L.A. City Council Passes Plastic Bag Ban

On Wednesday, the Council unanimously approved a phase out ban of plastic bags citywide and a fee on paper bags. The approved ban initiates an environmental review that needs to commence prior to an ordinance being adopted and the ban becoming law. Under the ban, large stores would have 6 months to phase out plastic bags and the smaller retail stores would have 12 months. For the use of paper bags, retailers would be required to charge a 10-cent per bag one year after the ban. But first, City officials will take approximately 4-6 months to finish the environmental review. Additionally, the Council instructed the Bureau of Sanitation to begin an education and outreach effort to inform the public and encourage the use of reusable bags.

LADWP Reminds Customers to Conserve Water

Reduced Snowpack & Increased Water Use Call for Increased Conservation

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) today reminds customers that Mandatory Water Conservation remains in effect and urges customers to increase their water conservation efforts where possible.  Overall, water conservation in Los Angeles has been remarkable over the past five years, but recently customer use has been on the rise.

Since 2009, when Mandatory Water Conservation took effect, LADWP water customers have successfully reduced water consumption citywide by nearly 20%. Though overall water use continues to be significantly lower than it has in the past, water use in recent months has risen sharply since January. Year-to-year trends are more modest, but are still cause for concern with overall water use from July 2011 to March 2012, up nearly 3% when compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year. Single-family residential customers alone have demonstrated an increase in water use of more than 5% for the same period, while multi-family residential customers are up just over 1%.

LADWP urges all customers to keep saving water, and money, by continuing to abide by Mandatory Water Conservation measures put into effect in 2009.  Reducing water use is as simple as checking sprinkler timers, checking indoors for leaky faucets and toilets, and using a hose fitted with a shut-off nozzle when watering landscape or washing your car.

“In 2011, our customers reached a per capita water usage of 123 gallons daily – the lowest in Los Angeles in more than 40 years and the currently the lowest among any U.S. city with a population over one million,” said James McDaniel, Senior Assistant General Manager, LADWP Water System. “Still, even with this remarkable achievement, recently we’ve noticed water use on the rise and with temperatures climbing and summer coming, we’re asking our customers to once again take a look at their water use and see how they can use less.”

The recent uptick in water use this fiscal year is especially concerning following a dry winter and a below-normal snowpack this year. Dry years require increased purchases of expensive imported supplies from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to supplement Los Angeles’ water supply, resulting in higher costs for customers. LADWP customers can curb the impact of the dry winter by increasing water conservation efforts to reduce the city’s overall water demand and thereby reduce the amount of purchased water needed. Since LADWP customers pay only for water used, without any fixed water charges, any additional reduction in water use will result in direct savings on their water bills compared to what they would have paid without conservation.

In June 2009, the City of Los Angeles instituted Mandatory Water Conservation, which restricted outdoor watering and prohibited certain uses of water. The outdoor watering restrictions currently in effect allow customers to use sprinklers three days a week based on their street address. Customers whose address ends with an odd number – 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9 – are allowed to use sprinklers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Customers whose addresses end in even numbers – 0, 2, 4, 6, or 8 – are allowed to use sprinklers on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Watering with sprinklers is allowed before 9:00 a.m. and after 4:00 p.m. only, regardless of the watering day, for a maximum of eight minutes per station.

Mandatory Water Conservation also places restrictions on specific water uses, which also remain in effect. Restrictions include prohibiting customers from hosing down driveways and sidewalks, requiring all leaks to be fixed, and requiring customers to use hoses fitted with shut-off nozzles only, among other measures.

To assist customers in conserving water, LADWP offers numerous rebate programs and incentives for switching to water-efficient devices as well as tips for easy ways to reduce water use. Information on the water conservation rebates, as well comprehensive information on Mandatory Water Conservation, is available at www.ladwp.com or by calling 1-800-DIAL DWP.

State Law Could Make Cities/Counties Pay for Sidewalks

Meet AB 2231, a state bill that would hold cities and counties responsible for repairs to sidewalks that are damaged by trees planted by municipalities. It passed out of the Local Government Committee earlier this week. The League of California Cities, which opposes the bill, explains AB 2331 as follows: “This bill would require a city or county to repair any sidewalk that is damaged as a result of trees, and prohibits the local entity from imposing a fee on the property owner for the repair. The bill also shifts liability for trip and fall claims to the city.” The bill responds to recent efforts by the Los Angeles City Council to alleviate some of its budget deficit by transferring responsibility and liability for sidewalk repairs to homeowners (sidewalks were the responsibility of homeowners until 1973, when a federal grant inspired the city to take over). Earlier this week, the City Maven quotes the author of the bill, Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes, in a statement: “In Los Angeles, homeowners should not be forced to pay for maintenance when trees that they did not plant tear up their sidewalks.”

Since AB 2331 passed the Assembly Local Government Committee, the League of California Cities put out an online appeal for cities to oppose the bill, tagging it with a “Hot Bill” designation. The bill must still be approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee–the Judiciary Committee is expected to consider the bill on April 24.

LA Making It Easier to Put Solar on Rooftops and Parking Lots

Last week the Los Angeles City Council approved a solar zoning ordinance that will make it easier to build structures “solely to support solar energy systems” (like solar above parking lots or open spaces) around the city. The ordinance is the result of an effort launched by Councilmembers Ed Reyes and Eric Garcetti in October 2010 to streamline permitting for solar structures. Before the ordinance was created, Building and Safety, City Planning, Water and Power, and Los Angeles Fire, along with reps from the offices of Garcetti and Reyes, worked together to locate each of the inter- and intra-departmental processes in play for solar facilities. City Planner Deborah Kahen explained today “We’re trying to make the zoning code more helpful by making it less of an obstacle.” Before this ordinance, even handicap parking requirements got caught up in the zoning regulations, amounting to what Kahen describes as “a domino effect of regulations.”

Here are a few examples of what will be made possible under the new ordinance, including the installation of panels above heights limits determined by the zoning code:

  • Passageways and open spaces required in subdivisions “shall be open and unobstructed from ground to sky, except…Solar Structures that provide shade over the habitable area may cover up to 25% of the required open space.”
  • Reconfigured parking spaces: “The required width and length of a parking stall may be reduced to accommodate a structure solely supporting a solar energy system.”
  • Projecting Roof Structures: “In all zones, Solar Structures may exceed the roof surface by 3 feet even if the roof surface is at or above the allowable building height limit.”
  • Projecting Roof Structures (again): “Other than the R1 and more restrictive zones, solar structures built on a flat roof may exceed the roof surface by up to 15 feet even if the roof surface is at or above the allowable building height limit.”
  • Structures solely supporting solar energy systems not otherwise permitted: “A Zoning Administrator may, upon application, permit structures that solely support solar energy systems that deviate from any regulation in the zoning code, such as height, lot coverage, and location.”

As part of a citywide push to add solar power to the grid, the new ordinance follows closely on the heals of the feed-in tariff enacted in a pilot program passed by the City Council earlier this month (the timing of the two ordinances is not a coincidence). If you want to learn more about the new ordinance, the staff presentation made to the City Planning Commission in October 2011 is available online.