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City OK’s stormwater fee rate change

Posted: October 15, 2009 10:12 p.m.
Updated: October 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Most Santa Clarita residents will see a dip in the tax they pay for stormwater fees next year under a plan approved by the City Council this week.

More than 85 percent of city residents will see a decrease in stormwater fees from about $25 a year to $22.50 a year in 2010, said Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez.

Residents whose property measures in the acres will likely see increases in their fees, however.

The revised fee schedule, which received final approval from the council Tuesday night, was OK'd by residents through mail-in ballots last month.

Of the 13,459 ballots received by the city, 10,294 - or 76 percent - supported the change.

The new fee structure allows the city to increase the stormwater fees each year, based on increases in the Consumer Price Index.

The new fee will be calculated on a formula that, among other factors, takes into account the size of properties and the amount of water they absorb.

Residents who own land covered with a lot of hard surfaces and that cannot absorb rainwater efficiently - such as concrete - will likely have a larger fee depending on the amount of land owned.

Hard and urbanized landscapes put more stress on storm drains and the city, said Travis Lange, environmental services manager for Santa Clarita.

"The fee will reflect (properties) that produce more (rainwater) runoff," Lange said. "More runoff comes from more impervious land."

The formula for stormwater fees, which hadn't changed in about 20 years, was modified in part to comply with more strict regulations under a Los Angeles County permit expected to be finalized later this year.

The permit will require the city to install more filters in storm drains to prevent trash and other pollutants from draining into the Santa Clara River.

The city also will be required to reduce the amount of pollutants discharged into the river over the next four years, according to a permit fact sheet prepared for the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the body that enforces the policy change.

"(The city received) an unfunded state mandate," said city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz. "The state said (Santa Clarita) had to do this, but gave us no money to get it done. We've been scrambling to get this done."

The city is projected to generate less money under the new fee, from about $2.9 million under the current fee to a projected $2.7 million under the adjusted rate, Lange said. The environmental services department maintains the roughly 400 storm drains in the city.

While the city doesn't have an exact idea of how much money it will take to comply with the permit, it has projected it would cost more than $3 million annually, at least.

"We have a very robust program," Lange said. "We will protect the river and keep down costs to the best of our ability."

The Santa Clara River provides the Santa Clarita Valley with about 50 percent of its water supply, making it crucial to the city, according to a report accepted by the City Council on March 11.

Santa Clarita is the only city in L.A. County that uses the river for its water supply.

While oil and pesticides contribute some to the pollution draining into the Santa Clara River watershed through storm drains, the largest source of pollution comes from agricultural runoff, according to the 2008 Santa Clara River Watershed Assessment prepared for the board.

Most residents don't realize that storm water drains directly into the river and is not cleaned at a treatment center like sewage water is, Lange said.

The river, which runs 86 miles from Acton to Ventura before emptying into the Pacific Ocean, is also one of the only natural rivers left in Southern California, he said.

The river provides habitat to hundreds of different plants and animals, including 16 species that are either endangered or threatened, according to the report.


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