The Santa Monica City Council passed a Low Impact Development ordinance on first reading Tuesday night. The measure requires all new development and redevelopment projects to infiltrate or capture and reuse 100% of the runoff generated from a three-quarter-inch storm unless LID measures are infeasible on site. The policy is based on the Ventura County stormwater permit and an earlier draft of the long-stalled LID ordinance by the city of Los Angeles.
The most progressive section of the ordinance focuses on green streets, requiring full LID compliance for all projects that cost more than $1 million. Councilman Kevin McKeown tried to get the LID ordinance to apply to all city projects. But his bold proposal gave way to a more modest but critical green streets approach. Leadership from Mayor Bobby Shriver and Councilman Terry O’Day helped carry the day.
Santa Monica leaders deserve accolades for practicing what they preach and requiring developers to embrace LID technology. The city has long been a leader in California on stormwater pollution prevention and LID requirements. Its groundbreaking 1992 ordinance included significant LID components, long before the coining of the term.
The new ordinance also continues the city tradition of requiring all Santa Monica businesses and residents to comply with some stormwater pollution prevention requirements — even if it is just good housekeeping best management practices like covering trash cans and prohibiting hosing off sidewalks (except with pressure washers). The measure also requires proper maintenance of BMPs, potentially solving a major problem in the region.
The ordinance has its controversial elements as well. Inexplicably, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie ordered the ordinance to bypass the city’s Environmental Task Force and Measure V committees for review. (The Measure V panel is Santa Monica’s stormwater funding measure review committee.)
The task force expressed strong disagreement with the City Attorney’s decision, which provided no explanation of the unprecedented move to exclude public and technical review. The council agreed that task force review must be included. The review will occur before the final reading at council in two weeks.
Finally, despite Heal the Bay meeting with city staff on multiple occasions, staff decided to exclude a BMP performance design criteria for all treat-and-release BMPs. The provision aims to ensure that only well-designed, high- efficiency runoff controls would be allowed to be installed in Santa Monica.
The language would have been based on the Ventura County permit. While city staff agrees with the intent, they apparently do not feel that Heal the Bay’s proposal can be effectively implemented. They intend to develop what they consider a workable performance design criteria in the coming months and return to the council with recommendations.
Heal the Bay respectfully disagrees with that assessment, as we’ve seen far too many ineffective BMPs installed in the region.
With a few more modifications and clarifications in the draft ordinance, Santa Monica will definitely set the bar on LID requirements in the county. It’s an achievement that other cities should follow.
Los Angeles’ measure has been ready to go for six months, but the budget crisis derailed the effort. The time is long overdue for L.A. to move forward on LID.
After all, the city’s effort inspired Santa Monica to upgrade its ordinance to be more LID focused. These measures mean so much for water quality protection, greening communities, augmenting local groundwater supplies and assisting flood control efforts. There’s no reason for further delays in Los Angeles and the other cities in the county.