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County to debate clean water fee that could affect SCV

Posted: June 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Stormwater maintenance workers Brad Buchanan, left, and Steve Candelaria clean a storm drain along Railroad Avenue near 15th Street in Newhall on Friday. Photo by Jonathan Pobre.


After months of planning and discussion, the controversial measure that would assess a per-parcel fee on all property owners in Los Angeles County to clean up storm water will be back before county supervisors Tuesday.

Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are expected to pick up the controversial issue where they left off in March - with a discussion of some of the most common complaints raised regarding the fee, known as the Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure.

During two public hearings in January and March, dozens of county citizens spoke out against the fee, raising a host of issue with the county’s method of notification, how much the fee would cost and what would be done with the money raised.

Local residents turned out to challenge the cost, saying it would place a ridiculously high penalty on individuals for simply owning property. Local school district representatives said the fees would be a huge burden on districts only beginning to recover from recession-imposed budget cuts.

And Santa Clarita city officials pointed out the city already collects fees for the same purposes the county is just now proposing to address – not to mention the fact that the Santa Clarita Valley watershed does not drain into Los Angeles County.

The city’s average annual fee for storm water cleanup is $22.45 per single-family home. County Public Works Department officials estimate the cost per single-family residence at $54 a year. Commercial fees were estimated at $250 a year for a typical convenience store or fast-food restaurant and $11,000 a year for a typical home improvement or “big box” retailer.

Other issues raised with the fee included the lack of a sunset clause – the date when the fee would automatically expire - and the lack of offsets for property owners who had already taken steps to reduce runoff pollution on their properties.

The county Department of Public Works has been collecting information on the issues for several months, said Kerjon Lee, department spokesman. But it is up to supervisors to determine the final language of the measure itself.

While some of the five county supervisors have indicated support of reworking the measure or putting it on the ballot for a wider vote, others, including Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, have said the measure should be done away with entirely.

2005 origins

The process of developing a regional funding source to address water quality in Los Angeles County began in 2005, when the Board of Supervisors directed the county Department of Public Works to develop such a program, according to Lee.

That study, completed later the same year, eventually laid the groundwork for what became the Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure.

Another factor that contributed to the need for a storm water runoff plan was a new permit that was adopted by the Los Angeles Regional Water Control Board in November. That permit, called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, outlined the responsibilities of municipal governments in preventing polluting materials from entering storm drains.

The same water quality control board set the chloride levels for the Santa Clara River that may cost single-family home owners $125 to $265 more per year.

The permit pushed for more cooperative solutions to water quality issues, Lee said, encouraging municipalities within the same watershed to deal with larger issues affecting that watershed.

To this end, the Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure would dole out funds raised through the fee to both cities and watershed areas to support localized and more general cleanup efforts, according to Lee.

“Watershed-area groups would take on larger projects that are multi-jurisdictional, and then the cities would be able to fund things like catch basin screens and even street sweeping, those municipal responsibilities, those services they’ve been doing for years,” Lee said.

The fee could help cities install storm drain screens, sweep streets, develop open spaces and parks and create education programs, according to the county.

Santa Clarita’s storm water cleanup fee already accomplishes those things, said city Environmental Services Manager Travis Lange.


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