Sewer foes battle until the last minute

Campaigning up until the very last minute, opponents of the formation of Sewer Assessment District 09-1 lined up Monday night in City Hall to make their case at the city's final public hearing on the matter.

The owners of 680 La Cañada Flintridge properties had until the close of the hearing to submit their ballots to support or oppose the creation of a single assessment district to pay for the installation of a $40 million low-pressure sewer system. The results will be announced today and posted online at

The district would include districts 5A, 6E and 6J. District 5A includes properties south of Berkshire Avenue; districts 6E and 6J are both west of the 2 (Glendale) Freeway and south of Foothill Boulevard.

District 09-1 would be the fourth such assessment district to be created by the city in its effort to convert from a septic sewer system to a traditional sewer system. Gravity systems have already been installed in areas north of Foothill Boulevard. The geological composite and grade of the Flintridge area, however, has made it impossible for such a system to be used there. The city eventually settled on a low-pressure system as the best alternative.

Much of the cost of the system will fall on property owners, who will be assessed anywhere from $40,145.39 to $72,923.63, depending on the size of the lot. Property owners can opt to pay the entire sum up front, and receive a 5% to15% discount. Otherwise, the assessment will be spread out over 20 to 30 years and applied to property taxes.

Some of the objections raised at the hearing pertained to the functionality of the system itself. Fred Engler questioned whether the city had taken into consideration the electrical capabilities of each property and whether it would be sufficient to power the pressurized tanks. William Davis told council members that the low pressure system has no proven track record.

“It seems to me that one of the most important considerations in deciding whether to vote for or against this proposal is to understand what the historical performance of this system has been,” Davis said.

Elizabeth Trinast described the sewer system as a work in progress, and a risk not worth taking at this time.

“We have to look at this vote as voting on a draft, not a plan,” Trinast said. “We are voting on an estimate, not an assessment, and there is no cap on the maintenance fee because we have no contract.”

Most of the complaints, however, had to do with the cost. Bonnie Marshall said that her property falls in the $70,000 assessment range, but that she and her husband are worried the final bill will be much higher.

“The cost that we were given is just a base cost of installation,” Marshall said. “It has nothing to do with ripping out the side of my house to run the plumbing, or to run the pipes down below grade. How many pumps am I going to have to put in to bring that raw sewage up and run it to the line? It does not address the electrical paneling that I am going to have to put in. It does not address various other costs.”

The Flintridge area is not suitable for sewers, Eugene Rodemich said.

“I am retired and my wife is going to retired in a couple of years, and this is going to be a great hardship on us because the figures that were given say that our assessment for the cost of putting in the sewer is going to be about double what our current property taxes are,” Rodemich said. “It is going to be real hard. We have lived at our current location in La Cañada for 33 years, and we have never had any problem with our septic system.”

Cynthia Chamberlain said she has done her research and has been told that the proposed low pressure system is cheaper than the gravity system installed in the northern part of the city.

“I think that is probably true, but from $40,000 to $70,000, which is supposed to be a bargain for us, I don't know how it can be a bargain if the system is fraught with so many possible problems — maintenance problems, electrical problems,” Chamberlain said. “The system can't even work without power. The years that we have lived up here we have had so many power failures.”

Councilman Greg Brown, along with several engineers, attempted to address all of the questions that were raised. Brown clarified that the estimate for the project, which is just under $40 million, is a conservative estimate and includes all the accessory expenses highlighted by the attendees at the public hearing. If the project is completed under budget, he added, the property owners in the assessment district will receive a refund.

Brown acknowledged that the installation of the low-pressure system is expensive.

He said, however, that it is not a question of whether to spend the money or not, but rather when it will have to be spent.

State and county regulatory boards are putting the squeeze on the use of septic systems, he noted, and the sooner the city makes the switch the less expensive it will be to its residents.

“The regional board has determined that our water basin underlying us here is negatively impacted by the output from the concentration of the septic system and they are doing something about it and they are going to continue to do something about it.

“They are going to crack down more and more and more,” Brown said.

“I believe, and I think we all believe, that the role the government should be playing is to try and bring everybody together and come up with the least expensive alternative to what we see coming down the road.”

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