Proposition 72 is one of the easier questions on the June 5 ballot. Homeowners should be rewarded, not penalized, for collecting the rainwater that falls on their roofs and for using it on their landscaping to save precious tap water. This measure would ensure that adding an expensive rainwater capture system does not trigger a reassessment and increase the owner's property tax. Vote yes.
Many homeowners may scratch their heads in wonder that such a measure would be necessary. You put down maybe $20 for a plastic trash can, stick it under the downspout and collect the rainwater. Did that increase your home value? Will that jack up your property taxes?
Well, no, not even if you go all out and buy one of those fancy rain barrels with the attached hose to fill your watering can.
But homeowners who are really serious about their environmental cred might spend thousands of dollars, even tens of thousands, on sophisticated rain-capture systems that store water in giant cisterns and release it to the lawn, the trees or the flowerbeds when sensors detect dry soil. Adding that kind of infrastructure could save a lot on the water bill — but also cause county officials to reassess the home's value upward, just as they do when the owner adds a room or other amenity. That discourages large, proactive water-saving investments.
Over the years, Californians have excluded other investments from reassessment and the resulting higher property taxes. Solar panels, earthquake retrofitting and fire sprinkler systems all have gotten the same treatment, and with good reason. These are changes that we want to encourage but that also cost homeowners some serious money. They shouldn't have to pay a second time, on their tax bill, for these safety- or environment-promoting enhancements.
California has come a long way in a short amount of time on home water-saving programs. Residents were once actively discouraged from collecting and using rainwater. They needed inspections and permits before lawfully putting a bucket under the spout. There was even some question about who owned the water that fell on residential roofs. In Los Angeles, for example, did the water rights traceable back to Spanish law give the pueblo (and now the city) rather than the homeowner the right to every raindrop?
Over the last five years, though, lawmakers have smoothed the path for residents who want to capture the rain without permits or arguments about who owns the water. Proposition 72 is an important part of that historic change in attitude and governance. It has no official opponents. Californians should put it on the books as law. And then, if they haven't already, get themselves a rain barrel, or maybe even a cistern.