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Cities say ‘no’ to mandates

Government: League of California Cities wants state to let up on environmental fines — or provide mo

Posted: September 20, 2010 10:43 p.m.
Updated: September 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Councilwoman Marsha McLean wrote a resolution against state mandates that lack proper funding.

 

California needs to provide special funding to meet strict environmental standards or block its agencies from fining cities for failing to meet the unfunded mandates, city leaders from throughout the state have agreed.

At a recent League of California Cities conference in San Diego, Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Marsha McLean called on her fellow city representatives to sign her resolution demanding, in part, that the state provide cities with adequate funding to pay for special regulatory fees such as water quality fines issued by the State Water Resources Control Board and its nine regional boards.

On Friday, members of the league’s General Resolutions Committee heard the concern of cities and passed McLean’s “Resolution relating to unfunded state mandates.”

“People and cities are really hard pressed to deal with money taken from them. First, they’re hit with legislation and then they’re hit with a double whammy by state boards,” McLean said Monday.

“The impact of these penalties makes it impossible for cities to deal with.”

Water was “one of the key talking points” at the conference, she said.

“Everyone wants clean water, but you have to have a little bit of common sense on how you get it.”

McLean resolution
In framing her resolution, McLean cited water quality regulations as an example of state-imposed mandates, with regional boards setting limits on contaminants such as chloride.

“These are not based on scientific data,” she told The Signal. “(State boards) set all kinds of levels so that the cities don’t have a chance to fight or defend. The state board has the last word.”

“We need to start looking at the ramifications of these things,” she added.

The League of California Cities is a nonprofit statewide association that advocates for cities to the state and federal governments, and provides training to city officials.

However, it has no legislative power. It can only lobby the state Legislature for relief from the fines, which were stepped up in recent years as the recession hit both state and local governments hard.

Among other things, state officials have grabbed money from city and county coffers to try to balance the state budget — even as cities have received diminishing aid from the state for social services and faced escalating fines for environmental
issues.

Chloride in the water
Locally, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District has proposed a hike in sewer rates to help pay initial costs of a $210 million salt-ridding reverse osmosis plant.

The Sanitation District is under orders from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board — an arm of the State Water Resources Control Board — to reduce chloride, a naturally occurring salt, from Santa Clara River water so farmers downstream can grow salt-sensitive avocados and strawberries.

Existing chloride levels are fine for human consumption.
Local officials say the rate hikes and sewage hook-up fee hikes would devastate the local economy. A new restaurant opening in the Santa Clarita Valley could be required to pay $200,000 or more to hook up to the sewer line.

A public outcry over the proposed rate hikes pushed back discussion until spring.

However, the regional water board has the power to issue noncompliance fines of $3,000 to $10,000 a day for each of the Sanitation District’s two sewer treatment plants if the board’s chloride standards aren’t met.

Since 2007, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has issued $2.47 million in fines in the Santa Clarita Valley.

In 2003, the board fined Santa Clarita $69,000.

In 2008, it slapped the city with a fine of $231,000, but over the course of a year, the amount was hiked up to $525,000.
California cities big and small were hit with similar water quality fines.

Last year, Fillmore was fined $231,000.

‘Nothing in return’
Fillmore Mayor Patti Walker was one of the city representatives who signed McLean’s resolution.

“I think they have to be more cautious of where the water board puts us,” she said of state legislators. “I believe in the environment. I want my child and my child’s children to have a safe healthy environment. And there is a responsibility for us as human beings.

“But the way it is now makes it extremely costly on all of our financial resources that we become so limited in meeting mandates.”

Walker says paying the fines takes away from other city needs.

“What it comes down to is that we can’t put in a park because we have to pay to treat chloride.

“I just can’t keep going back to the public and saying, ‘Now I’m going to need money for this,’ asking you to pay more money and see nothing in return.”

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