A proposed city of Los Altos stormwater drainage fee, subject of a city council public hearing Tuesday, will average approximately $7 per month, or $88 per year per parcel.
Why do we need it?
Stormwater pollution is getting well-deserved attention as a serious worldwide issue. Locally, stormwater runoff is the top source of pollution to the San Francisco Bay. It gets there via our storm drains that direct deposit to creeks – silt, toxins that leach from asphalt, pesticides, trash, and a whole lot more.
Stormwater discharge requires a permit. It is mandated by the federal Clean Water Act and the California Water Code. There are now requirements for green infrastructure specific to the San Francisco Bay region. Cities, including Los Altos, must implement green infrastructure to minimize the flow of stormwater before it reaches our storm drains and treat polluted runoff by soil infiltration. In short, Bay Area cities are obligated to implement pollution prevention measures to comply with the permit.
Funds to keep our Los Altos drainage pipes clean and functional currently come out of the city’s general fund, thus, our drainage system ends up low on the totem pole. And now, Los Altos must allot for stormwater treatment, and it cannot be cut from the city budget. So if the city doesn’t have this fee, it will have to pay for improvements out of the general fund, taking money away from police, fire, parks, roads, etc.
We cannot ignore needed improvements to our drainage infrastructure. Current and potential flood issues cannot go unaddressed. And we cannot continue the business-as-usual polluting of our local creeks and the bay.
Three years ago, the city council approved an updated Stormwater Master Plan. Costs have risen in those three years. So too has the bounty of cost-effective, innovative ideas. Questions arise at to whether the plan reflects the best ideas of today and whether the storm drainage fee will receive the implementation and oversight it deserves given the current shortage of city staff.
A community task force could absorb some of this responsibility and work in partnership with city staff. This could include oversight, a sunset date, innovative project allotment and incentives to encourage homeowners to do the right thing – rebates for hardscape replacement with permeable materials and new construction discounts for minimizing hardscape.
Do we need a storm drainage fee? Yes! Should we support it without a task force? Yes, because it’s imperative we get some things done. But establishing a community task force would help residents vote confidently in support of the fee knowing that the fund would maximize community and environmental benefit. The city council would need to approve and empower this task force. Let’s make that happen!
For more information on stormwater pollution, watch “Capture Rain Where It Falls” at greentownlosaltos.org/programs/water/stormwater-runoff.
Tami Mulachy is a Los Altos resident.