Update: The original version of this story gave an erroneous location for next Tuesday's scheduled Los Altos City Council public hearing to discuss the Clean Water and Sustainable Storm Drainage Initiative. The meeting is set to take place 7 p.m. at Los Altos Youth Center, not City Hall. The youth center also is located on the civic center campus, 1 N. San Antonio Road.
Los Altos City Council members will hear directly from residents Tuesday on the city’s proposed Clean Water and Sustainable Storm Drainage Initiative, a plan that could cost property owners $1.1 million annually over 30 years.
A public hearing on the initiative, which addresses maintenance and repairs to the city’s 55 miles of storm drains, is scheduled for the next council meeting.
City officials have been paying for storm drain maintenance work out of the city’s general fund, $300,000 for this fiscal year and for 2020-21. But that has to change, according to City Manager Chris Jordan.
“Currently, the general fund, in addition to stormwater, pays for police, fire, streets, parks, recreation and numerous other city services,” he said last week. “However, complying with state and federal clean-water and pollution control regulations places the maintenance and operations of the city’s stormwater system as a higher priority than these other critical municipal functions.”
If approved, Jordan said the new fee would create “a dedicated and sustainable source of funds for the maintenance, operations and capital needs of the stormwater system and allows the general fund to be utilized for all the other critical needs.”
The cost amounts to $7.33 per month, just under $88 annually, for a single-family residential parcel and $11.45 monthly for a commercial property.
Funds would go to high- and medium-priority projects, which include addressing several areas around Los Altos vulnerable to flooding.
The initiative also allows the city to fund storm drainage projects more expeditiously.
“The concern is that without having a dedicated funding source, projects will be delayed which, in the worst-case scenario, could result in further infrastructure deterioration and possible system failure,” said Aida Fairman, interim engineering services director.
Residents opposing the initiative said the city already has more than enough money and they are being overtaxed.
“This year alone, the city has $5,421,683 excess money that they have collected from us in taxes. So why are they asking for more when they already have the funds?” asked Roberta Phillips in a Town Crier letter to the editor. “Increased taxes will impact seniors living on a fixed income. It will hurt low-income renters, who will have the taxes passed on to them. Over the past year the city has raised the garbage rates, enacted a tax rate increase in the form of a hotel tax and raised the water rates. Give us a break!”
But city officials said taking a “proactive approach” through the storm drainage initiative would result in clean water through trash cleanup and reduced pollution, protection of property through reduced flooding and sustainable infrastructure through capital improvement project investment.
Some environmentally minded residents support the city’s plan. The local nonprofit group GreenTown Los Altos backs the initiative.
Resident Tami Mulcahy said stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution, collecting toxins from asphalt, trash, pesticides “and a whole lot more.”
In an op-ed written for the Town Crier last week (visit losaltosonline.com), Mulcahy noted that Los Altos and other cities are mandated by federal and state regulations to 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 be in compliance of the permit.”
More money spent from the general budget for the required stormwater treatment, Mulcahy said, will take away from police, parks and other services.
“We cannot ignore needed improvements to our drainage infrastructure. Current and potential flood issues cannot go unaddressed,” she said. “And we cannot continue the business-as-usual polluting of our local creeks and the bay.”
City officials have been preparing the initiative for more than a year. They hired SCI Consulting Group of Fairfield to prepare a storm drain fee report. SCI conducted a survey of residents in April 2018 that revealed a majority (53.5 percent) of 2,124 respondents favored dedicated funding for operations and maintenance, and high- and medium-priority capital improvement projects.
The city has already held community meetings March 20 and April 3 to gather feedback. Following the public hearing and pending council approval of the plan, ballots would be mailed to residents May 3 and due back by May 18. If a majority favors the funding, the council would then certify the ballots June 25 and the initiative would take effect July 1.
Tuesday’s council meeting is scheduled 7 p.m. in the Los Altos City Hall Council Chambers, 1 N. San Antonio Road.