LAFCO approves new water policy: Cities sought to dilute rules for...J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel
LAFCO approves new water policy: Cities sought to dilute rules for expansion plan
SANTA CRUZ -- The commission charged with deciding whether public agencies can annex properties or extend services beyond their boundaries voted unanimously Wednesday to scrutinize the effects such proposals could have on the county's ever-threatened water supplies.
The new policy requiring applicants "to demonstrate the availability of an adequate, reliable and sustainable supply of water" marks the first time natural resources have been included as a factor the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission will weigh in considering land-use proposals. Supporters applauded the policy as a far-reaching step toward limiting growth, protecting over-taxed groundwater and surface water supplies, and reducing the toll on local fisheries.
Rick Longinotti, who helped found the Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives group opposed to a proposed regional desalination plant, told commissioners, "We've overtaken our limits a long time ago. Your body is turning that reality around and I really appreciate that."
However, representatives for Santa Cruz and Watsonville, while not objecting to the policy overall, sought unsuccessfully to soften it. Santa Cruz argued that identifying specific water supplies could constrain future land planning, and Watsonville wanted to block LAFCO's pledge to uniformly reject boundary changes that degrade water resources.
Pending requests from UCSC and Santa Cruz to run water and sewer service to a portion of campus outside the city's boundary are widely viewed as the kind of growth LAFCO can now more vigorously challenge. But LAFCO's executive director, Patrick McCormick, noted the policy is designed to provide a general framework for all applicants -- guidelines that a three-member panel has studied for a year in consultation with local water managers.
"Requiring an agency to show proof that the water supplies will exist and do exist is smart planning in my perspective," Commissioner James Rapoza said. "Water is certainly one of those parts of a project that are either going to make or break the project. The earlier on that the agencies address those issues, the better off they are going to be."
Santa Cruz City Attorney John Barisone caused a ripple when he urged LAFCO not to require specific water sources be cited in applications. But on Wednesday, the city's water manager, Bill Kocher, said the city "agrees with virtually everything in" the policy, but simply wants LAFCO to evaluate proposals more generally.
After the meeting, Kocher said he doesn't believe the city's application to expand its sphere of influence to extend an additional 100 million gallons of water to UCSC every year has to be changed as a result of the new policy. He said the application states there is plenty of water to give UCSC in non-drought years, and that during dry years when the city already has trouble meeting summer demand, UCSC expansion wouldn't significantly add to the problem.
Aldo Giacchino, immediate past president of the Sierra Club's Santa Cruz group, urged commissioners to define what constitutes an "adequate" water supply, a concern echoed by several UCSC students. But commissioners decided to evaluate whether proposed water sources meet the standard of sustainable and reliable on a case-by-case basis.
Watsonville Mayor Daniel Dodge, an alternate member of the commission, expressed concern that the policy could complicate future housing projects, including a mixed-use project near the Watsonville airport and annexation around Atkinson Lane for affordable housing. Dodge asked to strike language that says the agency will block boundary change applications if water resources will be degraded, but had to settle for a slight change in wording.
However, Watsonville was successful in adding language early on that allows LAFCO to accept boundary change requests for areas where water supplies have been tapped if municipalities can demonstrate a decrease on water demand or use in other areas within their jurisdiction.