Storm Drain Tax Off City Council Agenda for Now

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 09, 2006

A plan to put a $50-per-homeowner levy on the November ballot to upgrade the Berkeley’s 100-year-old storm drain system is water under the bridge, at least for now, says Councilmember Linda Maio. 

After meeting Wednesday morning with creeks and good government advocates, Maio said she’s convinced that “what we need is a much larger watershed plan and to build education around that plan.” 

Maio originally intended to ask the City Council next week to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to approve new taxes to upgrade the city’s sometimes failing system of storm drains, pipes and culverts. 

On Tuesday, with 69.3 percent voter approval, neighboring Albany passed a $96-per-homeowner tax to repair its street and fund storm drain infrastructure upgrades. 

After meeting with the group that included representatives from the League of Women Voters, Friends of Five Creeks and others, Maio decided to put the tax measure on hold for two years, giving her time to broaden and refine her concept. 

The goal of the more comprehensive measure will be not only to upgrade the infrastructure, but to filter storm water through the soil, reducing the volume as it hits the storm drain system—and when it does go into the system, it will be much cleaner.  

“In the end, we can do the job better and easier,” said Susan Schwartz of Friends of Five Creeks, among those meeting with Maio. “It’s a long-term fix to allow water to soak into the soil rather than filling the culverts and flooding west Berkeley.” 

Responsibility for better watershed management falls both to the homeowner and the city, Maio said, noting that homeowners should use permeable surfaces when building driveways or patios. 

In fact, at the Tuesday council meeting, she will introduce a resolution requiring that new and replacement driveways and parking spaces be made of permeable materials. 

Developers can reduce runoff into the storm water system by creating “green roofs,” where water is filtered through planters before going into the soil, Schwartz noted. 

It also may be possible, Schwartz said, for the city to build planted, below street level traffic circles and street medians that would catch rain runoff from the streets and filter it through the soil, before it gets to the storm water system. 

And Maio said she wants the city to explore using porous material to pave streets and sidewalks.  

Creative watershed projects are not waiting for Maio’s 2008 ballot measure. Friends of Five Creeks and the nonprofit Save the Bay are working on plans to open up Schoolhouse Creek where it emerges from a pipe at the foot of Gilman Street and runs into the Bay. 

At high tide the drainpipe is submerged and causes backup and flooding in West Berkeley. The project to daylight the mouth of the creek and create a salt marsh that would filter the water as it enters the Bay would be funded by state bond money, Schwartz said.