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Fines Start in Santa Monica for Customers Using Too Much Water

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 1, 2016 -- Customers using too much City water in Santa Monica as the drought worsens are about to face first-ever fines, officials said Monday.

Dean Kubani, the City’s Sustainability Manager, said about 150 customers failed to cut water by 20 percent, as required by the City of Santa Monica and the state of California to combat the drought -- now heading into its fifth year.

The water bills being mailed this week to Santa Monica customers will include fines of $250 for failing to meet the big cuts approved in June by the City Council.

Kubani said the bills go out in batches from this week through April.

Good news, though, for water scofflaws:

Offenders can get around the hit to their pocket books by either enrolling online in “Water School” or submitting to a water audit that outlines how to cut use, Kubani said.

Many of the offenders just barely missed meeting the required cut, Kubani said. But others haven’t taken any steps reduce use, despite the widely publicized conservation program and extras like rebates and the biggest incentive of all – financial penalties.

So now the City is focusing on them.

“They may be owners from out of state,” Kubani said, “and not paying attention or homeowners whose accountants are paying the bills.”

Over all, City officials have been cheered by the response to their “Water Shortage Response Plan,” which required the 20 percent cut starting in June and continuing until next October. The cut is based on how much water each customer used in 2013.

“The Santa Monica community has saved water at historic rates, month after month,” Kubani said.

Santa Monica City has about 18,000 customers. A total of 12,060 are residential customers, split between 4,320 single-family users and 7,740 multi-family customers.

The system also includes slightly more than 5,000 commercial customers and about 720 who fall into the miscellaneous category.

Kubani said those using too much water was “evenly spread between all customer types.”

Over-users were warned on previous bills of the problem, but not fined. Financial penalties start at $250.

Kubani said he thinks most customers will comply the first time. He said that has been the case in the City of Santa Cruz, which started a tough water-conservation program with fines in 2014 that was used as a model for Santa Monica.

Fines for repeat offenders subsequently move up to $500 and then $1,000, he added.

Financial penalties are the final stage of a multi-pronged campaign by the City to quickly and dramatically cut water usage. Santa Monica, like other water agencies throughout California, was mandated by the state to impose cuts to deal with what could be the worst drought in modern history in California.

Santa Monica’s program limits a single family household to a “water conservation threshold” of 22 hundred cubic feet per billing period and 11 hundred cubic feet per unit per billing period for apartment dwellers and other multi-family water customers, according to officials.

There are no water conservation thresholds for commercial customers because of large variations in water use by individual businesses, officials said.

Customers who exceed their limits three times in one year can be required to have a water audit by a licensed engineering firm, officials said.

Meanwhile, the city can require that a flow restrictor in the meter be installed and/or charge a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for customers who exceed their water limit seven or more times.

Kubani said the City’s online Water School is only for customers who have received their first penalty. He said it is similar to traffic schools. The same customers can use a consultant to provide an on-site water audit and water savings recommendations.

Customers who complete either can have their violation waives for a year, he said.

In addition, water users can apply for an adjustment to their water use limit if they demonstrate financial hardship, have a health or safety emergency or can prove they have done all they can but still can’t reach the 20 percent cut, Kubani said.

Residents in Santa Monica can also take other anti-drought steps encouraged by the City. It offers rebates for sustainable landscaping, free water-use consultants, and free low-flow fixtures. Thousands of customers also have taken advantage of financial aid for retrofits, like replacing turfgrass

Water use allowances are one of several water conservation tools implemented by the City, along with a suite of incentive programs including the Sustainable Landscape Rebate, free water use consultations, and free low-flow fixtures for Santa Monica water customers.

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