News - November 10, 2010

Atherton plans to adopt water-efficiency rules

by Renee Batti

The City Council is poised to adopt a new ordinance establishing water-efficiency landscaping standards for Atherton residences at its Nov. 17 meeting.

The council approved the first reading of the ordinance last month after a public hearing; a second reading is required for final approval.

The town has been working on the proposed ordinance since early this year, facing a December deadline to adopt the state's new stringent ordinance or come up with its own, "as long as it's as restrictive as the state's," Kathy Hughes Anderson, the town's arborist, told the council at its Oct. 20 meeting.

The proposed ordinance would affect new landscaping projects of 5,000 square feet or more of irrigated landscape area, when planning and/or building review is required. Lawns would be limited to 25 percent of the irrigated area unless the applicant chooses to develop a water budget.

Also, the ordinance would require that at least 80 percent of plants in non-turf areas be native or deemed low-water-use plants unless a water budget is developed.

The ordinance was crafted with the help of the town's General Plan Committee, which recommends that the council approve it. It is as effective and stringent as the state's model ordinance, "but simpler and easier to implement," according to the staff report.

Whether Atherton adopts the state's standards or an ordinance styled specifically for the town's needs, the changes add new levels of oversight by town staff and added steps for home builders seeking town permits.

The financial impact of the new standards for applicants will be in permit fees charged by the town, costs for developing a landscape project application, and costs of outside review for more complicated projects, such as those requiring a water budget, according to the staff report.

The town's fiscal impact will be from the additional staff time needed to inform the public about the standards, and for reviewing project checklists or contracting with an outside firm to review more complicated landscape plans, the report said.

One of the challenges that the staff and General Plan Committee faced was in creating standards that fit the needs of the town while not being too far out of line with rules adopted by other local jurisdictions. The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), which represents all water agencies in the Bay Area, developed its own version of water-efficiency standards, and asked local jurisdictions to adopt them instead of the state's ordinance.

Ms. Hughes Anderson said in the staff report that while Atherton's proposed ordinance is a modified version of BAWSCA's standards, it will be largely "consistent with other local jurisdictions, making it easier for the architects and contractors to decipher."

The Nov. 17 council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the town council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road in the Town Center.


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