Cambria services district gets specific with numbers of potential new connections

County, Coastal Commission would have to sign off before building could begin

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJuly 5, 2013 

The magic number appears to be “up to 20,” at least in terms of the maximum number of water-service “intent to serve” letters that Cambria’s services-district directors intend to release per fiscal year in 2013-14 and 2014-15, they said at their June 27 meeting.

Each water connection would be for a new single-family home or other projects that would equal a similar amount of water usage, the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors unanimously decided.

Issuing 20 per fiscal year would equate to half a percent growth rate per year, plus one. While Cambria growth is capped by the county at 2.3 percent per year, that rate has been reset to zero annually or biannually for some time, because since 2001, the district had been under a water-emergency declaration and a moratorium on issuing new connections.

The emergency status remains in effect, but the board removed the moratorium as part of its March action, according to Director Muril Clift.

He said the district can now issue intent to serve letters — if those new accounts are established based on saving as much water, through retrofitting and conservation measures, as the new project would use.

In other areas of the county, similar programs have been dubbed “retrofit to build.”

The Cambria board would decide the exact number to be issued each year, based on current conditions and expectations of how well the water supply would last through the summer-and-fall dry season.

As General Manager Jerry Gruber said in his staff report, “As a practical matter, however, the reality is that given the basis of the interim issuance of intent to serve letters” concept, the number that can actually be issued will be limited by the amount of actual water conservation achieved.” The 19 or 20 per fiscal year “should be more than adequate given the practical constraints of a program based upon offsetting all increased water use through retrofit of existing water fixtures.”

Directors intend to issue intents to serve through that process until the district is substantially on its way to having a specific, permanent source of additional water.

Bumpy road

There are some substantial roadblocks along the district’s route to issuing those letters, however, such as getting agreement on the plan from county planning and resource officials and the California Coastal Commission staffers.

Both have control over Cambria’s land planning, which the services district does not.

Any new development project must have a county permit to be able to build, and in many cases in Cambria and other coastal areas, such a permit can be appealed to the Coastal Commission before it becomes usable.

With that concept in mind earlier this year, CCSD officials asked to have Cambria’s zero growth rate in the county’s Growth Management Ordinance (GMO) changed to a 1 percent rate.

County supervisors said no, but planning commissioners had previously noted that the district could apply later to have the zero rate changed through a GMO amendment.

The district did that March 21, basing its request on CCSD’s recently ramped-up water conservation and rebate programs. Since then, Kami Griffin, assistant director of the county’s Planning and Building Department, asked that the district either confirm a previously mentioned 1 percent growth rate (equal to about 38 connections per year) or provide how many letters district would be issuing.

Reaction

In public comment preceding the board’s own debate, Jim Webb advised directors to select no more than a half a percent increase per year, saying the fundamental reality of the program is that there must be no net increase in water use. “Conservation benefits have yet to be verified or ground-truthed here in Cambria. We don’t have verification that it has happened yet. In that sense, the check’s in the mail. You’re spending some of those savings without having the check yet.”

His wife, Mary Webb, said she favored zero, pointing out that she’s unaware of how or even if the district is verifying that previous large water-conservation projects actually are saving water.
She also noted that “there’s confusion between numbers of connections … what is a dwelling unit … and an intent to serve letter can include 40 units. There’s no way we should be discussing this without talking about gallons of water.”

Director Amanda Rice said picking the growth rate percentage or allowable number of new projects should be the county’s decision, since land use and management of all resources, including traffic, air, schools and others, is in their purview. “We don’t want to tell them what we think the resources are for the community to build.” Picking a percentage is “their job. We shouldn’t be muddling into their job.”

Clift said, while he didn’t disagree, “the powers that be will simply drag us around the rathole if we don’t” pick the number. “I like the idea of 20 or less, up to 20.”

He also said staff needs to determine an equivalency chart for larger and commercial projects.

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