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Capitola council offers to help Soquel Creek Water District

By Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel 7/12/13

CAPITOLA -- After hearing representatives of the Soquel Creek Water District talk about their challenges trying to conserve water to prevent saltwater from entering coastal wells, City Council members offered Thursday night to look at ways to support that effort.

"I would like to have us work together to meet these needs," said Councilman Sam Storey.

He suggested looking at city policies that discourage graywater, which the water district is encouraging with rebates.

Mayor Stephanie Harlan suggested revising landscaping rules to restrict new lawns.

City Attorney John Barisone said the city could prohibit practices that waste water, such as using water to wash off a sidewalk.

Water District Director Bruce Daniels said that practice is allowed by the water district only if a broom does not suffice.

He noted the county supervisors had codified the water district's conservation rules. Harlan said that would be something the city could consider.

The discussion was prompted by concerns voiced by councilmen Dennis Norton, Ed Bottorff, Michael Termini and Storey about fees charged by the water district for secondary units, known as granny units.

The city's housing element projected seven such units would be built from 2007 to 2014. Since 2007, permits for six units have been issued.

The water district board raised the fees Tuesday from $14,965 to $17,789 for the so-called granny units along with fees for single-family homes $23,009.

"Our lack of number of secondary units is partly due to cost and partly due to the downturn," Norton said.

He asked the water district to use a policy of the Santa Cruz Water Department to not require a second meter for a granny unit if the existing meter were of adequate size or if a deed restriction ensured the rent would be affordable.

Taj Dufour, general manager for Soquel Creek Water District, noted an East Bay utility study found submetering reduces usage by 15 percent.

"That's hard to ignore when you guys are looking to reduce," said Bottorff. "If someone's paying for the water, they're going to be more miserly."

Daniels reiterated his worry that public sentiment is against the water district's proposal for a desalination plant with the city of Santa Cruz to solve the water supply shortage.

"It's looking uncertain," he said, noting the water district has been in a "deficit" situation since 1983 and adopted a policy 10 years ago requiring new development to offset water use as a Band-Aid while seeking a new water supply.

"Letting salt come into your wells is an untenable way to run things," he said, adding that the alternative is to cut water use by 35 percent and institute a moratorium on new hookups.

The council next heard Richard Grunow, community development director, report on the shrinking revenue stream for affordable housing projects due to the elimination of redevelopment.

Storey suggested looking into whether the city could collect a fee on development projects to support affordable housing projects, the way the city has been collecting a fee for updating the general plan.

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