basins, storm drain lines, road gutters and from curbs, but at a staggering cost.

Glendora, the county and five other cities which are tasked with creating an Enhanced Watershed Management Plan for their geographical area calculated a worst case scenario for possible costs incurred by adhering to the permit, said Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers.

Los Angeles County could pay $20 billion over a 20-year period, while Glendora alone could be responsible for $233 million of that amount.

If the conflicting language in SB 1298 remains, it could pass those fees down to property owners, who could see an annual fee of $1200 for “average property” sizes, Nelson said.

SB 1298, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), was created to “safeguard California’s water supplies by giving local governments more authority to finance local water projects and set reasonable rates,” according to the senator’s website.

The proposed bill would add definitions and change others in Prop 218, some of those changes include changing the definition of “water” to define “water service,” meaning “services provided by any system of public improvements intended to provide for the production, storage, supply, treatment, or distribution of water from any source, according to an analysis provided by the Assembly.

SB 1298 also makes findings and declarations that Prop 218 was meant to improve transparency and accountability of local government fees, arguing that some court interpretations see the law as requiring local governments to manage water supplies and address water pollution, establish rates to encourage conservation and provide assistance for low-income residents, the Assembly Analysis reported.

“The whole purpose of Prop 218 was to ensure transparency on tax increases and to ensure that citizens had a right to vote on every tax increase, assessment increase and fee increase imposed on them,” Nelson said. “This proposition [SB 1298] would pass without any voter knowledge or input.”

Boyer expressed great concern over SB 1298’s redefining of “water service” as too vague.

“It can virtually mean anything. The idea of 218 was to really protect us and give us a say. If this bill passes, it’s going to water down Proposition 218 so much that I can see it’s almost going to be useless in the future,” Boyer added.

Even with reasonable adjustments to the bill the city is seeking though, the cost to implement the MS4 storm permit could rise, Jeffers said. To what degree would be depend greatly on testing and results being done on rivers and runoff that street runoff funnels into.

The League of California Cities has raised concerns over SB 1298 with Hertzberg who was receptive and possibly looking to adopt given suggestions, city staff said.

The state Legislature is in recess until August and the new bill language will not be known until then.