October 30, 1989 - From the October, 1989 issue

Sewer Hook-Up: Prelude to Future Growth Management

Wendy Lockwood, the Deputy Director of ESA's Los Angeles office (an environmental consulting firm), explains how two recent Interim Control Ordinance will relate sewer hook-ups to future growth management. These ordinances are placeholders for when the City of Los Angeles drafts their Draft Ordinance. 

In early 1988 the Wastewater Division of the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Wades realized that if sewer flows continued to increase at their current rate, the Hyperion Service Area sewer treatment system would reach capacity before planned completion of the expansion project, anticipated for mid-1991.

In April 1988 the Los Angeles City Council adopted two Interim Control Ordinances. One limits new sewer hook­ups in the City of Los Angeles to an increase of five million gallons per day (MGD) per year. Another Interim Ordinance limits added capacity for new sewer hookups by contract cities and agencies. Historically new sewer hook­ups in the City of Los Angeles had been increasing at a rate of seven MGD per year with contract cities and agencies increasing at a rate of three MGD per year.

The Interim Control Ordinance applying to the City of Los Angeles divides the annual limit into monthly allotments. This monthly allotment of new sewer capacity is available on a first-come, first-served basis (a small portion is reserved for priority projects).

The Council, in an attempt to not restrict residential development, included in the interim control ordinance, the requirement that 65% of the flow allocation be for residential development with 35% for non-residential development (historically new sewer hook-up permits had been about 55% residential and 45% non-residential). Since the Interim Control Ordinance went into effect there has been no wait for developers seeking new sewer hook-ups for residential projects; the wait for commercial project developers has generally been about two to three months.

With environmental concerns becoming increasingly evident, the City undertook a study of approaches to combine new sewer hook-up limitations with “managing” or “balancing” growth. In mid-1988 Freilich, Stone, Leitner & Carlisle and a team of consultants were hired to study possible growth management options for the City of Los Angeles. From this study the City identified four “guiding” or “priority” policies, as follows:

  • reduce traffic congestion and vehicle miles traveled
  • increase housing, particularly affordable housing
  • stimulate reinvestment in economically stagnant areas
  • move toward a balanced amount and location of commercial and residential development

The City Council directed Planning Department staff to analyze a number of Sewer Permit Allocation alternatives which would both limit new sewer flows and would further the City's identified priority policies.

An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was determined to be required to analyze the environmental impacts of implementing a replacement ordinance to restrict sewer hook-ups (the Interim Control Ordinance required no such review because it was adopted on an emergency basis). Environmental Science Associates, Inc. (ESA) and a team of consultants were retained in late-1988 to prepare the EIR. An Economic Impact Assessment (EIA) was also prepared in conjunction with the EIR. At that time City Staff had not determined how the Sewer Permit Allocation Alternatives would be formulated.

It was clear that in order to prepare an environmental analysis of Sewer Permit Allocation Alternatives, the consultants were going to have to rely heavily on locational indicators of City policy to predict what effects the replacement ordinance would have.

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The following priority locations were identified and used to project growth and analyze environmental impacts of the alternatives (and were eventually used in writing of the proposed Draft Ordinance):

  • Proximity to a transit station
  • Redevelopment Areas
  • Commercial Area Revitalization Effort (CARE) areas (for commercial projects only)
  • Enterprise zones (for commercial projects only)
  • Community Development Block Grant eligible areas
  • Job-rich areas (for residential projects)
  • Housing-rich areas (for commercial projects)

Project characteristics such as reduced sewage generation, mixed-use projects, affordable housing, and provision of childcare facilities are also-considered as components of a priority project.

Eight alternatives to be studied in the EIR were identified by the City Council. One alternative was a continuation of the existing Interim Control Ordinance. Each alternative included a cap of four to five MGD per year. Each alternative included a portion of the total flow to be available on a first-come, first-served basis (with varying specified splits of residential to non­residential development). Each alternative also included a portion of the total flow to be available to policy projects, i.e., those projects which furthered one or more of the priority policies. Of the alternatives, the percentage to be divided between first-come and policy projects varied.

The basic premise of this division between first-come, first-served and priority allocations is that the first-come, first-served allocation will be limited and the time necessary to gain a permit will gradually lengthen. Whereas the policy allocation will have less of a waiting time (if any at all) for the projects which further the priority policies.

The EIR and Draft Ordinance were published September 14, 1989. The EIR public comment period will end October 16, 1989. The Planning Commission and City Council will be holding hearings and taking action on the Draft Ordinance in late-1989/early-1990.

The Draft Ordinance proposes 30% of the five MGD per year cap for priority projects, 5% for City Council-determined public benefit projects and 65% of the cap to be available on a first-come, first-served basis with 65% of the first-come first-served allocation for residential projects and 35% for non­residential projects. Unused capacity from prior months will be carried forward in the category in which it was originally allocated. In order to be classified as a priority, a given project must garner three points of specified criteria. For instance, a child care or affordable housing components would each receive one point.

The importance of the ordinance is not whether it actually achieves its goal of furthering City policies or not. After all, the ordinance will sunset in mid-1991 when the Hyperion expansion project is completed. This is hardly enough time to see a marked change in development patterns. The importance of the ordinance is that it will set the tone for future City programs, such as the Balanced Growth Element of the General Plan currently underway.

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