Sierra Madre considering stricter measures in face of continued California drought
|<b>June 26, 2014</b> - Water use restrictions in Sierra Madre get tied up in the controversy over development of the Mater Dolorosa Retreat House site in Sierra Madre. Will Sierra Madre move to mandatory restrictions or impose a building moratorium?|
|Sierra Madre officials Elaine Aguilar, geologist Richard Slade, Teresa Highsmith and Len Aslanian listen to their asst. city attorney present their case against Arcadia in a water dispute before the Raymond Basin Management Board Thursday, March 13, 2014. Sarah Reingewirtz/Staff Photographer|
SIERRA MADRE >> The City Council debated this week whether it should intensify water-use restrictions, partially because California’s drought has forced the city to purchase what some have called smelly, yellow-orange water. Plus this supply may be cut off in two years, officials said.
Councilwoman Denise Delmar supported transitioning Sierra Madre from voluntary Phase II water conservation (20 percent) to Phase III (30 percent). She said the City Council needed to add teeth to the move by also voting in favor of a building moratorium or a water service connection moratorium.
“We are irresponsible as citizens, as a City Council, as the human race, if we don’t take everything we could do right now to put in place holding off on any new water hookups to our water system,” Delmar said. “What a building moratorium does is it forces us to take the actions necessary to come up with a growth development plan.”
In October 2013, Council members shut Sierra Madre’s wells and purchased water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California because they didn’t want to deplete their water supply in the East Raymond Basin. Instead of gaseous chlorine, the new water source is treated with chloramine. The altered chemistry loosens rust and other accumulation in pipes that are up to 90 years old, Bruce Inman, director of public works, has said.
At a Tuesday meeting, staff were directed to create reports for what citizens could expect if the Council voted for Phase III, a building moratorium or a water hookup moratorium. The City Council will review the three options at a July 8 meeting.
The MWD has said it has enough water in storage to last two years, and Sierra Madre has purchased enough water from MWD to last until March 2015, Inman said. But if MWD’s supply runs low, the agency could cut Sierra Madre off, Inman said.
The Council, sans Rachelle Arizmendi who was absent, all supported moving Sierra Madre to Phase III, but Delmar and Councilman John Capoccia sought additional measures to impose discipline.
Council Chambers was packed Tuesday. Many residents pushed for a building moratorium to stop current development and upcoming construction such as the controversial one planned at the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, which will have fewer than 50 homes that are about 3,800 square feet in size, said Cameron Thornton, chairman of Mater Dolorosa’s Board of Directors, in a statement.
Resident Matthew Bryant, spokesman for the Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project, said he was displeased drought conditions has forced the city to import “inferior water that is more expensive, yellow and perhaps unhealthy.” The Council must look out for the interests of existing residents, not future ones, he said.
“I think it’s irresponsible to go down a road that the vast majority of residents do not want,” he said. “That road leads to chronic water shortages, traffic lights, congestion, McMansions and all the elements of what we see in adjacent cities like Arcadia and Pasadena.”
Richard McDonald, attorney for the developer of Sierra Madre’s Stonehouse lots, said it would be unfounded for the Council to vote in favor of a building moratorium and characterized the move as draconian.
“You have a number of people in the audience who are anti-development, who want to use a building moratorium to stop development,” he said. “As the city attorney told you in the beginning, you can only impose a moratorium if there is a current and immediate threat. And when your district manager is telling you you’ve got two years of water and a contract with MWD to provide you with any more that you need, and there’s no evidence of anything from MWD not providing you with what you need, then you don’t have a current and immediate threat.”
The Council enacted Phase II in May 2013. Five months later, Sierra Madre began importing MWD water that causes many residents to run their water until rust-infused, yellow-orange water turns clear. So in November 2013, the Council rescinded penalties for customers who didn’t meet their conservation goals. A penalty-free Phase II will last until the Council votes to scrap the relief.
Sierra Madre is conserving 5 percent more water than last year even though it is supposed to be at 20 percent conservation, Inman said.
If the Council decides to move to Phase III and takes away temporary fine relief, residents will have to conserve 30 percent over last year’s water usage or be fined. The money charged will be in addition to a water rate increase in March.
Under Phase III, there would be no new water hookups, but City Attorney Teresa Highsmith said staff would have to provide adequate support for the move.
City Councilman Gene Goss said the public shouldn’t put water discoloration, water conservation and anti-development sentiment into the same box.
“We have to be very careful about trying to mix these issues just from a good, solid, clear public policy perspective,” he said. “I think it’s obvious that we the citizens have let the ball drop. We have not conserved enough water.”
Goss and Harabedian said Phase III would prevent new water hookups, which is also what a more highly regulated no building moratorium would do. Capoccia said he’s OK with just enacting Phase III as long as the Council self-imposes discipline that a building moratorium would have done.
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