Storm Drain Utility Users' Tax
Council of Neighborhood Associations

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Storm Drain Utility Users' Tax Council of Neighborhood Associations
L A Wood, CNA NEWSLETTER February 1993

Over a year ago, the Berkeley City Council enacted an ordinance authorizing the creation of a storm drain utility users' tax. Until this time, Berkeley's storm drainage system costs were primarily drawn from the General Fund. After June 1991, the proceeds collected from this new user fee were placed in the City Treasury for a newly established Clean Storm Water Fund.

Historically, the City's storm drain system has received low priority in budgetary allocations and is in need of much repair. Our own storm water system capital improvement program has scheduled the repair, rehabilitation and replacement of its drainage components over a 25 year period. The adopted July 1991 ordinance adds funds for four years into this capital improvements program. The implementation of capital improvements is slated to begin in the second year.

The utility tax assessment was directed at the 27,000 real properties. Each property's user tax assessment was based on the amount of its impervious area. Impervious surfaces are simply those that repel water rather than allowing runoff to be absorbed by the soil. Owners of parcels with single family homes pay a fixed rate of fifty dollars annually. For most Berkeleyans, this was the beginning of our awareness to the issues of nonpoint source pollution and their real costs.

The legislation of both Federal and State governments has required controls on runoff waters. Berkeley has joined in the Alameda County Urban Runoff Clean Water Program (CWP). Our city and sixteen other Alameda County municipalities and agencies have come together for the purpose of filing a joint federal stormwater permit. This National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit requires a storm water program to encompass designated clean storm water activities. Permits are generally required by cities that exceed 100,000 in population.

The requirements of the NPDES permits include both general (countywide) and individual (city by city) program activities. With a combined funding of $500,000 for FY 1991-1992, Berkeley's program cost will increase to approximately $700,000 for each of the remaining three years. There is also an annual expenditure of $320,000 for operations and maintenance program costs. These additional costs are for existing activities being performed by the Public Works Department to operate and maintain Berkeley's storm drain system.

Alameda County's Runoff Management Plan began with an eight component program and associated subcommittee to develop policy. The Management Committee, which is made up of representatives from all seventeen participants, oversees the policy development and is charged with administering the general program activities. This management plan relies on the efforts of each participating city to administer, fund, and implement its own individual program activities.

The first year activities of the general program have focused on data collection and program component development, though there have been some emergency capital improvements. In June of 1992, the Subcommittee on Municipal Government Activities (one of the eight program components) released its Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Alameda's Runoff Program. These BMPs were two tiered, reflecting present municipal maintenance activities (Tier 1) and proposed activities (Tier 2).

A major charge of the Maintenance Subcommittee is developing policy for the disposal of waste water. However, the BMPs for municipal disposal contained no Tier 1 activity. This implied that any current disposal practices were acceptable.

It was public criticism of this gap in disposal policy that spurred the development of new BMPs that were then issued in July 1992. These changes reflect a more conscious approach to disposal. Unfortunately, the implementation of such policy is at the discretion of each municipality. Furthermore, the program has turned to policy development which would restrict citizen participation and silence those of the public who would raise questions concerning adequate disposal standards.

Alameda's program issued its own survey asking what priority should be given to municipal disposal policy development. Only three of the seventeen program participants even bothered to respond to its own management program. At best, a proper assessment of each city's disposal activities and subsequent policy development was made more difficult. The implementation of developed policies is also an issue of great uncertainty. The regulatory flexibility given to additional costs are for existing activities being performed by the Public Works Department to operate and maintain Berkeley's storm drain system.

Alameda County's Runoff Management Plan began with an eight component program and associated subcommittee to develop policy. The Management Committee, which is made up of representatives from all seventeen participants, oversees the policy development and is charged with administering the general program activities. This management plan relies on the efforts of each participating city to administer, fund, and implement its own individual program activities.

The first year activities of the general program have focused on data collection and program component development, though there have been some emergency capital improvements. In June of 1992, the Subcommittee on Municipal Government Activities (one of the eight program components) released its Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Alameda's Runoff Program. These BMPs were two tiered, reflecting present municipal maintenance activities (Tier 1) and proposed activities (Tier 2).

A major charge of the Maintenance Subcommittee is developing policy for the disposal of waste water. However, the BMPs for municipal disposal contained no Tier 1 activity. This implied that any current disposal practices were acceptable.

It was public criticism of this gap in disposal policy that spurred the development of new BMPs that were then issued in July 1992. These changes reflect a more conscious approach to disposal. Unfortunately, the implementation of such policy is at the discretion of each municipality. Furthermore, the program has turned to policy development which would restrict citizen participation and silence those of the public who would raise questions concerning adequate disposal standards.

Alameda's program issued its own survey asking what priority should be given to municipal disposal policy development. Only three of the seventeen program participants even bothered to respond to its own management program. At best, a proper assessment of each city's disposal activities and subsequent policy development was made more difficult. The implementation of developed policies is also an issue of great uncertainty. The regulatory flexibility given to each of the seventeen Alameda County agencies and cities insures a slow start-up of the program.

Municipal maintenance activities require participation by various city departments and divisions, including Engineering, Streets and Sanitation, Health and Human Services (Toxic Spills), Planning, Recycling, and Parks. Many of these municipal activities have been financed in the past through the General Fund. In the last several years, there has been an attempt to find alternative funding, given the municipal budget crunch. The Clean Storm Water Fund provides this budgetary relief

As Alameda County's runoff program enters the second year it is time to ask what is new in the program. There were many committee meetings out of which have come clearer objectives for the program. There has been some policy development and very little implementation. For Berkeley's Public Works and other city departments, the runoff program has come at an important time. With some city staff faced with layoffs and extreme budgetary constraints, the Runoff Program means certain work in addition to guaranteed funding for many already existing city activities. This Berkeley citizen hopes our Clean Water Program can come to mean more, now that we have a RUNOFF program with a capital E.

Neighborhood Group Works with City To Survey Region

Today, Berkeley has yet another opportunity to contribute to the ecological health of the Bay Area region. The City of Berkeley is participating in the Alameda County Urban Runoff Clean Water Program. This program has been established to regulate non-point source pollution in a regional context. Fourteen cities in Alameda County are currently developing management practices to meet the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act.

Our West Berkeley group, the Bancroft Guardian Coalition, has slated a public information project with regard to this Urban Runoff Program. Our project has taken the form of a survey asking participating cities of the Runoff Program about the disposal processes they employ regarding catch basin collections and street sweeping practices.

The subsequent analysis of the survey will attempt to provide a comprehensive look at the disposal dilemma. We intend to forward our report to the regulatory agencies responsible for the Runoff Program, including the fourteen participating Alameda County cities. We hope our collected data will aid in the early development of uniform practices and a heightened awareness of storm drain pollution.

The video, "Berkeley's Storm Drain System: Portal to the Bay," was developed as a survey tool. It was put together with footage from our neighborhood action directed at the Corporation Yard. This video depicts Berkeley's former runoff collection disposal practices. Our survey package consists of the video plus information concerning our group's efforts to change these disposal practices of the Public Works Department. In addition, we included a letter to each of the cities involved asking what processes were employed in their respective public works facilities.

The policy concerning disposal of these specific types of discharges is unclear and, in some sense, "uncharted." One undeniable problem related to disposal is the unknown content of the runoff at any given time-testing runoff to determine its content is not cost effective for most municipalities. We recognize that alternative disposal may incur even greater costs. This makes the issue difficult for the participating cities since most suffer from some form of budget woes.

A potential exists for collecting illicit, hazardous discharges in the normal collection process. We think it important to establish a minimum standard for all the public works facilities to follow in regard to disposal practices. This would provide some protection in controlling the hazardous pollutants that unknowingly become part of the storm drain collection. Appropriate disposal of street sweeping and catch basin collections is central to an effective runoff program.

Environmentally speaking, storm drain use and ground water quality are the major issues to be discussed. Berkeley has always had a special concern for the protection of the environment, demonstrated repeatedly in the past. Many of the prevailing sensibilities about community and government responsibility to the environment have had their beginning here. With the City of Berkeley's encouragement, our group is attempting to affect the standards of storm drain collection disposal for our region. Berkeley can show the way.

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