Enviro says Salinas’ new stormwater standards don’t do enough to protect against erosion.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Salinas city officials and business interests are claiming victory in a lengthy battle over how new developments will manage stormwater runoff. On Sept. 4, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board approved the city’s stormwater development standards, which will dictate how nearly 11,500 homes planned for Salinas’ future growth area are designed and built.
But Steve Shimek, executive director of Monterey Coastkeeper and The Otter Project, is mulling whether to appeal the standards to the state water board. Shimek says the new standards don’t go far enough to protect wildlife and prevent erosion. “They’ve given city planners and designers very broad discretion on how they choose a [stormwater] management practice,” he says.
The standards, according to city and water board staff, will lead to low-impact development (LID), the storm drainage component of new urbanism. LID lessens the amount of impervious surface (like concrete or asphalt), increases infiltration and improves water quality by reducing rain runoff from development. “By trapping the water and letting it filter, that removes a great percentage of pollution that we typically have in runoff,” says Roger Briggs, executive officer of the Central Coast water board.
In February 2005, Salinas received a permit under the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Salinas was supposed to submit a development standards plan within a year, and have an adopted plan within two years. The city ended up submitting draft standards in December 2007. Since then, water board staff have been going back and forth with city officials to improve the standards.
Salinas is the Monterey County city farthest along in the stormwater regulation process. It’s the only city with 100,000 or more people, and falls into phase I of the EPA’s water program. Carl Niizawa, deputy city engineer, says the city started requiring low-impact development in 2006. Shopping centers like Boronda Crossing use grasses to filter stormwater. “We are the most progressive entity on the Central Coast,” he says, “The only entity that has required… low-impact development.”
But Shimek, who is also part of the city’s stormwater stakeholder group, says Boronda Crossing hardly qualifies as low impact. “If you go look at the development,” he says, “what you would see is wall-to-wall paving.”
Shimek hired consultant Dan Cloak, who recommended changes to the stormwater development standards, including forcing developers to show how runoff rates won’t exceed pre-project flows. Water board staff initially incorporated these suggestions and others.
Mayor Dennis Donohue and organizations like the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce protested the changes. Requiring industrial processes to be performed indoors and loading docks to be covered, for example, would have hurt the ag industry, Donohue says. “The conditions they were considering were onerous, financially burdensome and didn’t make any sense,” he says.
The Salinas Valley Builder’s Exchange also wanted the conditions removed. “Some of the things that they ask for can be quite expensive,” Executive Director Christie Cromeenes says. “That is our concern, that we will push construction out of the market and we won’t be able to build anything.”
In response, the water board removed the tougher standards.
Shimek says this move is bad for the environment. Salinas’ tributaries and stormwater discharges lead to Moss Landing Harbor. Thus, pollution in the water can end up in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Elkhorn Slough. Shimek says Salinas-area agricultural soil has lingering amounts of DDT. “If those soils erode, they erode into our rivers and oceans,” he says.
Some environmentalists, however, take a more measured approach.
“Yes, it could be more stringent, but you got to start somewhere, and we are starting pretty good,” says Robin Lee, a stakeholder group member.
Now that the stormwater standards have the state’s blessing, development plans for the future growth area will likely be submitted soon. In May the Local Agency Formation Commission approved the city’s request to annex 2,388 acres north and east of city limits. (The growth area is divided into west, central and east sections.)
Pat Sausedo is the city-contracted project manager for the west and east sections. Bollenbacher & Kelton and Harrod Homes are working with property owners to develop land in the western area; property owners are still negotiating with developers for the east section. Sausedo says he expects developers to submit specific plans for the areas within the next two months.
Creekbridge is the main developer for the central area (Harrod also plans to develop there), and officials say they expect to produce a plan shortly. The total annexed area is slated for 11,485 homes and nearly 4 million square feet of commercial, retail and public space.
The development standards are expected to go before the City Council next month. Shimek has until the beginning of October to appeal the matter to the state board.