By State Senator Bob Hertzberg.
I have spent years studying how California can augment reliance on local water supplies, as concern over the drought reverberated statewide in communities I visited. As Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, I have committed myself to tackling the tough issues that will allow us to use and reuse free rainwater and decrease our dependence on costly imported water.
As you know, local governments must get voter approval to raise taxes with a few exceptions. Those exceptions include fees for essential services such as “sewer, water and refuse collection.” In spite of the fact that existing laws define “sewer” to include both sanitary and stormwater services, which is also how it is defined in almost any dictionary, a single court decision in 2002 ruled against a stormwater fee pursued by the City of Salinas. Senate Bill 231 provides much-needed clarification from the Legislature, by providing a definition for “sewer” in line with other statutes, court opinions, and dictionary definitions to include stormwater as well as a contemporaneous interpretation within Proposition 218.
Please click here for a recorded webinar about SB 231
I anticipate any implementation of SB 231 to be litigated and opponents will challenge any fee in court. While I do not think that cities or counties should shy away from these challenges, we must all approach them with care and forethought. We must continue to work together to ensure that we build upon our success in the legislature with success in the courts. I will be publishing a podcast in conjunction with the Water Foundation and others, to organize and provide additional technical assistance for affected local governments.
It is critical as we move forward with this clarification, that implementation, be deliberate, thoughtful and far from any claims of overreach or abuse. In the meantime, I am hopeful that communities that elect property related stormwater management fees will finally have the opportunity to cost-effectively capture free rainwater, augment critical water supplies, as well as protect properties and businesses from flooding and pollution.
This new law presents an opportunity, in spite of fierce opposition, for a justifiable and legal path to accomplish our shared goals of stormwater management.
I look forward to seeing how you move our communities forward in water reliability.