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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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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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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Stormwater Crossroads

After 20 years, the City of Los Angeles’ stormwater program is at a crossroads.

The program has come a long way since its beginnings in the early nineties as a result of the Hyperion consent decree and new regulations under the federal Clean Water Act and the first countywide stormwater permit. The City has done a superb job on stormwater education for students, businesses and the public. During the early 1990s, Heal the Bay worked closely with the City on our Gutter Patrol program where volunteers helped stencil tens of thousands of catch basins all over the city. Today, the City runs the program and you can’t find a catch basin in the city without a “No Dumping” stencil.

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Prop. 218 Is All Wet

Prop. 218 is indirectly leading to millions of dollars in rain-related property losses.

Apartments and homes in San Pedro flooded with two feet of water. Cars on Long Beach streets nearly submerged as an urban kayaker paddles by. Residents in La Crescenta living in perpetual fear of losing everything due to debris flows as a consequence of the Station Fire. The end result of this week’s L.A. storms will be millions of dollars in property losses. 

And what is anyone doing about it? The news documents the heroic efforts of first responders to minimize impacts, but these efforts provide small-scale solutions. They don’t address the large-scale flood control infrastructure improvements needed to protect property throughout the state. Local government officials are doing what they can, but thanks to Proposition 218 their hands are tied. They can’t do much more unless two-thirds of the voters support a stormwater fee increase.

Two thirds — that’s the super-majority needed to protect life and property. There is something horribly wrong with that calculus. Ask the hundreds of people evacuated near the Station Fire or the victims of flooding in Long Beach or San Pedro. Government is there to protect life and property, except from flooding thanks to the narrow wording of 218.

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Putting the Lid on LID

trash cansDespite tremendous turnout from the environmental community, the L.A. Board of Public Works today delayed its decision on a staff-proposed Low Impact Development ordinance for at least another month. The Board voted 2-1 to postpone the measure, disregarding strong backing from Sanitation staff and the DWP. (Paula Daniels, the board lead on the LID ordinance, cast the dissenting vote.)

Many Green LA members, businesses, gardeners and landscape architects came out to support the reasonable and much-needed ordinance. But the lobbying efforts of the Building Industry Assn., the same folks that have opposed LID efforts throughout the state, succeeded at the Board level. The fact that the Regional Water Board earlier passed a Ventura County stormwater permit with a strong LID component fell on deaf ears.

The proposed ordinance calls for all significant new construction and redevelopment projects in the city to infiltrate or capture and use 100% of the runoff generated by three-quarter inch storms. In the event developers can’t comply with the requirements on site, they can provide offsite mitigation or pay an in-lieu fee to the city to fund LID projects like green streets and parking-lot retrofits.

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Let It Rain

Rainwater capture: coming to your neighborhood soon

Rainwater capture: coming to your neighborhood soon

State water power brokers continue to battle over “replumbing” the Delta in the name of “saving” the Chinook and the Delta smelt. They continue to quibble over language in yet another water bond when we haven’t even started spending the last one. But little has been done to make it easy to exploit our most logical source of water: rain.

One of the great qualities of rain is that no one has any rights to it until it hits an aquifer or a body of water.  As such, agribusiness and ginormous water districts can’t fight over water rights as gravity takes it from the sky to your backyard.

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