Voters Pass Drain Fee

Courtesy photo    Ray Velasco, an Alameda resident and avid surfer who cleans up plastic litter on the shoreline, displays the plastics he culled from San Francisco Bay over the past nine months. Velasco is glad the fee passed and new trash-diversion functionality will be added to Alameda’s storm drains.

The City Council will certify the Water Quality and Flood Protection Initiative at its Dec. 17 meeting after Alameda property owners voted in favor of a fee hike.

The initiative is designed to help finance increased costs of the city’s storm-water system. After months of studies and community meetings the city mailed property owners a ballot to vote on the intiative on Oct. 10. The deadline to return the ballot was Nov. 25. The city tallied all the votes on Nov. 26 and concluded that 57 percent of Alameda property owners voted “yes” to approve the initiative. The measure needed a simple majority to pass. Only Alameda property owners voted on the measure because the fee would be imposed on property taxes. 

If the measure failed the city’s Public Works Department would have had to eliminate or significantly cut existing programs such as street sweeping and storm-drain maintenance.

“It means we don’t have to think about some of those difficult decisions anymore,” said Alameda Public Works Director Liam Garland.

The new plan will increase property taxes of homeowners of common-sized properties (.08 to .14 acres) by $78 per year. Homeowners of small properties (less than .08 acres) will see an increase of $43.73 annually, while homeowners of large properties (more than .14 acres) will see an increase of $85.07. This will be added to the $56 per year property owners already pay for the Clean Water Program. Property owners of apartments, commercial buildings, office space, churches and more will also see an increase determined by how many acres they own. 

Since 1992, Alamedans were charged a fee that financed the city’s storm-drainage system. But the fee of $56 had not increased in about 15 years, according to a city report. This led to an annual deficit of $1 million as costs increased. The city also has at least “$30 million in high-priority unmet needs including pump stations and pipes from the 1940s and earlier,” according to a study from the city. The fee increase will provide the city an additional $2.9 million in storm drain funds, according to the report. 

The increased fee will fund repairs and new pump stations, which is vital to combat potential flooding as sea levels rise; improve lagoon systems, enhance street sweeping procedures and maintain and install new trash capture devices. These devices are key to keeping the shoreline free of trash and other debris.

Trash-capture devices are connected to a catch basin, a drain that collects rain water, underneath the road surface. Trash, leaves and other debris clog the drains. The trash capture device blocks trash and debris from entering the drain, while allowing the rainwater to flow through. Public Works employees then clean the trash and maintain the device four times a year. These devices range from $500 to $1,000 each, according to Garland.

The new fees will appear in the November 2020 property tax bill. In July 2020, city staff will make a mid-cycle budget adjustment accounting for the increased revenue from the new fee. The Public Works Department will also consider plans on how best to allocate the new revenue source.

The city’s storm-water system is comprised of 11 pump stations, 26 pumps, 126 miles of storm drains, two lagoon systems, 278 outfalls, 2,879 catch basins and 1,967 access holes. It also includes the more than 200 miles of curbs and gutters that assist with storm-water runoff.