The two ballot measures that Culver City voters will consider this fall have the potential to not only drastically change the City Council’s oversight role of the city’s public safety agencies, but to also set the tone for what kind of environmental legacy they want to leave.
In addition to voting on whether the council will retain the authority to hire and fire the city’s police and fire chiefs or cede that task to City Manager John Nachbar, voters will also have the chance to tax themselves through a parcel levy in improve the city— and the region’s— water quality through a stormwater initiative.
Combating stormwater runoff, according to federal law, is the responsibility of government at the municipal, county, state and federal level, a fact that Councilman Thomas Small touched upon recently.
“We’re mandated by law [to reduce stormwater pollution] and if we don’t take action we could face fines as high as $25,000,” said Small, one of the few candidates to talk in depth about stormwater runoff during the spring city council campaign.
Mayor Jim Clarke said a consultant hired by the city recommended a tax of $99 that will be accessed to residential parcels if the measure, which requires two-thirds of ballots cast for approval, passes.
The councilman referenced the water crisis in Flint, Mich., where seven state officials have been indicted as part of an infamous decision in 2014 to change the largely-minority city’s water supply to the lead contaminated Flint River, leading to a public health crisis and a nationwide scandal. Children in Flint have seen the amount of lead in their bloodstreams double and health officials predict that between 6,000 and 12,000 children may suffer life-long problems due to the high levels of lead and contamination.
The head of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality, who was among those indicted last week, was fired earlier this year and three others resigned in the wake of the scandal. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has also paid a heavy political price during the scandal, being called to testify before Congress regarding his actions in the water contamination incident and several state and national figures have called for his resignation.
“Given what’s happened in the country recently, we know that this is a vital issue,” said Small, who added that he plans to try and educate the public about water quality as well as advocate for the measure’s passage.
Providing clean water to their constituents is “not only something that we’re mandated to do but it’s also something that we’re morally obligated to do,” said Councilwoman Meghan Sahli-Wells.
Nachbar has been a consistent voice in warning about the financial burdens of implementing stormwater prevention protocols, which could cost millions of dollars. “(Controlling) stormwater pollution is going to require a major operating expense,” he told the News last year.
Los Angeles County was sued by two Santa Monica –based environmental groups, then Santa Monica Waterkeeper (now Los Angeles Waterkeeper) and the Natural Resources Defense Council nearly a decade ago for allowing stormwater pollution to flow into the Los Angeles River. The case, much like the river, snaked slowly through lower and appellate courts until it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed a lower court ruling against the county to stand.
In upholding an appellate court verdict, the high court left in place a ruling that the county had violated the federal Clean Water Act.
The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has listed Ballona Creek as being “impaired” by heavy metals, pesticides and other pollutants.
“We have to have clean water and this measure will ensure that,” Small said.
The county Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal backed by several environmental organizations in 2012 for a county parcel tax that would have funded stormwater programs, including infrastructure for coastal cities to combat runoff pollution.
Sahli-Wells said while it is everyone’s job to stay informed about the importance of water pollution, it is up to government leaders to protect their citizens as best they can. “We have to take action,” she said of the ballot measure. “The question is: do you find a way to pay to have good water quality or do you put your head in the sand and pretend that it’s not a problem and wish that it goes away?”
Gary Walker contributed to this story.