by Jim Leamy, Senior Manager of Quality Assurance
Stormwater in Los Angeles County has been neglected for a long time.
From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem pointless to pay attention to stormwater when there are much more dire situations happening right now. The Woolsey Fire, spanning Los Angeles County and Ventura County, still hasn’t been contained. The Camp Fire and the Hill Fire are raging on in other parts of California at the same time, splitting manpower and resources into three major firefights. From an insider’s perspective though, the fires are a symptom to the problem. The infrastructure of Los Angeles was created to dispel water into the ocean as quickly as possible, moving through the city with minimal amounts of stormwater infiltration. This outdated decision has left the surrounding areas very dry, losing wetlands, swamps, and local wildlife that acted as protection for the landscape. The dryness fed into the major droughts that plague California, with the latest drought spanning five years and another on the way. Creating these large swaths of water-scarce areas also developed an issue of containment, where the areas are prone to catching fire and, once burning, are incredibly difficult to keep from catching on neighboring properties and expanding into an unmanageable record-breaking inferno.
An apt comparison to our situation would be an untreated osteoporotic patient breaking their arm. Treating the broken arm immediately is a no-brainer. However, in order to fix the overarching problem, the doctor needs to prescribe some bisphosphonates (a class of drugs that inhibit bone degradation), not leave the osteoporosis to fix itself. In regards to the stormwater problem, California has been treating that broken arm consistently by extinguishing every fire that comes their way. That’s all well and good, but without treating the osteoporosis, their body is just as likely to break a bone again.
That’s where Measure W comes in. LA County has been noncompliant with federal water quality standards for a while, promising to play catch up by creating funding for stormwater programming when the time is right. According to voters, now is that time.
On November 6th, 2018, Measure W passed handily with 1,380,932 voting yes (about 67.91% of registered LA County voters). Private property with impermeable area will be taxed, and stormwater compliance will be enforceable. Whether you’ve paid attention to the outcome, or you’re only just hearing about it, knowing the ins and outs of this measure is important for LA County private property business owners to get prepared for when this measure takes effect in 2020.
Measure W was put forth to create a stormwater parcel tax on the amount of impermeable area within private properties encompassed in the Los Angeles Watershed. The purpose of the tax was to create funding in order to support the Safe, Clean Water Program. This program would help municipalities within LA County have enough funds for introducing imperative stormwater measures and increasing compliance of stormwater permittees. The total projected gross annual revenue from the tax is about $300 million, with 40% going to the implementation, operation, and maintenance of stormwater programs and projects operated by municipality programs; 50% going to the implementation, operation, and maintenance of programs and projects operated by the regional programs; and 10% going to administrative costs related to the parcel tax collection and distribution of funds.
The main reason for the Safe, Clean Water Program is to carry out projects and programs to increase stormwater capture, reduce stormwater pollution, or both. With the creation of funding, regions and municipalities within LA County will be able to fund stormwater programs that can support beneficial projects and enforce compliance within their jurisdiction.
The upshot of this measure passing is that now private property owners with property within the Los Angeles Watershed must pay 2.5¢ per square foot of impermeable area. This tax will not be collected until the beginning of 2020, but it's important to account for its cost moving forward. In order to estimate the stormwater parcel tax for a property, LA County has created a Tax Estimation Tool that only requires your address or APN for the calculation.
More taxes can be painful. However, the great thing about this measure is that stormwater projects undertaken by LA County private properties will have the possibility of being funded by the Safe, Clean Water Program. In order to be considered for funding, non-municipal project applicants will need to get a municipal letter of support; that’s a small responsibility in lieu of footing a large bill single handedly for your property’s stormwater projects.
Having this funding available for stormwater programs also means that noncompliant permittees will now be required to comply with stormwater standards. Having this funding in place creates a level of fairness to those properties that have been operating under the stormwater federal and state regulations. Those who have been in violation will now be followed more closely than before, making it necessary to update stormwater assets and get help when the stormwater law jargon gets to be too much to follow.
For properties that are already complying with stormwater standards, there will be a provision to the stormwater parcel tax that credits up to 100% of the stormwater parcel tax to property owners based on water quality, water supply, and community investment benefits, as well as those that perform additional qualifying activities. The credit program has yet to be adopted, but the Board is required to adopt an ordinance outlining it no later than April 1, 2019. Having this provision means that properties who have already been or begin developing stormwater practices that the county sees as beneficial, it's possible to get a reduction or even complete write-off of your stormwater parcel tax for the year.
This major stormwater overhaul has created more responsibilities and opportunities for private business owners. To help maneuver the outcomes of this stormwater parcel tax, let AQUALIS be at hand for all of your post-construction stormwater management needs. Be sure to contact one of our stormwater experts at AQUALIS today to get your stormwater assets ready by 2020.