Santa Monica homeowners hoping to add a swimming pool to their property have just a few weeks to receive a building permit before the City’s new Water Neutrality Ordinance goes into effect July1.

City staff has been scrambling to get systems up and online to implement the ordinance after the City Council voted last month to push up the start date by nearly nine months from March of 2018 to this July. Staff members will still be selecting a vendor, looking for a consultant and working out the kinks for the retrofit program when developers begin submitting their plans.

“On Monday, July 3, when people are ready to pull their permits, we’ll have the calculators online and staff ready to help people move through the process with their plan check. We just won’t be ready to install the toilet,” said senior sustainability analyst Kim O’Cain, who lead the development of the ordinance.”

The ordinance is part of the City’s overall strategy to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2020. Any new development or substantial renovation involving more than fifty percent of the existing structure will have to stay within the average water use of the last five years for the site. Developers and homeowners can either accomplish this by using water-efficient fixtures and systems on-site, or offset the additional usage elsewhere. The City will create a fee-based turnkey retrofit program to facilitate the process.

“We are working toward having a consultant on board to help people navigate this,” O’Cain said, adding that hiring the consultant will probably take months. “We’ve tried to design (the ordinance) to be very easy to comply with. We’re trying to make it as simple as possible.”

The City Council voted to move up the start of the ordinance over fears too many large development projects would move through the pipeline and avoid the new requirements over the next year. A water demand calculator will be available online at the end of June at sustainablesm.org/water.

“We gave direction on this ordinance in November 2015 and really anticipated having it in place last fall,” Mayor Ted Winterer said at the City Council meeting where the starting date was pushed up, “and while we had bountiful rainfall this year we are cognizant of the fact we will have dry years ahead of us so we would like to have this up and running as fast as possible.”

“This is a really complicated, difficult, implementation of an ordinance,” Chief Sustainability Officer Dean Kubani said at the same meeting. “It’s not something where somebody pulls a permit and we stamp it and it all works. There are a number of pieces that have to be in place for it to be implemented effectively.”

The City’s current water usage is the lowest since the 1990s. While the majority of California is no longer in a drought, the Los Angeles area remains abnormally dry, according to Drought Monitor. Santa Monica’s drought measures remain in place. The City estimates 75 percent of the projects that fall under the new ordinance are new single-family homes or large remodels. Typical kitchen or bathroom remodels are not substantial enough to fall under the ordinance.

The City has established an in-leiu fee for the ordinance based on the anticipated cost to install toilets, showerheads and faucets at older buildings in Santa Monica. There is already a waiting list of properties hoping to benefit from major mixed-use projects that may have to pay to offset hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. For example, a new development projected to use 400,000 gallons of water a year on a plot of land that traditionally used 150,000 gallons, the new development must offset 250,000 gallons elsewhere. O’Cain says she is looking to use the in-lieu fee to update low-income, high density housing first.

 

kate@smdp.com

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