Decision by Water Quality Control Board Threatens to Raise Property Taxes by 70 Percent
Proposal Could Cost County and Area Communities Billions in Fines
The non-elected Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, whose members are appointed by the Governor, plans to adopt "Storm Water Permit" regulations that experts say would increase property taxes by 70 percent and cost local communities more than $54 billion.
The new regulations are designed to keep trash, chemicals and vegetation from being dumped into storm drains. But a recent study conducted by a State-contracted consultancy firm concluded that the pending regulations are "unfair."
The regulations require cities and the County to adhere to standards that local officials say are unreasonable and unachievable. For instance, cities will be required to stop all trash from reaching the San Gabriel River. If even one cigarette butt or candy wrapper travels from the storm drain to the river, cities would be found in violation of the permit and fined up to $27,500 per day per violation. If cities do not comply with all provisions of the permit, some of which are effective immediately upon adoption, they could face multiple lawsuits filed by third parties such as environmental groups.
The most troubling task set forth by the regulations, according to the study, requires cities to complete an inspection program of local businesses and industries. City staff would be required to enter private property without probable cause and report violators and potential violators to the Regional Board for further prosecution.
The L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board serves as a local extension of the State Resources Board and is responsible for keeping area rivers and shore water clean and free of refuse. The aim of the Regional Water Board's permit is to stop the dumping of trash, vegetation and chemicals into these waters through the storm drain system. Although the Coalition for Practical Regulation -- a group of 35 municipalities, including the City of Bellflower and the City and County of Los Angeles -- supports the Board's responsibility, two separate studies indicate that the requirements are "too expensive, onerous, and illegal."
A recent study published by Stanley R. Hoffman Associates, a private consultancy hired by the State of California, concluded that pending regulations would cost the region $54 billion and increase property taxes by 70%. Similarly, the Chief Legislative Analyst for the County of Los Angeles estimates that new regulations will cost that agency $73 million. The City of Bellflower estimates that it will cost local residents $5 million.
Currently, local elected leaders say the only way to pay for the new regulations is to increase taxes or eliminate public programs. In short, cities contend that the permit creates a series of non-funded mandates that require local governments to enforce regulations without the necessary resources to accomplish the tasks. One possible solution proposed by the Coalition to share permit fees was struck down without discussion. The Regional Board stated, "sharing the permit fees is not on the table."
"With the State facing a $14 billion deficit and local budgets stretched thin, we need to use scarce funding very wisely," said Nate Holden, Councilmember, City of Los Angeles. "In the City of Los Angeles alone, proposed rules cost the equivalent salaries of 1,200 firefighters and 1,000 police officers."
According to the Coalition, State and federal law provides regional water boards the power to clean rivers and beaches. It does not give them the authority to delegate it to other agencies. Coalition members contend that the Regional Board cannot order cities or city staff to commit illegal acts such as entering private property without probable cause. Further, the Coalition says, as an appointed body, the Water Board cannot change State law passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. By forcing cities to change the California Environmental Quality Act and mandating that cities change their city ordinances, experts maintain that the Board is overstepping its authority.
"Most Californians share the goal to create cleaner recreational waters," said Michael Egan, Bellflower City Administrator and a member of the Coalition. "However, it should be for Californians to decide how to do it and how much they are willing to pay for it, not an appointed board which does not answer to voters."
The Los Angeles Regional Water Control Board has scheduled a hearing to adopt this permit on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2001 at the Metropolitan Water District, 700 N. Alameda, Los Angeles. For additional information or to comment on the regulations, residents and business owners may contact the Regional Board by phone at 213/576-6600, by fax at 213/576-6640, or on the Web at www.swrcb.ca.gov/rwqcb4.