Among the bills, flyers, letters and other things sometimes considered “junk mail” that arrived in Santa Clarita Valley mailboxes last week, there’s a very important missive that could turn the tide, so to speak, into a salt water solution.
Inside yellow envelopes are a two-page Proposition 218 notice of a public hearing to raise wastewater rates for property owners in the Santa Clarita Valley area.
The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District is proposing a rate increase to cover the costs of developing a $210 million water treatment facility and help cover operating costs for the District that have risen over the years.
Nobody questions that costs of operation have increased. But the water treatment facility proposed is being built solely to take chlorides out of water that Santa Clarita residents are sending down the Santa Clara River – some of which arrived heavily salted from the state water project in the Sacramento Delta.
The Clean Water Act, which is federal law, requires each state to establish acceptable chloride levels. Right now, levels have been set at 117 – arguably low, but allegedly required to accommodate farmers of strawberries and avocados in Ventura County. To bring our levels down, the SCV Sanitation District is strongly suggesting that the new plant is the only solution.
A few years ago, Santa Clarita residents not only got rid of their rock-salt based water softeners, they voted to make them illegal, which was a giant step in the right direction. It resulted in removing nearly half of the chloride, but not enough to make the feds happy.
Right now, single family households pay $16.58 a month or $199 a year for wastewater services. The rate increases proposed would gradually increase that obligation over the next four years to $24.67 a month or $296 a year in fiscal 2013-14. The increases include chloride-removal specific costs of up to $50 in 2013-14.
What the Prop. 218 notice doesn’t mention are the rates being proposed for retail and commercial properties, with hikes that could price entrepreneurs right out of business.
An average restaurant taking up 6,000 square feet pays $10,579 a year for wastewater fees, but if this increase goes into effect, that fee will jump by 49 percent to $15,735.
If that restaurateur wants to open another spot with the same square footage, one of the construction costs will be a fee to connect to the sewer. Right now, that fee is $157,092. In fiscal 2014, that cost will be $227,370, an increase of 45 percent.
Restaurants are the fourth most expensive business affected by the rate hike; exceeded only by car washes (#1), Laundromats (2) and golf course clubhouses (#3).
The rate increases won’t stop in 2014, according to the information sent out by the sanitation district.
“Please note that the proposed recommendation will only fund the facilities planning and design support work. Additional service charge rate increases related to compliance with the chloride standards beginning in fiscal year 2014-15 through fiscal year 2022-23 will be necessary if the project is approved and proceeds to construction,” reads the letter.
There are several public information meetings on the rate increase and chloride issues leading up to the public hearing at 6:30 p.m. July 27 at Santa Clarita City Hall. The informational meetings are scheduled:
- June 29, 7 p.m., Santa Clarita City Hall
- July 7, 7 p.m., West Ranch Town Council Meeting
- July 8, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Santa Clarita City Hall
- July 14, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Santa Clarita City Hall
- July 19, 7 p.m., Santa Clarita City Hall
- July 21, 7 p.m., Castaic Area Town Council Meeting
Property owners can protest – and possibly stop – this fee increase and approach to the chloride problem by writing a letter to the Sanitation District or simply completing the protest form at the bottom of the Notice of Public Hearing dated Jun 11, 2010 and sending it back in the envelope provided. If a majority of affected property owners submit written protests, the proposed rate increases will not go into effect.
Sanitation district officials warn that a successful protest may stop the rate increase, but does not relieve the district of significant fines and penalties for noncompliance, which could ultimately be much more expensive than the proposed increase. Those numbers are not readily available from the district.