Danville balks at unfunded federal mandate on water | March 14, 2008 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Newsfront - March 14, 2008

Danville balks at unfunded federal mandate on water

Town proposes alternate ways to achieve same goals

by Meghan Neal

A federal mandate regulating stormwater runoff and trash reduction, among other things, has the town of Danville in a pickle.

That's because it would obligate the town to comply with strict and - the real kicker - costly new requirements without providing any plan on how to fund them.

"It would appear to defy conventional logic," Danville Town Manager Joe Calabrigo said.

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board is the group responsible for implementing the mandate - called the Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit - in Contra Costa County and the Bay Area.

The concern is that stormwater runoff could contain pollutants and toxins like mercury and lead, coming from yard fertilizers or brake dust from cars. These pollutants may then be flowing into the San Francisco Bay and harming the environment.

Complying with the permit's requirements would cost cities in the county an estimated $200 million over five years. Danville's portion comes to $4.2 million, half of which is currently unfunded.

"There isn't any money coming from the state or the federal government to help us," Calabrigo said.

He stressed that the environment is important to Danville, and the town doesn't wish to ignore or go against the mandate.

"We're not trying to get out of doing things, we're trying to suggest alternate ways of doing," he said Monday.

On Tuesday the town got the chance to make those suggestions, at a hearing the water board held in Oakland on the permit. Mayor Candace Andersen, Councilman Newell Arnerich and Calabrigo testified at the hearing along with State Assemblyman Guy Houston and representatives from other cities in the county.

"We're all speaking with a single voice here," Calabrigo said.

That single voice relayed to the board that they support clean water goals and have worked hard to comply with past permits, but they're asking the board to adjust certain requirements and work with them to find a permanent, ongoing revenue source.

"We felt very pleased with what occurred. The board seemed very responsive to the comments of the city," Andersen said Wednesday morning.

She said one board member specifically pointed to Danville's suggestion to let cities come up with their own results-oriented plans.

For example, under the proposed permit, half of the cost would go toward trash reduction, which Calabrigo said makes no sense for Danville. It would require trash reduction methods in 10 percent of the developed land, but the town knows where the heavy trash-generation areas are and focuses its efforts there, he said. Moreover, the current street sweeping and trash pickup efforts are already very successful.

The new permit would also almost quadruple water quality monitoring costs by requiring toxicity tests that are pricey and often inconclusive. The town is asking for two to three years to develop a more cost-effective plan by working with the many academic institutions in the area and the environmental community, said Calabrigo.

Without help from the federal or state government, the money for the permit could have to come from the town's general fund or be taken away from funds already delegated to community projects and programs.

"It would prevent us from doing things we would like to do because we would have that much less money," Andersen said. "I would rather put that money toward seniors or youth programming. I can think of a lot of great ways for the town to spend $400,000 (a year)."

Right now resident fees contribute to a $470,000 annual budget that's used for all the requirements under the current permit - street sweeping, trash removal, creek cleanup, and the town's contribution to the county's clean water program.

Even if it wanted to, the town couldn't raise the funds by increasing these fees thanks to Proposition 218, which passed in 1996 requiring local government to get taxpayer approval before it can increase taxes, fees or property assessments.

No final decisions were made at Tuesday's hearing. Staff members will now conduct workshops and talk with cities to come up with more custom-tailored requirements rather than the current countywide "one size fits all" approach, said Andersen. The board is expected to reconvene in June or July with a decision.