For the past 20 years, La Cañada Flintridge city officials have encouraged homes and businesses to connect their properties to a sewer system. They’ve even offered grants to help low-income households ditch septic tanks for a more sanitary option.
Yet, despite their best efforts, they’ve historically dealt with hundreds of holdouts, primarily from the owners of properties where topography presents logistical and financial complications.
Now with gloves off, public works officials are going after properties north of Foothill Boulevard, where sewer assessment districts exist, threatening to take legal action if property owners do not comply with the city’s requests.
“Our goal is to get everybody connected by the end of the calendar year,” said Public Works Director Pat DeChellis. “The city doesn’t want to take people to court. We want to work with them and make it happen.”
Homes in the Flintridge area south of Foothill use septic tanks because sewer lines cannot be dug through surrounding subterranean granite, and are excluded from the city’s campaign. Palm Crest Elementary School is also not connected, though La Cañada Unified school officials have vowed to connect as the campus is renovated under the district’s facilities master plan.
This spring — as residents of the city’s first sewer assessment prepared to pay off a 20-year bond obligation — the city sent letters to the owners of 185 unconnected properties and learned 33 had already been connected but had not filed for permits with the city.
An additional 43 have been permitted and connected since the letters went out, while another 26 have pulled permits but may or may not have started work, DeChellis said.
Of the remaining 83 properties, public works employees have heard back from 43 owners whose individual properties make connecting difficult. The final 40, from whom the city has gotten no response, may be subject to court action.
“Their next note is the one from the court saying a case has been filed,” the public works director said, adding that a prosecuting attorney is working with officials to determine next steps.
DeChellis said connection costs depend on a property’s proximity to a connection site. Some sit below street level, requiring a tank and grinder pump to convey waste to the nearest line, while other homeowners might have to pay for easement to use neighbors’ land to complete the work.
David Bruns, financial management head for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, said septic tanks are problematic and prone to overflowing, which presents a risk of groundwater contamination. They also concentrate nitrates, which can have hazardous health effects.
“If you maintain it and take care of it, it shouldn’t be a problem. But it’s one of those things that’s out of sight, out of mind, and by the time you realize there’s a problem you’re a goner,” he said.
Bruns commended the city, which not so long ago operated exclusively on septic tanks, for trying to close the connection gap.
“I think they’ve made great strides and have done a really good job of getting people connected and getting the word out,” he said.