City to Septic Tank Users: Get With the System

La Cañada Flintridge officials are ready to continue their decades-old struggle to persuade some residents north of Foothill Boulevard to connect their properties to the sewer systems used by the city.
The City Council discussed the ongoing issue in a special meeting on Tuesday and decided to get back on track with its original plan. Officials will send letters to 64 addresses, mostly homes, giving them notices of public nuisance.
“What it would be is a courted document on the property,” said City Manager Mark Alexander. “It would come up with a title search and put a hold on anything the property owner wanted to do with the property until [the notice] is cleared.”
To encourage property owners to eliminate septic tanks and connect to one of the sewer systems, the city offered grants of approximately $8,000 to qualified low- and moderate-income households. Letters were originally sent to unconnected homes in 2018 during March and July, and city code enforcement officer David Rodriguez went door to door to personally notify the owners.
“The difficulty was we had the City Hall project that kind of got in the way,” said Director of Public Works Patrick DeChellis. “That’s why we have this gap in time between the last contact with people in 2018 and the code enforcement officer. We did have a plan, and that was to start prosecuting them.”
City officials want the septic tank users to use the sewer system because the residents are already paying for it and the municipality has little oversight regarding the tanks, which can present sanitation issues. Tank users have noted that joining the system can be pricey.
The original plan of taking legal action hit a snag when the Safer at Home order was mandated in Los Angeles County due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts were delaying many cases, prompting the council to move forward with the notice of public nuisance.
The homes are located in three districts. District 1, which includes six properties unconnected, had its sewer link completed in September 1999, so residents have had nearly 21 years to connect their homes. District 2, whose connection was completed in November 2005, has 18 properties that have not switched to the sewer system. Districts 3A and 3B include 40 residences not using the system, and that connection was completed in April 2008.
“I’m having a hard time understanding, especially with District 1, how 20 years later we still haven’t made any progress on that,” said Councilwoman Terry Walker.
“ … I think we need to address this district by district, starting with District 1.
“I think now we need to have a consistent process to work through this, and if they aren’t connected, then there’s going to be consequences. … I just think it’s time that we take the debate out of this and get a process that we stick to.”
Officials will send letters to District 1 residents who have not connected and give them 30 days to respond. The owners in Districts 2, 3A and 3B will be notified of the action the council is taking with District 1 and warned that they too will be in the same situation.
According to a staff report, residents who remain unconnected cite cost as the main reason to not move forward. DeChellis said a resident told him the cost of connecting to a sewer line was about $50,000.
“This has been, obviously, an ongoing challenge,” said Mayor Mike Davitt. “Past efforts of the council, even before me and [Mayor Pro Tem Jonathan Curtis], there’s been some pushes as I recall and there have been some connections, so that’s been good. I think we might be at kind of a stall position at 64. There doesn’t seem to be much movement on that.
“This was one of the burning issues for [former Mayor] Dave Spence. He really wanted to get this done, and just couldn’t understand it. If they were paying for it, why wouldn’t they connect?”
Residents north of Foothill Boulevard have paid or are paying their share for the main sewer line. They are also paying the county service charge to maintain the main line and sewer assessment, according to DeChellis, an LCF resident who said he pays a little more than $1,500 a year in fees.
“That’s what the City Council meant when they said that they already paid for the main line on the streets,” DeChellis said.
Residents avoiding connection also stated they’re satisfied with their current septic tank systems, which officials say can be a health and safety concern.
“You need to connect,” DeChellis said. “It’s a lot of time. Municipal code gives them five years, and it’s been more than that.
“The homes go through a private septic system. Is it really working well? Is it functioning as it was intended? When was the last time it was maintained? What is being discharged into the ground underneath? Those are questions you don’t have with a sewer system.”

PUBLIC WORKS UPDATE

DeChellis notified the council of several projects going on in LCF throughout the summer.
The citywide resurfacing project that began in June is set to be completed by the end of this month.
This year’s concrete repair project is scheduled to begin later this month and will be completed sometime in August.
Work on Foothill Boulevard will begin later this month. The restriping project should be completed in early September.
Maintenance repairs for the Lanterman House were scheduled to be done in March but delayed because of the pandemic. The contractor began working on Wednesday and is scheduled to finish by the end of July.
DeChellis also informed the council of yellow framing around all signal heads at Caltrans-maintained intersections located at Foothill and Hillard Avenue, Crown Avenue and Foothill, and Angeles Crest Highway near the 210 Freeway.

NEW YOUTH COUNCIL, COMMISSION MEMBERS APPOINTED

The City Council chose three new members on the Youth Council and filled a vacancy in the Public Works and Traffic Commission.
Emily Strauss, Chase Kerstein and Brendan Ehrhart were voted in to fill three vacancies, and Arun Jain won election to join the Public Works and Traffic Commission.

MUSIC IN THE PARK UPDATE

The recent rise in COVID-19 cases prompted Alexander, the city manager, to proceed with canceling all Music in the Park concerts through Aug. 9.
“In light of the increase in cases, as you can imagine, it doesn’t appear as though they are going to be allowing large gatherings anytime soon,” he said.
At the suggestion of the mayor, Alexander reached out to some of the bands to see if they would offer videos of their past performances. The city will air a performance by Dave Segal and his jazz band on its website and on Spectrum channels 3 and 16 on Sunday, July 19, at 6 p.m. More videos will be announced on the city website.

NEW METRICS ADOPTED FOR TRANSPORTATION ANALYSIS

In accordance to the California Environmental Quality Act, the City Council voted in favor of adopting the Vehicle Miles Traveled thresholds of significance on Tuesday.
Councilman Richard Gunter recommended that his colleagues adopt VMT but eliminate the former system, Level of Service, to make the process less challenging for applicants. All members of the council approved of both motions except for Curtis, who abstained.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 743 into law in 2013 and started the process of changing how transportation impact analysis is conducted. The new system will measure the amount and distance of automobile travel that is attributable to a project as opposed to LOS, a more car-centric approach that analyzed a project’s impact on automobile delay.
VMT will focus on how projects are likely to influence the overall amount of automobile use rather than traffic at intersections and roadways around project sites.
Consistent with guidelines from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the city developed exemptions from having applicants needing VMT analysis, such as retail projects up to 50,000 square feet in floor area, local parks, K-12 schools, day-care centers, religious assembly and projects generating fewer than 110 daily trips.
Director of Community Development Susan Koleda said that most LCF projects would be exempt and that the city has averaged about one project per year that would require a VMT analysis.

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