The Watershed Protection Ordinance
Have you heard about the Watershed Protection Ordinance that will soon be applied to all unincorporated areas of San Mateo County? The information below, put together by Emerald Hills Community Coalition, Friends for Fair Government, and Californians for Property Rights, will help you learn about the issue.
(Download here if you would rather print it out)
Recommendation for Immediate Withdrawal of Staff Proposal for Watershed Protection Ordinance
On 12/18/07, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to hold public outreach workshops and seek public input regarding the drafting of a Watershed Protection Ordinance. The intent of this new ordinance was to address the potential policy gaps identified in a 2001 Fishnet 4C study pertaining to actions that may impact steelhead and Coho salmon and their habitat (See Resolution dated 12/11/07 ).
It is the position of the Emerald Hills Community Coalition, Friends for Fair Government, and Californians for Property Rights that the Watershed Protection Ordinance being crafted by County staff should be immediately withdrawn from consideration by the Board of Supervisors because:
- The proposed Ordinance does not address the policy gaps identified in the 2001 Fishnet 4C study, but instead uses a one-size-fits-all, no-growth zoning code that currently exists in the Local Coastal Plan with no regulatory or scientific basis for applying it to Bayside residential hillside developments.
- The proposed Ordinance places an inappropriate, unnecessary, and inequitable financial burden on residential hillside property owners in unincorporated San Mateo County that would not substantially mitigate any perceived watershed protection issues.
Policy Gaps Identified in 2001 Fishnet 4C Study
Of the policy gaps identified in the 2001 Fishnet 4C Study, only two applied to non-coastal areas of San Mateo County:
- Designation of riparian corridors
- Sedimentation control policies
Designation of Riparian Corridors: This gap has already been filled by current regulations and needs no further policy changes.
Direction for conserving sensitive habitat is given in the General Plan’s Chapter 1 dealing with vegetative, water, fish and wildlife resources and is similar to that in the coastal zone. Buffer zones adjacent to sensitive habitats are to be established. Uses within buffer zones must be compatible with protection of habitat. However if no feasible alternative exists, land uses compatible with surrounding land uses are permitted in the buffer zone. The general plan directs the county to establish performance criteria and development standards which prevent or mitigate impacts to sensitive habitats (GP-1.32). Current San Mateo County Zoning codes establishes Resource Management Districts and (6325.2) requires supplemental review for proposed projects within those areas. The criteria for review prohibit significant reduction of primary habitat areas, change in ecological characteristics, and development in spawning and nesting areas. In addition, the ordinance states that watersheds whose streams are used for fish spawning and nurseries should be managed to maintain stream flow for fish.
Sedimentation Control: This gap was identified as applying ONLY to County Public Works projects and was not to be applied to residential hillside development because sufficient regulations already exist to address this concern.
The Fishnet4C study did not recommend restrictions for hillside development. In fact, the study acknowledged that the County already adequately regulates grading and erosion in private residential projects . The report did identify a “policy gap” for sedimentation and erosion, but this policy gap pertained to a lack of controls for the County’s public projects, not private development.
“The county’s excavating, grading, filling and clearing ordinance covers only private projects. The Draft Performance Standards for Rural Roads covers only public road projects. There may be county sponsored projects that are not covered by the performance standards for rural roads and would not need to get a grading permit, and therefore might not include erosion control plans in the project.”
In their 2002 Report on the Evaluation of San Mateo County’s Stormwater Program by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the County was recognized for implementing strong erosion and sediment controls in private projects such as single family residential development as follows:
“The County requires erosion and sediment controls for virtually all sites that require a building permit. As a standard condition of approval, the County requires applicants to submit an erosion and sediment control plan for review and approval by the Planning Division prior to issuance of a building permit. In addition, the County attaches a one-page brochure on construction pollution prevention BMPs to project plans. The erosion and sediment control plan is required regardless of the amount of disturbed acreage for the project.”
Need to Comply with State and Federal Requirements
County staff have told community members they believe the County has to implement additional regulations on residential hillside development as a requirement from state and federal regulatory bodies because of concern over agricultural pollutants such as diazanon (organophosphates) and sedimentation caused from hillside development. This is not true.
San Mateo County’s Urban Runoff Program is a requirement stemming from the County’s participation as a co-permittee in the regional National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Stormwater Permit. The Regional Water Quality Control Board issues the NPDES Permit through regulation with the State (Cal EPA) and Federal government (USEPA). The regional NPDES Permit is in the process of being renewed and a Tentative Order detailing the proposed new requirements has been released with a planned implementation date of July 1, 2008.
It is important to note that the current NPDES Permit and the Tentative Order for the revised permit do not require the measures County staff have proposed to regulate single family residential development on hillside lots. Further, although the NPDES Permit (Section C3) contains requirements for new development involving 10,000 feet of impervious surface, it specifically exempts single family residences.
In addition, Stanford University recently completed a 5-year study that shows the San Franciscito Creek and its surrounding watershed has no, zero, detectable levels of diazanon or any other organophosphate pollutant. So the answer to the question being posed by County staff “What new regulations do we need to protect the San Franciscito Watershed?” is “ None – the ones we have are already doing it!”.
The draft Watershed Protection Ordinance being crafted by County staff and presented to the public for comments would:
- Impose stringent regulations on any development, including single family residences, in unincorporated San Mateo County, that are on a slope of 10% or greater irrespective of proximity to creeks or streams, i.e., nearly all of Emerald Hills, Palomar Park, Devonshire Oaks, Ladera Oaks, etc. etc.
- Require discretionary permits subject to environmental review for properties on slopes greater than 30%, again irrespective of their proximity to creeks or streams
- Prohibit development for properties on slopes greater than 50%
- Require up to 100 feet of setback for permitted building near any creek or stream
- NOT APPLY TO ANY PROPERTIES in any incorporated areas of the County, i.e., Redwood City, San Carlos, Woodside, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, San Mateo, Belmont, etc. etc. etc.
Clearly, County staff has failed in its service to the Board of Supervisors in this effort because they have not:
- Shown how the proposed new regulations to restrict new single family residences or home remodels on sloped lots directly benefits steelhead and Coho salmon
- Evaluated the cost burden of these regulations on property owners although they admit it could create unbuildable parcels after the fact
- Demonstrated how the current controls on sediment and erosion pertaining to private development are insufficient even though local, state, and federal regulatory agencies say that they are.
In summary, the Supervisors should direct the County Manager to immediately withdraw the currently proposed Watershed Protection Ordinance because it does not do the job the Supervisors requested, i.e., address identified policy gaps for watershed protection and because it would irreparably and unnecessarily harm constituents who are residential hillside property owners.