City to Study Costs of Storm Water Drainage Project

The City Council has tasked Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne to meet with representatives from a host of other San Gabriel Valley cities collaborating on a Rio Honda River storm water drainage project to discuss San Marino’s expected fiscal contribution to the endeavor.
Throne is expected to report on the results of those meetings to the City Council at its November meeting. Information the City Council seeks includes a specific breakdown on the funding formula for the collaboration, an explanation of costs and whether the other cities are open to adjusting apportionments.
The City Council bristled at San Marino’s bill of $256,417 toward engineering costs for the project. The amount was approved in 2015 before any of its current members were elected. Throne, pointing out that engineering is typically around 10% of a project’s cost, estimated that San Marino might have to shell out another $2.57 million toward actual construction in a few years’ time.
“We’re a small city, and I understand — by some of the things you’ve shown — that we have a large area these washes run through,” said Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey. “I’m a little worried that we’re seen as a deep pocket and that this agreement is not fair.”
This project plans to bottleneck three storm water washes that begin in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills, and to filter bacteria and pollution from the drainage before it ultimately discharges into the Rio Hondo River. This will make San Marino and the other participating cities and communities compliant with Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board regulations on corralling runoff water bacteria.
The other signees to this agreement are the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Pasadena, Rosemead, San Gabriel, South Pasadena and Temple City, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and Los Angeles County. Cost sharing was apportioned based on land area within the three washes (San Marino takes up 13.9% of that area, according to Throne), instead of by the amount of water contributed.
“It’s difficult to measure flows because there are so many access points to all of the washes,” Throne explained. “The purpose of the project is to deal with the dry weather flows, which are small manageable flows generally present throughout the year.”
Shepherd Romey took further issue with how numbers were calculated, observing that the county has a substantially bigger land area in the washes and yet only is set to pay some $30,000 more than San Marino. She said she also wished for there to be some way for San Marino to have reclaimed water returned to San Marino for use in public spaces, such as medians. (Earlier, Throne said that it was deemed not cost-effective to do so.)
“We have huge needs in our parks and our medians,” she said. “Like Glendale, we should be able to truck water where we need it. We need to make this water useful for our city because we’re going to be a significant provider of funds.
“It’s not that I don’t want to contribute,” Shepherd Romey added. “I just want our residents to contribute a fair share and receive a benefit at the end.”
Councilman Ken Ude, who spent much of this year’s budgeting cycle holding departments’ feet to the fire on cost shaving, criticized Throne for just now bringing up this expense. With the budget recently approved and the other cities wanting to move forward quickly on engineering, Ude suggested the City Council was cornered here and that Throne knew about this issue beforehand.
“I feel like we have a gun to our head on this,” Ude said. “We’ll have to approve this sooner or later, but I’m worried about the ‘how.’ I’m disappointed that they expect this to be a budget increase without any corresponding offsets.”
Throne countered back, explaining that there was no prior documentation of these costs projected in past budgets (Throne was hired within the last year.) and he only was just now contacted by the consultant managing the project.
“Now that this project is in the Public Works Department, I am incorporating it into our Capital Plan,” Throne explained. “One of the long-term goals of the Capital Plan is to [keep abreast of] projects moving forward. Unfortunately, the sight of this was obscured and I’m not particularly sure why. Now that this is in front of me, I treat it very seriously, not just because of the magnitude of dollars, but the volume of commitment to maintain. It’s an obligation I take very seriously.”
Asked about alternatively setting up a station within San Marino to handle this storm water runoff, Throne advised against it because it would require three separate stations and the ongoing burden of running those facilities.
“In the long term — to put it in a very direct and crude way — it’s much easier to write a check than it is to conduct these efforts in a small community with very few resources,” he said. “Compliance is where you fall into the trap of ‘Oh, you didn’t monitor after the storm? $10,000 fine. Oh, you didn’t report this on time? There’s a fine there.’ It’s an ongoing thing.”
Acknowledging that the city will have to, in the end, contribute to the agreement, the City Council asked Throne to meet with other cities and advocate on San Marino’s behalf. It will wait until November to hear back and decide on the issue because the Nov. 6 election includes a state measure on borrowing money for water supply and quality initiatives.
“The ball was dropped and we have to pick it back up again,” Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski said. “I feel confident with Director Throne’s expertise in wastewater and this type of issue. We’ve already got the MOU [memorandum of understanding]. We’re into the engineering. I’d be happy if he could come back and comfort us with a more detailed report.”

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