Another California Crisis – RivCo Water Symposium

symposium

Today marked the 6th Annual Riverside County Water Symposium. The event featured a series of panels and speakers discussing the water challenges facing our state today. The keynote was delivered by Michael Chrisman, California Secretary for Natural Resources.

Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley set the tone by stating that we are literally playing Russian Roulette with the Sacramento Delta. One little mis-hap, a flood, an earthquake, terrorist threat or an angry gopher could disrupt the water supply to 25 million Californians and dramatically impact the economy of this state for decades. As he noted, we’d be up a creek all right but it would be a dry creek. We can’t conserve our way out of this mess – we must address and resolve some of the fundamental problems with our systems starting with the Sacramento Delta. When the Delta fails – not if but when, it will make Katrina and Andrew look like childs play in terms of damage to the area, the ecosystem and the state’s economy.

I don’t think it comes as a big surprise that our water systems, much of it built 30 – 50 years ago, was never designed or intended to meet today’s demand. And while environmental concerns have acted to restrict the flow of existing water (see Delta Smelt), those same concerns have prevented us from developing new resources or re-working other solutions (peripheral canal). In the past 100 years we’ve relied on big projects, big technological developments and throwing big money at it. That’s not viable in the 21st Century where we face higher demand with fewer resources and less money.

One thing they all agreed on, we’ve witnessed the end of the era of cheap water. You are no longer assured of getting all the water you want – rather they’ll be working hard just to get you all the water you  need, and at a price you can still afford. After all, Western Municipal, which provides most of  Southern California’s water to our local providers, is implementing a 19.7% increase this September followed by another 21% jump in 2011.  Tiered pricing will become the norm with conservation being rewarded while profligate use will be penalized. After all, upwards of 80% of domestic water use is OUTSIDE the home with as much as 50% of that is wasted in run-off, over-spray, etc.  If homeowners worked their land like farmers, we could dramatically decrease water usage. But even reduced usage will eventually result in higher bills as infrastructure improvements are required.

Some positive notes – from John Rossi, GM of Western Municipal – ‘In every crisis is an opportunity’.  This may be the best time in 25 years to actually fund and implement some real solutions in the Delta in spite of California’s economy. But the timing is critical and they are forming coalitions to get active on this NOW. They are encouraged to be working with some of the groups that have been adversaries in the past but have a new view of what can and should happen to the Delta going forward. They are asking Sacramento to stop politicizing the issue. The resource is neither a Democratic nor a Republican resource and the resolution to the issue will be derived by working together. They also wish Sacramento would focus on getting it’s own act together and quit issuing new and/or redundant requirements and compliance reports about issues they have no clue. Well, good luck on that one.

They are further encouraged by the possibility of obtaining some bail-out funds for critical projects. However, as one noted, the structure of the bail-out rewards the inept. If you’ve managed your business right, you probably don’t qualify. (Hmmmm, where have we seen that before?) For example, one of the requirements to qualify for Federal funds is to have ‘shovel-ready’ projects – yet few associations or water departments can afford to plan and implement a project to a shovel-ready state without having had the funding mechanism for the project in place from the out-set. It’s one of those catch 22’s – you can’t develop a project unless you have money but you can’t have money until your project’s developed. Duhhhh.

Secretary Chrisman noted that we have recently had two prominent California water experts placed in high Federal office, which bodes well for some of our projects. The new Director of the Department of Water Resources has mandated that human costs be factored into consideration along with the customary environmental impact and structural costs. They’re also evaluating California Water Law, which currently ranks as the most complex water law in the country. Our combination of old British Water Law, adopted in the 1850’s, usufructuary, riparian and appropriative water rights creates quite a challenging environment to work in. He also noted that the Endangered Species Act has been used at times as a very blunt instrument to craft laws and they are petitioning for reconsideration of the Delta Smelt and other ‘endangered’ species.

As with so many issues facing California today, we are at a crossroads in our water supply. As Mark Twain opined, “Whiskey is for drinkin’, water is for fightin’ over.” It looks like we’re coming into the fightin’ season for California water right now and, as with all our endeavors, we as Realtors had better be at the table with them – or we’ll sure as hell be on the menu.


Government Affairs Update

Government Affairs Directors usually have 2 or 3 times a year we do a ‘fly-up’ to Sacramento. The morning is spent  with our lobbyists and policy staff, the afternoon with our legislators, schedules permitting. This year, budgets being what they are, we are eliminating at least some of the fly-ups in favor of  webinars.

This morning we had an opportunity to get an update from and hold a Q & A with Alex Creel & Stan Weig. For those of you who don’t know these two, Alex is our chief state lobbyist and Stan is deputy chief. Alex has been with CAR for something like 22 years now and as a team they know more about what happens in Sacramento than most of our legislators do. (Ooooh, like that’s a challenge.)

In response to a question, Alex said that if history is any indicator, CAR will not be taking a position on Propositions 1A – 1F as they are ‘not real estate related’. The last time we stepped outside our box was to endorse the 1980 Jarvis-Ganz tax bill known as Prop 13. (You can read a summary & recommendations from our partners at the Southwest California Legislative Council here)

He also noted that CAR would not be sponsoring any bills this session. Citing a difficult political and economic climate, any bills that involve spending are DOA but ‘revenue enhancement‘ bills and anything ‘green‘ are on the fast track. Of course by ‘revenue enhancement’ bills, we’re talking taxes. With the state facing an immediate deficit of $8 billion (just announced by LAO), or the $14 Billion projection if 1A doesn’t pass, taxes and fees are back on the table. He said it could go from not pretty to pretty ugly real fast.

Between the tax & fee bills and a number of point-of-sale bills, Alex feels this will be a strategically defensive year both at the state and local level. The more spending is curtailed at the state level, the more burdens fall to our local governments to off-set losses. That leaves us liable to tax attacks.

In other updates we learned that the Septic Regulations we have been arguing against are going back for another revision. I’ve lost track of how many this makes and if history is any indicator, the new regs will just find new ways to be bad. Or maybe they finally heard the people and will realize new regs aren’t necessary, or they can draft some regs to reinforce the regs that already exist. Naw – they’ve been justifying their existence for 9 years now. No use jumping off this milk train too soon. How would you like to have spent YOUR last 8 years studying sewage, wastewater and septic systems? And still not learned anything? Talk about your life being in the crapper.

Anyway, look for new regs maybe by late summer with another brief round of public hearings in the fall.

We have lobbied hard to expand the $10,000 statewide new homebuyers credit to include the purchase of any home – unfortunately with the state on track to log 600,000+ home sales this year, that’s a $6 billion plus pricetag nobody’s willing to pick up.

Finally, what we’re seeing locally is being repeated in numerous markets around the state. Sales are on the rise while prices continue to decline. As this was a legislative update rather than a financial one, no prognosis was rendered on how and when we would be through this.

From an advocacy standpoint, sometimes a good defense is the best offense. Your legislative team will be doing our best to keep you at the table.

Help Flush Expensive & Unnecessary Septic Regulations

Help Flush Expensive & Unnecessary Septic Regulations

Due to overwhelming public outcry at a number of regional workshops, the State Water Resources Board has extended the public comment period to February 23, 2009 and the Sacramento hearing originally scheduled for February 9 has been postponed indefinitely.

If you are not familiar with what the State Water Board is up to, they are proposing regulations for ‘Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems’. (You and I simply call them septic tanks.) Many homes from the Wine Country to Meadowview, La Cresta, De Luz and most county areas not served by a public sewer system would be impacted by these proposed regulations, in some cases very seriously impacted.

The California Association of Realtors has been working since the regulations were first announced in 2001 to remove the more onerous, unnecessary and expensive elements of the proposal. With limited success.

A full copy of the currently proposed regulations and the draft Environmental Impact Report are available at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/septic_tanks/ (Sorry. Nothings simple at the state.) If you can’t make it through the entire 41 page proposal or the 120+ pages of the EIR, there is a 17 page Executive Summary (complete with a cute little graphic of the sewage trickle-down theory) and a 5 page Q & A. 

The stated goal of the proposed regulation – to prevent contamination of adjacent wells or groundwater resources – is admirable. However, as is often the case when presented with a simple task, the state agency has spent 8 years going way overboard in justifying their existence. Many elements of the EIR are specious and some of the proposed regulations would make owning a home with a septic system nearly impossible.

Inspections and certifications every 5 years at costs estimated to be about $700 are among the least of the problems. Mandates for ‘qualified professionals’, ‘certified analytical laboratories’ and ‘qualified service providers’ are either ill-defined or call for professions that don’t even exist yet. If those (currently non-existent) professionals determine your septic system is within 600 feet of a neighbors well or an ‘impaired surface water body’, you may be liable for a $45,000 retrofit. If you build a home in an area potentially meeting these criteria, the new system will set you back at least $35,000 to comply.

In addition to the five year requirement, if you want to sell your home any and all necessary retrofits and regulations would need to be met and paid for prior to point-of-sale. If you had the inspections but misplaced the documents, you would incur additional costs to replace them and/or recertify.

If you are concerned about increased onerous government encroachment into your private property rights, please read the proposed regulations. If you agree with the California Association of Realtors that the proposal is too far reaching and that the EIR did not adequately address the true impact either to the environment or to homeowners, you still have an opportunity to make your voice heard.

Because state regulatory agencies are not as responsive to the public as elected officials, we are asking that you register your opposition to this proposal with your state legislators asking them to intervene with the State Water Board to ensure that final regulations do not overreach and are not unnecessarily burdensome. Senator Hollingsworth and Assembly members Jeffries and Nestande are already behind you on this one but lending your voice to the growing chorus of outrage they are hearing can’t hurt. You can find their contact information elsewhere in this publication.

You can also register your thoughts directly with the responsible agency before February 23 by contacting the:

State Water Resources Control Board

Division of Water Quality

Attn. Todd Thompson, P.E.

P.O.B. 2231

Sacramento, CA 95812

Gene Wunderlich is Government Affairs Director for the Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors. Address additional questions to GAD@srcar.org.

 

Help Flush State Septic Regulations

Time is running out for input on proposed statewide septic regulations. CAR has been represented at every regional meeting that has been held throughout the state but the deadline is approaching for final arguments. As proposed, these regulations would prove onerous to many homeowners in our area, including property owners on The Wine Country, La Cresta, Meadowview and many county areas not served by sewer systems. If you have not yet taken the time to respond to the Red Alert that was issued, please take a moment to respond NOW.

You can read a copy of the proposed ordinance by following the link below as well as the accompanying draft of the EIR. In order for your comments to be considered, you need to comment ONLY on the material in the EIR as that’s what this comment period is about. Comments on the proposed regulations themselves will be disregarded. You can take your talking points from the letter (please contact me for a full pdf copy of the CAR letter) submitted by our Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Gavric, put them on your own letter head and submit them for consideration to the state hearing board by February 9.

Thank you for your help. This could have a major impact on many homeowners in our area

The state of California has released the proposed regulations for onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) and the accompanying Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) evaluating the impacts of the implementation of the regulations on the people and environment of California. C.A.R. is concerned that, if enacted, these regulations will make it too burdensome to own a property with a septic system. There is even a new point-of-sale requirement to transfer technical documents.

These proposed regulations and draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) have been released to the public for review and can be found at: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/septic_tanks/