Owners of large properties got a bit of relief Tuesday night when the Santa Clarita City Council sent a controversial new plan for assessing stormwater fees back to the drawing board.
Stormwater fees are charged to property owners in Santa Clarita to pay for draining water runoff, which occurs when homes, patios, driveways or other structures prohibit water from seeping into the ground.
Currently, all residential properties under 1/3 acre in size are charged $24 per year, while larger properties are charged that base amount, plus an open space rate for everything over 1/3 acre.
City staff and consultants recently used updated information from the Los Angeles County Hydrology Manual to devise a new way of calculating how much property owners would have to pay, in an effort to make the cost sharing more fair among all property owners.
While that resulted in a fee reduction, to $21.50 for 86% of Santa Clarita residents, owners of large properties complained that their rates have gone up dramatically.
Several speakers protested the calculations, saying that a vast majority of their property is open space, capable of absorbing water and therefore they do not warrant such a significant increase in their stormwater assessment.
Walter Watson, for example, told City Council members that while his home is roughly the same size as his neighbor, his stormwater fee is set to double, while his neighbor’s decreases, even though there is little difference in the amount of “impervious” or non-absorbent square footage between the two properties. Watson’s only difference is that he has a larger amount of open land on his property.
This is due to the City’s proposed calculation, which averages the percentage of impervious space on any given piece of land.
Under the formula, a parcel that is 1/2 acre in size is estimated to be 42% impervious. A 10 acre property is classified as being 10% impervious. By those standards, a property owner who has a modest home on 10 acres of land would be charged as if they had 1 solid acre of home or hardscape.
Large property owners complained that the calculation is unfair, and after hearing the public testimony City Manager Ken Pulskamp was moved to withdraw his recommendation and send the calculation methodology back to the drawing board. Early City Council member comments echoed the sentiment, calling for staff to take a closer look at the plan and come back with something more reasonable.
Just a few hours earlier, Mayor Frank Ferry and Mayor pro Tem Laurene Weste held a joint meeting with Los Angeles County to discuss another costly fee increase, proposed for resident’s water bills, to pay for a desalinization plant to remove contaminants from water before they get to agricultural areas west of Santa Clarita.