The City hopes a new ordinance will turn off the faucet when it comes to water usage inside Santa Monica’s eight square miles. Even as future developments could bring thousands of new residents to downtown, the rules seek to maintain water neutrality – meaning thousands of new showers and toilets would not increase Santa Monica’s overall demand on water resources.
The City Council will consider an ordinance Tuesday that will require all new developments to be water neutral: meaning the new structures must stay within the same water usage as previous use of the property or pay a fee. Requirements for 100 percent affordable housing projects would be less stringent than for market-rate.
Starting March 2018, the City would require new developments to be as water-efficient as possible through design, plumbing fixtures and non-potable water systems. If neutrality cannot be met through those devices and systems, the developer would be required to cover the costs to offset the water usage at a different location.
The proposed ordinance applies to new buildings, existing buildings with extensive remodeling and new or enlarged swimming pools, spas, water features and ponds. The City has permitted more than 150 new swimming pools since 2014, the year Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency.
While the statewide drought is officially over, with Los Angeles County boasting “moderate drought” status for the first time in years, environmental leaders say now is the time to enact laws that plan for the future. Despite the rain earlier this year and elevated snowpack, 10.2 million Californians still live in drought areas, according to Drought Monitor.
“There’s a statewide shift in trying to use water efficiently and this really locks-in Santa Monica’s water use in an efficient way,” said Tracy Quinn, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program. The NRDC worked with the City on developing the ordinance.
“A handful of other cities across the US have already adopted water neutrality ordinances, this allowed Santa Monica to have a better understanding of best practices in order to create a policy that would be most effective for the City,” Quinn said.
The projected water usage for a new home or development would be determined by a “water demand calculator” posted on the city website. The calculator would include water use projections for toilets, showers, faucets, climate controls systems, landscaping, and water features. The Office of Sustainability and the Environment would review projections.
Developers who cannot reach water neutrality could either pay a fee that would go toward retrofitting existing buildings with water saving systems or perform their own retrofits at other properties. The fees could potentially be substantial for a developer replacing a one-story structure with a multi-story apartment complex.
While private homeowners will also be governed by the ordinance, city staff says the ordinance would not apply to a new garage with no plumbing fixtures, or even a kitchen or bath remodel unless more than 50 percent of the walls or structural supports are removed.
The discussion over the water neutrality ordinance comes as key stakeholders including the Chamber of Commerce, developers and activists are calculating the new costs of construction dictated in the final draft of the Downtown Community Plan, the 300 page zoning document that will set fees for the next two decades. The community only has a few months to provide input on the plan which will likely be finalized this summer.
Those stakeholders furiously working to calculate the estimated costs of new affordable housing requirements, transportation fees, impact fees, and open space requirements in the DCP. Several groups and developers contacted by the Daily Press for this story said they simply haven’t had time to look over the water neutrality ordinance’s potential impact on their bottom line.
The neutrality ordinance will be discussed at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Closed session starts at 5:30 p.m. at 1685 Main Street inside Council Chambers.