December 30, 1988 - From the December, 1988 issue

Update: Permanent Sewer Hook-Up Ordinance

The Planning Report looks at Alternative Strategies by Daniel Garcia, Partner, Munger, Tolles & Olson


"Any developer who endures this torture test will then have to confront the sewer ordinance before proceeding to obtain a building permit."—Dan Garcia

During the 1970's the City's population increased by 155,000. Based on this data SCAG projections for growth during the '80s was for below the 400,000 mark, which will actually be reached. This underestimate contributed, along with engineering and maintenance problems, to the present "peak hour" incidents whenever any human error or mischief of nature occurs.

To make up for the future sewage capacity problems the City has embarked upon a $3.4 billion capital improvement program for improvements in the Hyperion, Tillman (Sepulveda basin) and Los Angeles-Glendale treatment facilities. This program is not all the City is doing. In response to repeated sewage overflows the City Council recently passed three ordinances dealing with sewage. The first, and most important to Los Angeles developers, is the so called Interim Control Ordinance ("ICO"). 

The ICO limits the issuance of building permits in the Hyperion Service Area (nearly the whole city) to 70% of the new outflow caused by building permits issued in 1987. Thus, a 30% reduction in new "growth" compared to 1987 construction activity is achieved through this rationing. Of this new allowable quota, 5% is set aside for priority "public benefit" projects (there have been none), 62% to residential projects and 33% to all commercial, retail and industrial projects. These allotments are issued monthly and unused allotments in any category may be distributed to anyone standing in line the following month, regardless of the type of project. This ICO expires in February 1989 with a possible extension through August 1989.

In August 1988 the City Council approved funding for a group of consultants to draft a permanent ordinance which will be in force from the expiration date of the ICO until the completion of the Hyperion improvements. The "permanent" ordinance project is broken down into two phases (1) the formulation of alternative strategies and (2) an assessment of their economic/social impacts.

The first phase is now nearly complete. The consultants have conducted surveys of sewer limitations/ordinances from all over the United States and have tried, vainly, to interpret amorphous and sometimes conflicting instructions from the City Council, the City Planning Commission and the Citizens Advisory Committee. Among the policies which the Council seeks to promote through this ordinance are the following: (a) improvement of air quality (b) reducing traffic congestion (c) promotion of affordable housing near jobs (d) protection of neighborhoods (e) direction of economic growth to disadvantaged areas and (f) the reduction of sewer impacts.

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It is very important to remember that these strategies necessarily assume that the existing land use regulatory system is incapable of addressing these same objectives. This approach, therefore, may reflect a lack of understanding of the present land use process which requires the following:

  1. Conformity with zoning,
  2. Conformity with general plan (i.e. community plan map designation),
  3. Conformity with any specific plans,
  4. Conformity with any of the ICO’s (of which there are now about 50 throughout the city, all of which limit growth below the level allowed in the general plan),
  5. Conformity with any traffic impact overlay zone which forces projects allowed in (1) and (2) above to go through yet another discretionary review,
  6. Any moratoria any Councilperson feels like enacting, and
  7. Conformity with the Friends of Westwood Ordinance which subjects all significant projects in the City to yet another CEQA review.

Any developer who endures this torture test will then have to confront the sewer ordinance before proceeding to obtain a building permit. Thus, following the proposed strategies in the “permanent” sewer ordinance will be important for those who would like their projects built sometime this century. At present the focused strategies proposed for analysis by the consultants are as follows:

  1. Trends: i.e. issuing building permits from the 70% pool.
  2. Air quality/traffic congestion: who knows what such a system would look like, given the fact that every significant project to finally reach the sewer permit stage will have already passed several layers of discretionary review and board conditions imposed for these same environmental reasons.
  3. Affordable housing/neighborhood protection: Granting priority to affordable housing projects is an easily understood objective which should be supported. Perversely, neighborhood protection usually means downzoning multiple residential anywhere near single family areas. Thus, these two goals appear somewhat inconsistent.
  4. Economic opportunities: This scenario would assign priority to projects which stimulate economic activity in poor areas of the City. This alternative could be administered easily through a sewer allocation system.
  5. Reduce sewage flows: Essentially, this alternative would slow growth further than the present ICO by further restricting the supply of sewer permits.

Strategy #2 in particular seems badly misplaced as it would result in the imposition of a brand new land control system independent from and at the end of an already slow, complex and unpredictable process. In any event, whichever of these “focused strategies” is eventually adopted, it is imperative that the rationing systems not restrict permits to be issued exclusively for priority projects but rather that all projects get a change to stand in line for a permit but that some jump to the head of the line. The alternative – no permits for non-favored project categories would be counterproductive and make a mockery of the existing land use system.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.