September 3, 2019 - From the September, 2019 issue

Katy Young Yaroslavsky Unpacks Measure W: Implementation of LA’s ‘Safe, Clean Water Program’

Passed by voters in November 2018, Measure W—the Safe, Clean Water Program—imposed a 2.5 cent/sq. ft. parcel tax on impermeable surface construction in LA County and is set to provide upwards of $300 million annually to support stormwater and clean water infrastructure projects. TPR spoke with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl's Deputy for the Environment and Arts, Katy Young Yaroslavsky, on the Board of Supervisors' recent approval of the Measure W Implementation Ordinance and the committee appointees tasked with determining how this new funding will flow into Los Angeles County community water projects


Katy Young Yaroslavsky

“The Safe, Clean Water Program—known as Measure W—was born out of a desire to modernize our water infrastructure so we can capture, clean and store more of our storm water.”—Katy Young Yaroslavsky

Speak to the purpose of Los Angeles’ Measure W—passed by the voters with a two-thirds vote—as the county works through its implementation. And, remind readers of its goals and what the county and its cities hope to achieve with this new and perennial water infrastructure funding.

Katy Young Yaroslavsky: The Safe, Clean Water Program—known as Measure W—was born out of a desire to modernize our water infrastructure so we can capture, clean and store more of our storm water. When it rains, most of our water flows out to the ocean, picking up pollution along the way. This runoff makes people swimming at the beach sick and endangers marine life. Most importantly, we waste the opportunity to capture a lot of that storm water, clean it, and reuse it. As droughts become more frequent, this effort became ever more urgent to ensure an adequate supply of clean, local water for the future.

With Measure W, we are solving several challenges. The County and our 88 cities needed money to build strong water-capture projects to help bring us into compliance with our MS4 permits under the Federal Clean Water Act.

We also wanted to ramp up our region’s transition away from imported water and towards increasing our local water supply. We also wanted to make sure we were leveraging other pots of local tax revenue including Measures H, A, and M, as well as state and federal money to do more with what we already had available. By prioritizing multi-benefit projects (such as a park that also serves as a spreading basins)we are able to take advantage of other resources in achieving Measure W’s overarching program goal of regional water and climate resilience. Supervisor Kuehl, and other local leaders like Supervisor Solis and Mayor Garcetti, recognize that we can’t just build a park anymore. That park should provide other community benefits like storm water capture for reuse, recreation, and goods jobs along the way.

Who are the stakeholders involved in promoting, passing, and now rolling out Measure W.

We brought together community nonprofits, business, labor, environmental justice (EJ) groups, community health groups, public agencies, and municipalities. LA County has 88 cities and each has its own compliance obligation under their permit, plus many—but not necessarily all— of those cities also wanted to provide additional benefits like flood protection, and more active and passive recreation.

There was a broad spectrum of different voices that came to the table—each one slightly different—which made a unique challenge to weave something together that worked for everybody.

The Board of Supervisors recently adopted the implementation ordinance for effectuating Measure W. Speak to the governance structure that was incorporated in W’s implementation ordinance as it relates to how the funds will be prioritized and apportioned.

The money will be divided into three “buckets.”  Fifty percent goes towards regional, watershed-based projects, 40 percent goes back to municipalities as local return for water quality improvement, and 10 percent goes to the LA County Flood Control District (LACFCD) to manage the program—which includes creating and funding workforce development programs, community engagement, and public education programs.
 
The regional program, that 50 percent pot of money, will be about $150 million a year before rebates and credits. This is where the watershed-based governance aspect of the program comes in, and it is one of the parts of the program I’m most excited about. When it rains, storm water flows based on the hydrology of the region; the rain hits the pavement and flows based on whichever subwatershed it falls within. In LA County we have nine naturally occurring subwatersheds, so we created nine governing bodies to make funding recommendations for projects and programs in each of those subwatersheds. This means there will be a broad spectrum of water experts, public health experts, environmental experts, labor, and business representatives—all of them will be coming together regularly to make funding recommendations for their respective watersheds.

The nine watershed committees make their recommendations to one Regional Oversight Committee, which will review the proposed funding plans for each of the nine watershed committees, and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for funding.

The Regional Oversight Committee is comprised of a broad representation of stakeholders, business reps, environmental and environmental justice reps, public health, and municipal representation, but ultimately it will be up to the Board of Supervisors to make the final funding decisions to ensure the program goals are being achieved.

The ideas for new projects will come from existing lists that municipalities have already developed as part of their Clean Water Act compliance, as well as new project ideas that surface over the coming years. We are embedding “watershed coordinators” who have community engagement and subject matter expertise, within each watershed committee to act as facilitators with local communities and committee members. The expectation is that these watershed coordinators will work with local communities to make sure the very best projects surface and receive funding. Because LA County is so large, and each community’s needs are going to vary, we’re providing a degree of discretion to each watershed committee to make the funding recommendations that are right for their respective communities. We have scoring criteria to ensure that all projects that receive funding are truly multi-benefit.

Could you share with our readers who has been invited to be on ROC watershed committee?

The Regional Oversight Committee includes Maria Mehranian, a water quality expert and owner of an engineering/construction firm as well as the former chair of the Regional Water Quality Control Board;  Barbara Romero, Deputy Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, as well as Diana Tang from the City of Long Beach and Kristine Guerrero from the League of Cities;Belinda Faustinos of Nature for All; Shelley Luce from Heal the Bay; Elva Yanez of the Prevention Institute; Charles Trevino from the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, and Lauren Akhiam from LA Alliance for a New Economy.  We also included one non-voting seat for the LA County Flood Control District, which is administering the program, and one for the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board Chair to make sure we’re building projects that improve water quality and help us come closer to achieving compliance with our Clean Water Act permits.

How will – as a result of outreach and engagement - new input/ideas for addressing resiliency, water conservation and distribution be considered, evaluated, and incorporated if considered useful? Is there an adopted process for “iteration of planning and implementation?”

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The implementing ordinance which was just adopted by the Board of Supervisors lays out a framework that is faithful to what voters approved while permitting sufficient flexibility to incorporate new technologies and new ideas.

In the next couple of months, we will be creating a task force or work group of all the departments and agencies that are implementing the County’s funding measures—W, H, A, M—to make sure they’re coordinated, consistent across programs, and fully leveraging each other’s resources of money and expertise. We’re calling it the ‘WHAM Committee,” and it will provide a space for collaboration, efficiency and new ideas. It doesn’t make sense to have four separate anti-displacement policies or four different jobs programs!

In that vein, is there a process for thinking about ideas like inflatable dams or how much water can be treated and distributed in dry years, or about how the county and its cities/ agencies will allocate revenue that flows from a livable river with commercial interests related to it? The better question may be: Who’s thinking about tomorrow?

The County just adopted its first-ever regional sustainability plan. It’s a bold, ambitious guiding document that includes a lot about water and thinks more broadly about it. Storm water is a piece of that water puzzle for our region, but it’s not the only piece. We’re working on what we hope will become a joint-powers authority (JPA) for the LA River. We’re thinking about a regional water resilience plan, of which Measure W is a piece of the strategy. I think there is a lot more work that needs to be done by the county, because Measure W certainly doesn’t answer all of those larger challenges around regional water. It’s a piece of a larger puzzle.

Could you clarify the responsibilities of county departments involved with Measure W implementation?

Flood Control is in charge of administering the program. Flood Control staff will be assisting the committees, helping facilitate meetings, providing technical support, and flushing out project ideas. A lot of the projects that people hope to build are in various stages of development: early stages of planning all the way up to being ready to build. Public works is going to be called on to provide some of this technical assistance. There’s also a bunch of planning that the watersheds may want to do, and the public works staff can be helpful with that.

As the environmental deputy of LA County Supervisor Kuehl and thus a point person for Measure W, elaborate on your role in the implementation process?

To serve as a through line from development and adoption to implementation. We spent close to four years developing the Safe, Clean Water Program with thousands of stakeholders that included hundreds of meetings. We want to be sure that the rollout of Measure W reflects all of that input while staying true to the original vision that Supervisor Kuehl had of creating a climate resilient region that’s greener and healthier for everyone. That includes not just the projects themselves, but how we build and maintain the projects.

Part of a healthy and resilient region is making sure the people building and maintaining all of this new infrastructure can afford to live and raise their families here. With a program this big, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. I’m focused on trying to make sure that as we implement, these larger program goals are achieved on the ground.

Implicit in Measure W is this recognition that everything is interconnected. You can’t talk about water anymore without also talking about climate change. You can’t talk about parks without tackling displacement. And through it all, runs equity. We have an obligation and the opportunity to ensure that our most vulnerable are at the top of our minds as we plan and implement this program. We hope it will become a model for other large urban regions around the country as they move ahead with their own regional water plans.

To conclude, when we check back with you at the end of January at VerdeXchange 2020, what progress would you hope to be able to share on the implementation of Measure W?

The various committees will already have begun to regularly meet by January 2020. We will have started community outreach. The call for projects will have begun. We’ll be making good progress in terms of developing a workforce development pipeline and jobs programs and designing a long-term engagement in public education process.

I think all of that will be well underway by January. The money’s not going to start flowing until a few months after that, but we want to be able to hit the ground running.    

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.