2 Cities Propose Builder Fees to Help Save Water

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To offset the impact of new construction on tenuous water supplies, Port Hueneme and Oxnard officials are proposing that developers pay for water-saving fixtures in existing public and private buildings.

The Port Hueneme City Council introduced an ordinance Wednesday night that would require developers to pay a $2,565 fee for each housing unit they seek to build, with each payment financing the refitting of 3.83 existing residences with ultra low-flow toilets, faucets and shower heads.

The Oxnard Community Development Department is drafting a similar policy for City Council consideration that may call for builder fees of up to $5,355 per new home.

Under the plans, both cities would assess fees on industrial and commercial projects, based on the new buildings' projected water usage.

"We don't want to face the possibility of having to pull the plug on development," said Thomas Figg, Port Hueneme's community development director. "We're not in a situation where we're out of water, but we don't want to reach that point."

The two cities, which face reductions in their Oxnard Plain ground-water allocations because of the five-year drought, are following the lead of water-pinched Central Coast communities such as Morro Bay and Santa Barbara, which already have refitted up to half their housing stock.

But the Port Hueneme and Oxnard proposals have drawn objections from area builders and the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, which is promoting a rival ordinance that would require property owners to install the water-saving fixtures at the time they sell their property.

Paul Tryon, director of the association's Ventura region, said the Port Hueneme and Oxnard proposals are little more than stopgap measures that are unfair to buyers of new homes.

"Retrofitting is better than building moratoriums, but they inequitably spread the burden," Tryon said. "It is one of your new neighbors who is going to pay significantly more for their home."

Figg said state law permits municipalities to make developers pay for the cost of mitigating the impact of their projects. Impacts include increased water demand.

Camarillo city officials are considering a similar retrofitting program, and Ojai has given developers of residential projects of two units or more the option of refitting existing buildings instead of conducting an environmental report on their proposal.

Ojai Planning Director Bill Prince said the owners of two proposed industrial buildings have agreed to absorb the expense of installing low-water-consumption fixtures in Matilija Junior High School and at several other public buildings.

The Ojai Planning Commission approved plans Wednesday night for two medical buildings at Pirie Road and California 33, so long as the owners install low-flow devices in two office buildings they own.

Figg, who drafted the Port Hueneme ordinance, said it is far less burdensome on developers than the requirements in Morro Bay, which made developers participate in a retrofitting program between 1985 and 1989 but now has a building moratorium. During Morro Bay's retrofitting era, developers had to locate and refit at least 20 residences for each one they planned to build.

Figg said Port Hueneme will charge a refitting fee based on an estimated $669 installation cost for parts and labor. Residents will contract to have the work done themselves and then apply to the city for a rebate, Figg said.

Port Hueneme already has banked $60,000 from the developers of two 30-unit townhouse projects to pay for refitting the city's 180 public housing units.

Oxnard Community Development Director Richard Maggio said that any developer fees would first be used to refit Oxnard schools, and then public facilities and subsidized public housing. Next would be institutions, followed by apartments and single-family houses.

Based on an average of 433 housing units built annually in Oxnard over the past decade, Maggio said it would be at least five years before the refitting fees would be available for private residences.

"The developers will look on this as a double-edged sword," Figg said.

"They will not be enthralled at having to pay an additional fee, but they are being given an alternative" to a building moratorium, Figg said. "Given the choice, I think they will reluctantly pay."

Correspondent Thia Bell contributed to this story.

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