Backers say Measure W parcel tax would help in capturing and saving storm water runoff

By Gary Walker

The Santa Monica Pier has regularly appeared on Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummer List, primarily due to poor water quality created in large part by storm water runoff near the pier.

If voters on Nov. 6 approve Measure W, a Los Angeles County parcel tax, a planned 1.6 million-gallon storm water collection tank at Santa Monica Pier may get a substantial financial boost, as would other projects around Los Angeles County aimed at collecting, cleaning and storing storm water runoff that would otherwise flow into the ocean.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors on July 17 approved the Safe, Clean Water Program by a vote of 4-1, with only Supervisor Kathryn Barger dissenting. If voters approve Measure W, the parcel tax would generate $300 million a year in the Los Angeles region by imposing a 2.5-cent per square foot tax on all impermeable surfaces — roofs, sidewalks, concrete patios, driveways and other hard tops — on private property. Schools and seniors would be exempt from the tax.

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“We have to do something about storm water,” said Supervisor Shelia Kuehl, who co-authored Measure W along with board colleague Supervisor Hilda Solis. “Two-thirds of our water supply is imported and we have to find ways to increase our water supply.

“We are very aware that 100 billion gallons of water a year float out to the ocean,” Kuehl continued. “We’re already cleaning some of it but not all of it, about a billion gallons. With this measure we could capture twice that amount, clean it and store it.”

County officials have for years been looking for the money to build the required infrastructure and support urban runoff programs but have been unable to find a reliable funding source.

“Storm water has been characterized as a fiscal orphan because it doesn’t have a dedicated source of funding,” said Kerjon Lee of the county’s Public Works Department.

“In order to fund these initiatives they would have to come out of a city’s general fund and compete with law enforcement. This is another way to finance more opportunities for storm water capture,” added Cung Nguyen, senior civil engineer of the department’s storm water planning division.

One project that has already been completed but is a prime example of how runoff and flooding can be controlled is Oxford Basin in Marina del Rey, according to county environmental representatives.

“This is an ideal site for storm water capture, multi-use benefits and recreational opportunities,” said Nguyen.

A city-funded storm water capture facility in Venice is another project that could benefit from Safe, Clean Water Program funds.

A future storm water venture that could be eligible for funding is a $40-million treatment project in Westchester that is part of the Los Angeles International Airport’s modernization plan and will cover a watershed area of 2,400 acres.

“We think [Measure W] will help fund a holistic approach to storm water pollution and help protect the beaches. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to improve water quality in our region,” said Corrine Bell, California water quality analyst for the Santa Monica office of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Real estate and building trade associations expressed caution and in some cases mild opposition to the measure at the Board of Supervisors meeting in July.

“My members will not support a tax without a dusk clause. You need to get this right the first time,” Laura Olhasso of the Pasadena–Foothill Association of Realtors told the supervisors.

“Our beach cities are bearing the brunt of our outdated water infrastructure. We have to get serious about capturing and cleaning rainfall to not only preserve the health of our beaches, but also replenish our water supply,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn.  “I think this is important, and it will be up to the voters to decide if it is important to them as well.”