Get Pumped

Sea level rise will eventually come, but a much more immediate threat to Alameda is flooding caused by stalled, prolonged storm systems.  Major storms are becoming more common as the changing climate causes erratic, unpredictable and devastating weather events.

In October, Alameda property owners will have an opportunity to help prevent future flooding and Bay pollution by voting to increase the “urban runoff fee” that appears on annual property tax bills.

The city’s storm water pumps need upgrading, and the current parcel fee for this purpose is inadequate to cover the cost.  The current annual fee works out to $4.67 per month.  The city is asking the typical homeowner to pay an additional $6.50 a month, payable on an annual basis.   The fees are based on acreage and the amount of impervious land, such as parking lots, where water cannot be absorbed.

Supporting this necessary fee increase is the first step to implementing the city’s recently adopted Climate Action and Resiliency Plan.

The fee covers maintenance costs on the city’s 10 storm water pump stations, 28 pumps, 96 acres of lagoon, 278 outfalls, and 250 recently installed trash-capture devices in street drains that keep trash from washing into the Bay and require regular cleaning by Public Works crews. The fee also covers street sweeping, maintenance of numerous tide gates and seawalls to convey stormwater to the Bay, and many catch basins, manholes, curbs and gutters.

The fee will also cover capital costs for upgrades to pump stations that remove water from the island and send it into the Bay.  Two pump stations at the Webster Tube and one on Eastshore Drive were built in the 1940s and are in dire need of upgrades.  The fee will also be used for reconfiguring pavement, curbs, gutters and sidewalks at intersections that are prone to flooding, which often impacts nearby properties.

The city council instituted the urban runoff fee 15 years ago but, unlike other cities, failed to include a provision for cost-of-living increases.  So today, Alameda’s storm water fund is operating with an annual deficit of over $1 million.  In addition, there is a backlog of $30 million worth of unfunded storm water related projects, and the state Regional Water Quality Control Board has mandated more requirements for trash capture and pollution controls.

This fee increase will result in $2.5 million additional revenue to the city’s storm water fund each year.  The new fee will allow for up to 3 percent annual increases, based on inflation, so we don’t find ourselves with similar budget shortfalls decades from now.

Capital improvements will not be done unless property owners are willing to make the investment.  Every resident and business has something to gain from flood prevention.  If streets are flooded, bus service will be suspended, response time for emergency services will be reduced, business activity will be diminished, people will miss work, property will be damaged, and residents of flooded property may have to move out while repairs are made.

If the measure moves forward at a public hearing on October 1, all property owners can vote by mail-in ballot between October 10 and November 25, with a simple majority of those voting needed for approval: one parcel, one vote.

This fee increase is a positive step we can take to protect Alameda’s property and the environment by bringing the fee in alignment with current needs.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.  For more information see the city’s website page, which includes frequently asked questions.

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