The City of Santa Barbara has not replaced or rehabilitated as many sewer pipes as a legal settlement demanded, but officials say they’re still in compliance with the agreement.
In April 2011, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper sued the city over the number of sewer spills that had occurred, and the resulting agreement required the city to replace two miles of pipe annually, or spend $900,000 toward that effort, and reduce the overall number of “sanitary system overflows.”
The city is now required to report its progress and upcoming plans to Channelkeeper, and Tuesday’s presentation summarized that information.
Water Resources Manager Rebecca Bjork said the city was seeing an increase in spills per month, and was working to address that problem.
Most spills, they discovered, were maintenance-related and were caused by how and how often the city cleaned its pipes.
There were 20 spills in 2012, which Channelkeeper executive director Kira Redmond said was two over the allowed amount.
Bjork said four of the spills were caused by contractors and two of them were working on private construction projects, which was “beyond the feasible control of the city.”
As to rehabilitating or replacing pipeline, Bjork said, “We did not meet all of the requirements of the consent decree, but we are in compliance with the consent decree.”
The city spent its limit last year before the two miles of work was done, and the implementation of the new programs to reduce spills will take time, she added.
Redmond said her organization appreciates the extra work the city is doing to reduce its spill rates.
However, the city did “miss the mark” on the agreement’s most important parts: coming in below the standard of 18 spills per year, and replacing or rehabilitating two miles of pipeline, she said.
Channelkeeper also doesn’t believe that surveying time and resources can be counted into the $900,000 total for pipe replacement, and is “disappointed” that the city only replaced 1.02 miles of pipe in 2012.
Since the city is proposing to replace 2.13 miles of high-risk pipe this year, hopefully the rest of that shortfall will be made up in future years, she added.
Channelkeeper views this as a “violation” of the agreement, but Redmond said it won’t take the issue back to court, instead opting to work more cooperatively with the city.
Both entities share the goal of wanting cleaner water going forward, she said.
Mayor Helene Schneider said she was glad the situation was moving “from litigation mode to solutions mode.”
Earlier in the City Council meeting, Councilman Frank Hotchkiss asked about the highway safety improvement grants the city plans to use for five intersections, including Cabrillo Boulevard and Anacapa Street near Stearns Wharf.
The grant-funded projects were included in the city’s Capital Improvement Project report, which was approved unanimously.
City traffic engineer Derek Bailey proposes curb extensions to preserve on-street parking and help pedestrians get a better sight line with oncoming traffic. The project would coincide with the Cabrillo Boulevard bridge replacement that’s also planned, he said.
Accident rates there are “quite low” — four pedestrian-involved accidents in the last 10 years — but it qualifies for the grants.
The highest priority for the city is the State Street and Calle Palo Colorado intersection, which connects the San Roque neighborhood with MacKenzie Park, Bailey said. For that area, the city plans to install pedestrian flashers as it did on Milpas Street.
Councilman Bendy White said he doesn’t believe the pedestrian-activated flashers — installed on either sidewalk — are as effective as a three-light system with a pedestrian median in the middle of the street.
The city wanted to save more parking spaces and try out this system first, but, “I’d hate to see there be a bad accident there as a result of this test,” he said.