Here's hoping the meal is tasty at the Contra Costa County Mayors' Conference in Clayton on Thursday, because the discussion preceding it may be hard for city leaders to digest.
It's not the subject matter -- clean creeks and storm drains -- that will cause stomachs to knot, but the recitation of unfunded mandates the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board plans to impose on jurisdictions applying for a municipal regional stormwater permit. In Contra Costa, that means all 19 cities and the county.
That the draft document requires 321 pages is enough to give pause. That it's authored by seven unelected board members with no ties to Contra Costa sets off alarms. But the reason for heartburn is the hefty expense of implementation, borne by local governments, with no guarantee results will match costs.
Danville Town Manager Joe Calabrigo, who has spent two years monitoring water board meetings and will spearhead Thursday's presentation, said one worrisome aspect is that the new permit, unlike the last (2009), does not tailor expectations to localities. It's one-size-fits-all.
That means capture of pollutants such as PCBs, often found in runoffs in industrial areas where older buildings are demolished, gets the same emphasis in Moraga as in Oakland. Moraga isn't a hotbed of industry or demolition. Is it supposed to fix a problem it doesn't have?
"If it's that important," Calabrigo said, "why don't we treat it like asbestos and deal with it as a statewide code issue rather than on a local-by-local basis?"
Likewise, trash-reduction goals for storm drains and creeks are identical in each jurisdiction, without allowances for previous cleanup efforts, targeting numbers that seem plucked from the sky. Using 2009 as its base year, the water board expects each jurisdiction to reduce its stormwater trash by 70 percent by 2017 and 100 percent by 2020. Officials would ask for more, but it's hard to top 100 percent.
Calabrigo, who's fond of clean water, has tried to bring reason to the discussion. He'd like officials to enlist "street level" input from those who know what efforts might most benefit their communities. Targeting arbitrary percentages isn't one of them.
"In Danville, the greatest sources of trash are schools. I don't have the ability to regulate them because they're controlled by the school board. I can have all kinds of programs, but I can't reduce trash if I don't have land-use control of those properties."
Tom Dalziel, Contra Costa Clean Water Program manager, said the water board's top-down management style is problematic: "I see the water board as the architect, and we're the contractor. We really should be working together. They tell us what they want us to build, and we say if we can build it, or if we have a better way."
Never far from this discussion is cost. Unlike the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which receives tax dollars and fees to enforce its regulations, the water board issues edicts and dumps costs on municipalities. In 2009, those came to $37 million countywide. This time they're expected to be more. One reason is that each jurisdiction is responsible for a "Green Infrastructure" plan to capture and treat every drop of runoff from every public works project.
Oh yeah, it's due within 12 months of permitting.
That's our presentation, folks. Now, please enjoy your dinner.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.