In the News

Soquel Creek water board keeps metering policy for in-law units

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 9/4/13

SOQUEL -- The Soquel Creek Water District board voted Tuesday to maintain individual metering for in-law units and deny a request from a former Capitola official and her husband for a variance.

The board voted 3-1 to keep a 2002 policy requiring property owners to individually meter accessory dwelling units to encourage water savings. The individual metering can cost more than $14,000 in fees for secondary units 640 square feet or less, and more than $17,000 for units larger than that.

Board member Bruce Jaffe dissented and tried unsuccessfully to gain support for an option allowing property owners to split metering in a way that would limit the combined daily use at the main house and second unit. The so-called bullhead metering would cut fees by 30 percent or more.

"We're not adding a whole lot of usage from ADUs," Jaffe said.

Four Capitola officials urged the board in June to change the policy, saying it discouraged the creation of accessory units, which the city views as an important option for increasing affordable rental housing.

Councilman Ed Bottoroff said Tuesday the split metering "seems like exactly what we are asking for" because it would make accessory dwelling units a viable option for property owners by reducing cost.

But board Vice President Bruce Daniels said the bullhead metering was "unfair, I think, to existing customers." He said he also believed the split metering had the potential to add to the overall system demand.

The district seeks to reduce groundwater pumping by 30 percent during the next 20 years to let the overtaxed basin recover. The lack of freshwater underground has contributed to saltwater intrusion near the coast.

The district has partnered with the city of Santa Cruz to build a seawater desalination plant to create more water for both agencies, but top city officials have called for halting those plans for now. Without a new water supply, the district will consider a moratorium on new development in addition to a mandatory 35 percent curtailment from its current customers.

"Maybe we will have a building moratorium so there won't be any ADUs anyway," Daniels said to a Capitola man who asked Tuesday for an exception to the individual metering rule.

Shawd DeWitt, husband of former Capitola treasurer Kym DeWitt, said the board should focus on other conservation measures.

The metering policy, even if it included an option to split metering between the main house and an accessory dwelling unit, would not create substantial savings. There are fewer than a dozen new accessory dwelling units in the district each year.

"Is this really a savings on water?" Shawd DeWitt said. "This is what you should be most concerned about?"

The DeWitts performed an expansion of their home that Capitola building officials determined to be an unpermitted accessory unit that qualifies for individual metering. The city has not yet resolved how to handle a related code enforcement complaint against the DeWitts, which was generated by a citizen complaint. Kym DeWitt resigned her part-time city post in July.

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