The Planning Report: Measure W—the Safe, Clean Water Program

Passed by voters in November 2018, Measure W—the Safe, Clean Water Program—imposed a 2.5 cent/sq. ft. parcel tax on impermeable surface construction in LA County and is set to provide upwards of $300 million annually to support stormwater and clean water infrastructure projects. TPR spoke with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s Deputy for the Environment and Arts, Katy Young Yaroslavsky, on the Board of Supervisors’ recent approval of the Measure W Implementation Ordinance and the committee appointees tasked with determining how this new funding will flow into Los Angeles County community water projects

Katy Young Yaroslavsky

“The Safe, Clean Water Program—known as Measure W—was born out of a desire to modernize our water infrastructure so we can capture, clean and store more of our storm water.”—Katy Young Yaroslavsky

TPR: Speak to the purpose of Los Angeles’ Measure W—passed by the voters with a two-thirds vote—as the county works through its implementation. And, remind readers of its goals and what the county and its cities hope to achieve with this new and perennial water infrastructure funding.

Katy Young Yaroslavsky: The Safe, Clean Water Program—known as Measure W—was born out of a desire to modernize our water infrastructure so we can capture, clean and store more of our storm water. When it rains, most of our water flows out to the ocean, picking up pollution along the way. This runoff makes people swimming at the beach sick and endangers marine life. Most importantly, we waste the opportunity to capture a lot of that storm water, clean it, and reuse it. As droughts become more frequent, this effort became ever more urgent to ensure an adequate supply of clean, local water for the future.

With Measure W, we are solving several challenges. The County and our 88 cities needed money to build strong water-capture projects to help bring us into compliance with our MS4 permits under the Federal Clean Water Act.

We also wanted to ramp up our region’s transition away from imported water and towards increasing our local water supply. We also wanted to make sure we were leveraging other pots of local tax revenue including Measures H, A, and M, as well as state and federal money to do more with what we already had available. By prioritizing multi-benefit projects (such as a park that also serves as a spreading basins)we are able to take advantage of other resources in achieving Measure W’s overarching program goal of regional water and climate resilience. Supervisor Kuehl, and other local leaders like Supervisor Solis and Mayor Garcetti, recognize that we can’t just build a park anymore. That park should provide other community benefits like storm water capture for reuse, recreation, and goods jobs along the way.

TPR: Who are the stakeholders involved in promoting, passing, and now rolling out Measure W.

KYY: We brought together community nonprofits, business, labor, environmental justice (EJ) groups, community health groups, public agencies, and municipalities. LA County has 88 cities and each has its own compliance obligation under their permit, plus many—but not necessarily all— of those cities also wanted to provide additional benefits like flood protection, and more active and passive recreation.

There was a broad spectrum of different voices that came to the table—each one slightly different—which made a unique challenge to weave something together that worked for everybody.

TPR: The Board of Supervisors recently adopted the implementation ordinance for effectuating Measure W. Speak to the governance structure that was incorporated in W’s implementation ordinance as it relates to how the funds will be prioritized and apportioned.

KYY: The money will be divided into three “buckets.” Fifty percent goes towards regional, watershed-based projects, 40 percent goes back to municipalities as local return for water quality improvement, and 10 percent goes to the LA County Flood Control District (LACFCD) to manage the program—which includes creating and funding workforce development programs, community engagement, and public education programs.

The regional program, that 50 percent pot of money, will be about $150 million a year before rebates and credits. This is where the watershed-based governance aspect of the program comes in, and it is one of the parts of the program I’m most excited about. When it rains, storm water flows based on the hydrology of the region; the rain hits the pavement and flows based on whichever subwatershed it falls within. In LA County we have nine naturally occurring subwatersheds, so we created nine governing bodies to make funding recommendations for projects and programs in each of those subwatersheds. This means there will be a broad spectrum of water experts, public health experts, environmental experts, labor, and business representatives—all of them will be coming together regularly to make funding recommendations for their respective watersheds.

The nine watershed committees make their recommendations to one Regional Oversight Committee, which will review the proposed funding plans for each of the nine watershed committees, and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for funding.

The Regional Oversight Committee is comprised of a broad representation of stakeholders, business reps, environmental and environmental justice reps, public health, and municipal representation, but ultimately it will be up to the Board of Supervisors to make the final funding decisions to ensure the program goals are being achieved.

The ideas for new projects will come from existing lists that municipalities have already developed as part of their Clean Water Act compliance, as well as new project ideas that surface over the coming years. We are embedding “watershed coordinators” who have community engagement and subject matter expertise, within each watershed committee to act as facilitators with local communities and committee members. The expectation is that these watershed coordinators will work with local communities to make sure the very best projects surface and receive funding. Because LA County is so large, and each community’s needs are going to vary, we’re providing a degree of discretion to each watershed committee to make the funding recommendations that are right for their respective communities. We have scoring criteria to ensure that all projects that receive funding are truly multi-benefit.

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