Berrey Resolution takes burden off County
If he weren’t a Deputy County Counsel, Allen Berrey might make a pretty good diplomat.
During the first Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting of 2010 on Tuesday, Berrey put forth a resolution that took the edge off the Board’s caustic reaction late last year to a recent state mandated low-water landscaping ordinance.
Enacted originally in 2006, the “Water Conservation in Landscaping Act” basically required counties to adopt water efficient landscape ordinances by Jan. 1 of this year, or automatically be subject to the model ordinance set forth by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).
Board members were livid at the thought of being handed another “unfunded state mandate,” which some said could have a significant negative impact on private property owners and developers, and by extension the County itself.
Not averse to an ordinance as such, the Board has been vocally supportive of landscaping with water conservation methods. Rather, it was the state ordinance’s late arrival, giving the County precious little time to assess and implement it, that lit the Board’s fuse. That “model” was supposed to be released to counties on Jan. 31 of last year, but wasn’t delivered until September.
Supervisors also railed against the model’s statewide uniformity, saying it failed to take into account the varying topography and associated conditions of small, rural counties, including Mono. Supervisor Hap Hazard said at the outset in December it would be at the very least complicated and expensive, if not entirely impossible, to make it work in his district alone, in which much of the water supply is derived from privately-held wells. “We don’t have much in the way of formal water distrcts in that part of the county,” he pointed out. Residents in more rural districts get water from wells, small community systems and in some cases even streams, the vast majority of which are not metered.
Legal action was one recourse that the Board and County staff mulled over, but that was considered a last resort. Apart from generating bad blood at the state level, the County risked immersing itself in a quagmire of litigation that would be costly in terms of time and money, both of which the Board would rather conserve, given the economy.
Berrey, however, along with assistance from Heather de Bethizy, decided to try out a more tempered approach, drafting a resolution that basically allows the County to enact an “interim” landscape water conservation ordinance. This would give the County time to continue working on a formal, more detailed framework that would work within the General Plan and County code.
“The process called for in the state’s water conservation landscaping model isn’t consistent with our General Plan or County ordinances,” Berrey detailed to the Board. “Staff thinks this [resolution] solves the problem and alleviate the burden imposed by the state’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.”
By demonstrating to the state that the County has an ordinance in place as of the required Jan. 31 deadline, the resolution essentially not only lets the County pursue an ordinance with respect to individual districts, but also all but eliminates any need for legal battles. It also allowed for a little push back by the Board, conveying in clear, but unambiguous terms the members’ disapproval to the state.
Indeed, parts of the resolution point out that 1.) the state did not deliver its model until “nearly seven months after it was required to do so,” 2.) despite a “laudable” purpose many of its provisions are “inappropriate for, and unworkable in, [Mono County’s] arid climate and high-elevation topography,” and 3.) in addition to those issues, the model ordinance itself is “poorly organized … in-artfully drafted” and imposes “unduly cumbersome and costly requirements on property owners, professional landscapers and [County] staff.”
Berrey further added his and staff’s opinion that, over and above preventing the model ordinance from being enacted in Mono County, the resolution is worded such that it gives the County enough time to “properly reach out to and work with the public to develop a water-efficient landscape ordinance that makes sense.”
The Board agreed. Chair Byng Hunt praised the resolution’s well-thought out construction. Supervisor Tom Farnetti thought the resolution said “just enough, but not too much.” Supervisors Vikki Bauer and Hap Hazard both praised the resolution’s diplomacy, yet also were happy it squarely addressed the fundamental problems with the model.
“I’m happy at the way you took my frustration, anger and disgust and channeled it so well into this resolution,” Hazard told Berrey and de Bethizy. Hazard and the rest of the Board said they hoped the resolution would “encourage individual water and public utilities districts to take authority and work closely with rural areas and [owers of] private wells.”
The Board swiftly and enthusiastically approved the resolution 4-0, asking Berrey to share a copy of it with the Regional Council of Rural Counties.