Storm water bill could clear way to voters’ wallets

With aging storm water systems a major concern for a number of Peninsula cities, local officials spoke on behalf of a proposal in Sacramento that would make it easier to secure funding for the systems.

Millbrae Councilwoman Gina Papan and Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel spoke Wednesday on behalf of Senate Constitutional Amendment 12, authored by senators Leland Yee, D-San Mateo/San Francisco, and Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch.

The constitutional amendment would allow local agencies to assess fees for storm water like they do for garbage, sewer and water treatment.The amendment passed a Senate committee and heads to the full Senate for a later date.

If it passes both houses of the legislature, the amendment would head to voters as a state proposition in the November election.

Categorizing storm water as a utility would facilitate the passage of bonds to fund improvements to such systems. Bond measures for storm water systems require a two-thirds majority, considered a difficult benchmark to reach, whereas bond measures for utilities only require a simple majority, Papan said.

A number of Peninsula cities, including Millbrae and Burlingame, have identified storm water system improvements as a high priority. Papan said she has seen flooding become worse in the winter months, as the city mulls over ways to fund an outstanding $10 million in storm water system needs.

Last year, Burlingame voters failed to pass a $44 million bond measure meant to secure funding for storm system improvements and upgrade other city facilities. A coalition of homeowners — many of whom said the tax structure of the bond unfairly hit new homeowners — came out against the measure.

Even if a statewide proposition passed in November, Papan said Millbrae officials likely wouldn’t go for a bond issue for storm water drains in 2008, saying that it wouldn’t allow enough time to educate voters on the issue.

“We’ve been getting flooding every winter,” Papan said. “The chances of it creating damage to El Camino [Real] or [Highway] 101 are increasing and we don’t want to let it get out of control.”

tramroop@examiner.com

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