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UNFUNDED MANDATES: One-Square-Mile City Seeks Execmption from Runoff Rules

Carmel Pine Cone, May 20, 2005


AFTER STRUGGLING for years to figure out how to meet a federal mandate to keep pollutants from running into the sea, and then facing a state order to stop letting any untreated stormwater flow into Carmel Bay, the city recently learned it could be exempt from the whole quagmire.

The law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP, hired to help fight the cease-and-desist order that would have forced Carmel to treat all its stormwater before it reaches the bay and river, said the city could file for an exemption because it has fewer than 10,000 residents.

Ironically, it was the city’s good intentions that got it stuck in the stormwater muddle to begin with, city administrator Rich Guillen said Thursday. After the federal government began requiring cities to create stormwater plans, Carmel joined forces with other Peninsula cities and the Monterey Regional Pollution Control Agency to draft a comprehensive and expensive plan to comply.

In November 2003, Carmel voters were asked to pass a stormwater utility fee to pay for implementation of the program, but the tax failed.

Last December, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, which oversees compliance with the federal laws, notified Carmel, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove and Monterey they would face cease-and-desist orders for not curbing their stormwater flows. The cities faced that penalty because their combined populations exceeded 100,000, Guillen explained.

“All the parties participating were trying to be good guys ahead of the game,” Guillen said. “We were trying to be proactive, and it worked against us, unfortunately.”

Pebble Beach and Carmel began working together to prepare for the hearing on the cease-and-desist orders, and P.B. hired Latham & Watkins, which Guillen said has experts who have extensive experience with the state board, particularly on behalf of Southern California coastal cities.

Attorneys combed through Carmel’s paperwork and asked why the city, with its population of 4,081, had never applied for the under-10,000 exemption.

“They said two things had to happen,” Guillen said.

First, Carmel had to withdraw from the regional stormwater task force, which it has done.

Next, it had to apply to the State Water Resources Control Board for the exemption, which it did last Thursday.

“We submitted a stack of documents at least a foot tall, with affidavits and background information,” Guillen said.

While the state board could subject the city to a public hearing before an administrative law judge, Guillen hopes it will grant the exemption without one, based on its existing laws and efforts to minimize pollution.

The general plan, the Local Coastal Program and the city’s “best management practices” for handling pollution, including the installation of underground traps to capture debris, show the city has been proactive and is well deserving of the exemption, he said.

“It’s not like we’re a city with a bunch of industrial plants, or something.”

Last Updated: Dec 07, 08

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