Westside development has exploded during the last decade or so, and Los Angeles County officials in Marina del Rey have stepped up their efforts to reconfigure the coastal enclave’s existing landscape to make it a much more desirable vacation destination for tourists and attract visitors from other parts of the county.
While many local residents have charged that county officials do not have a coherent plan for developing the Marina and others have accused them of seeking wealthier clients at the expense of the middle-class boat owners and residents, some have begun recently focusing on how and if the water shortage will be factored into the new projects throughout Los Angeles.
David Coffin, a Westchester resident who has written extensively about the water shortage on a community Web site called WestchesterParents, feels that city planning officials have ignored how the statewide drought will impact local communities as larger housing projects are receiving approval to be built.
Coffin, who is a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, expressed his views on why he chose not to support his council’s position on the second stage of Playa Vista’s commercial enterprise on March 11th.
“Under today’s conditions, I cannot support large housing projects, let alone a project that proposes 2,600 new housing units,” Coffin, who backed Phase I of Playa Vista in 2002, wrote. “If this was 2003, I might have a very different position. However, it’s 2009 and the region is overdeveloped and the city has overcommitted our resources including water, power and streets.
“Unless there is a way for the city to resolve these infrastructure issues without further eroding our quality of life, I cannot support new housing.”
Joseph Reichenberger, a graduate director and professor of civil engineering at Loyola Marymount University, says that cities and counties are now beginning to employ water-conserving measures due to the effects of the statewide drought.
“We’re seeing more projects going towards more drought tolerant plants with features like low-flow facilities,” said the professor, who is also a director of the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District.
Santos Kreimann, director of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors in Marina del Rey, said that an emphasis on water conservation is a part of the county’s long term development strategy.
“We’ve been working with the lessees to identify funding for internal infrastructure,” Kreimann said.
In addition, the frequency of the watering of medians has been modified, along with restricting watering in the dry storage areas.
Last year, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution that establishes green standards for buildings throughout the county. The ordinance will combine requirements for energy efficiency, low-impact design and drought-tolerant landscaping in new development projects.
The new standards are set to take effect in 2010.
Reichenberger mentioned that state law now dictates that projects that exceed a certain density are required to have a water assessment conducted by the agency in charge of water supply.
Senate Bill 610 mandates that a “city or county under certain circumstances that determines an environmental impact report is required in connection with a project, as defined, to request each public water system that supplies water for the project to access, among other things, whether its total projected water supplies will meet the projected water demand associated with the proposed project.”
And a key provision in SB 610 requires that any project subject to the California Environmental Quality Act that is supplied with water from a public water system be provided a specified water supply assessment, except as specified in the law.
Senate Bill 221, authored by former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica, prohibits a legislative body from approving a tentative map, parcel map or development agreement for a subdivision of property of more than 500 units unless the legislative body or the designated advisory agency provides written verification from an applicable public water system that a sufficient water supply is available, or that specified funding from a local agency indicates that sufficient water supplies will be available prior to the completion of the project.
“I think the intention of both the bills, taken together, was to require cities and counties to consider whether there would actually be sufficient water, not just promised,” said Kuehl, who is now a member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Because of the water supply shortage, local water agencies have begun to restructure their water ordinances, Reichenberger said.
“They are beginning to take measures to implement changes that reflect the need to conserve water,” said the professor.
Melinda Barrett, who is the water conservation manager for the Los Angeles County WaterWorks District, said that if the county goes to a higher level than the current Phase II of the county water conservation ordinance, the district would not be able to issue what are called “will serve” letters for new projects.
A will serve letter is a commitment by a water district to supply water for a particular development, home or business.
“A developer has to come before a water supplier to obtain a ‘will serve letter,’” Barrett explained. “If the water shortage were to increase, we would not be able to issue these letters.”
The West Basin Municipal Water District, the sole water supplier to Marina del Rey, has reduced the amount of water that it imports from the northern part of the state by 15 percent and has cut back on its deliveries to District 29, which includes Marina del Rey, by the same amount.
Reichenberger says that the drought has forced cities and counties to rethink how they will use water in the future.
“They are going to have to consider how to recharge aquifers and make better use of reusing water for landscaping and irrigation,” he said. “A lot has changed over the last several years, and that includes what to consider when new projects are being built.”