Saving For a Rainy Day

New guidelines issued this week by L.A. County will lead to increased use of rainwater barrels.

L.A. County’s Department of Public Health has just released rainwater harvesting guidelines that  help transform the region’s management of stormwater runoff.  The guidelines apply to rainwater harvesting projects, including rain barrels and cisterns, and they significantly shift the approach from treating rainwater as a pollution source and flood control problem to managing it as a critical resource.

The guidelines were released at the site of a massive Proposition O project at Penmar Park in Venice.  A giant pit and a huge dirt mound served as the backdrop Tuesday for the modest press event (the Conrad Murray verdict occurred an hour earlier).  The Penmar Park project will capture runoff from the watershed from south-east Sunset Park in Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Airport and the Rose Avenue neighborhood near Walgrove Avenue.  The cistern will store approximately 1 million gallons of runoff, which will then be disinfected and used for irrigation at the Penmar golf course and park.

The rainwater harvesting guidelines were negotiated over a two-year period with the City of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the environmental community, led by Heal the Bay and Treepeople.  They provide clarity and certainty to project developers on how to move forward with projects that capture and reuse rainwater.  L.A. County Public Health, especially Angelo Bellomo and Kenneth Murray, earn major props for moving the guidelines forward.

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LID at Last in L.A.

Rain barrels will be sprouting up all over L.A. now under a newly approved Low Impact Development ordinance.

Today the city of Los Angeles took a giant step forward on its long-promised goal to green itself — one new development at a time.  After three years of negotiations, hearings, educational forums and technical discussions, the City Council voted 13-0 to support a Low Impact Development ordinance.

The vote means that nearly all new development and redevelopment in Los Angeles will have to treat rainwater as a resource rather than just a flood risk by early next summer.  The approach is groundbreaking (or concrete breaking) in its wide-ranging application to all significant new and redevelopment – even single family homes.

So what does it mean from a practical point of view?

All new and redevelopment must capture and reuse or infiltrate 100% of the runoff generated by a three-quarter inch rain. As a result, development will be greener, flood control risks and runoff pollution will be reduced, and local groundwater supplies will be augmented. Single family homes will only have to include rain barrels, cisterns, rain gutter downspout redirects to landscaping, or rain gardens to comply with the ordinance.

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Go With The Flow

Transparency has cost the Bureau of Sanitation.

About six months ago, the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation (BoS) started setting up dozens of meetings with the public and the environmental  community on the city’s wastewater system upgrade plan and the need for a major increase in sewer service charges. After all, the BoS had frozen fee increases 14 out of the last 20 years. And it’s held the line the last three years at height of the recession, but wastewater infrastructure waits for no one.

BoS sought to demonstrate that the sewer infrastructure and its four sewage treatment plants (Terminal Island, Glendale, Tillman and Hyperion) are in danger of falling apart. The deteriorating pipes and plants pose a significant risk to public health and safety. Emergency repairs on the infrastructure may cost the city infintely more than replacing it. The delayed maintenance also exposes the city to costly litigation, enforcement and penalties.

Heal the Bay was founded in 1985 on the issue of decaying sewer infrastructure.  Some Santa Monica Bay bottom-dwelling fish had tumors and fin rot, and there was a dead zone seven miles out in the middle of the Bay where Hyperion dumped its1200+ tons of sludge every day.  Also, million gallon sewage spills were commonplace.

After the city rebuilt Hyperion and major sections of the sewer infrastructure, the dead zone went away, the massive sewage spills decreased in frequency, and the Bay began to heal.

However, in the late 1990s, the frequency of sewage spills started to rise again.  Then Santa Monica Baykeeper sued the city and the end result was an agreement to repair and replace much more of the sewer infrastructure.  Just as important, the city ramped up its sewer inspection and repair program.  The end result was a more than 80% drop in sewage spills.  The days of students walking through raw sewage-filled streets on their way to school were a thing of the past.

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Pound Foolish

Dumping L.A.'s Board of Public Works would stink.

City, county, state and federal budget crises are the dominant issues facing government, business and the public.  In what has become an annual event, elected officials and administrations scramble to balance budgets by coming up with policy ideas that save pennies but are more than a pound foolish.

At the federal level, cutting back EPA’s budget by up to 30% has nothing to do with fiscal prudence.  If the House was as serious about major cuts as it is about rolling back environmental protections, then eliminating tax loopholes, agribusiness and oil and gas subsidies, and reducing defense spending would be part of the dialogue on the Hill.

At the state level, Gov. Brown has proposed massive cuts of over $12 billion per year. Yet in negotiations with opposition leadership, there’s more talk about environmental rollbacks that help big business than about moving forward with an election to let the public decide what kind of California we want.
 
At the local level, it’s the same story.  Every few years, Heal the Bay seems to find itself in a budget fight with the city of Los Angeles to fund a full-time Board of Public Works made up of mayoral appointees.  Mayors Riordan and Hahn unsuccessfully tried to eliminate the board and now Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana is taking a run to make up for the annual $400 million shortfall the city seems to face.

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Let It Rain!

Low Impact Development will be reality in L.A.

What a surprising way to end a two-year journey.  As rain fell outside City Hall on Friday morning, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the proposed Low Impact Development ordinance . . . on consent.  For more than a year, the Building Industry Assn., the Central City Assn. and others provided numerous objections on the LID ordinance. As a result, staff included a number of changes to accommodate developer concerns.

The measure now includes a grandfather clause to exempt most proposed development in the city approval pipeline.  Also, the “in lieu fee clause” option has been eliminated because it’s viewed as a fee rather than an alternative for developers to comply with the LID  requirements.  The proposed measure now includes a strict biofiltration option to be used if on-site LID approaches prove unfeasible.

With all of these changes and yet another pitch for greater exemptions for the LID regulations, the environmental community expected success at City Council, but not without a fight from the development community.

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A Good Start …

Lowenthal: bag hero in L.B.

So far, so good.  Yesterday was the first critical date for the coast this month and Long Beach and L.A. got the ball rolling.  Last night, the Long Beach City Council voted 6-2 to approve a single-use plastic bag ban ordinance identical to the L.A. County’s recently enacted measure.  Like the county, grocers and other retailers can sell green paper bags for a dime with 100% of the proceeds going to the store.  The only difference in the ordinance is that the start date is Aug. 1 next year instead of July 1.

The momentum on local bag bans is definitely growing.  Long Beach is a city of nearly half a million people and it joins the over 1 million people in the county’s unincorporated area with bag ban ordinances in place locally.  Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal led the way on advocating for the bag ban measure. Support from the environmental community, some grocery store chains and the grocers’ union made a big difference in the final vote.

Meanwhile n Los Angeles, the city council’s Energy and Environment committee finally heard the Low Impact Development ordinance that the Board of Public Works unanimously approved in January.  Although the panel did not vote on the proposal, it appears that chair Jan Perry and members Paul Krekorian and Paul Koretz support the measure.  Perry postponed the vote to the Dec. 14 meeting, but she made it clear that she wanted the full council vote before members go on winter recess on Dec. 17.

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Getting the LID Out

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.

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