Thar She Blows: A Great Idea Rises at City Hall. Fetch the Harpoons.

Categories: Schutze

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Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. A huge idea turned up at City Hall yesterday. Huge. This is like a Blue whale beaching itself on the banks of the Trinity River. I'm afraid City Hall is going to send a crew out there and chop it into cat-food. We need to stop and take a big look at this big blue thing.

Council members Angela Hunt and Scott Griggs posed the idea of charging property-owners and developers for the amount of new flooding they cause. Specifically, they say we should raise "storm-water runoff" fees instead of what we do now.

What do we do now? Look at Uptown. Developers were allowed to run rampant over that whole part of the inner city, paving every inch of soil they could see so that no water can soak into the earth the way it's supposed to. Now all the rain that falls in that area is flood water, and we're about to get stuck for hundreds of millions of dollars to build new sewers to take care of it.

But let's not talk about the past. People did what they did. It was the way it was. Nobody was trying to kill anybody.

The concept Griggs and Hunt brought forward is one that's catching fire all over the country. We now have all kinds of construction technology, from green rooftops to permeable parking lots, that will allow rainwater to soak in, cutting way back on runoff. So the concept is not that we go out and order everybody by fiat to use those techniques. It's this:

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City Hall rolls out the welcome matt for a whale of an idea.
We say, "Look, if you don't use the new techniques to cut back on runoff, and if you pave every inch the old-fashioned way, at some point in the not too distant future the taxpayers are going to get stuck for a huge bill to correct what you've done. The burden of putting in enormous new sewers for you is going to fall on everybody else.

"So we're going to charge you for that as you do it by imposing a fee based on the amount of new impervious surface you create. If you don't want to pay the fee, you can use the new techniques and not give us a headache down the road."

Is this some new hippie wacko idea? No, listen: I did a really quick check this morning, and this same idea is in some stage between debate and enactment in Waterloo, Iowa; Edmond and Norman, Oklahoma; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Baltimore, Maryland; Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia; Springfield, Tennessee; Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh and Grove City, Pennsylvania; Algoma, Wisconsin; LaGrange, Kentucky; Bozeman, Montana; Burbank, Washington; Boise, Idaho; Jackson, Michigan; and, if experience is my guide, a ton of places I missed.

Why the national push? Part of it, frankly, comes from the EPA. There are statutes under which municipalities can be and have been fined for not doing enough about runoff. But that's way at the low end of motivation.

The big stick is simple inevitability. Flooding is one of those enormous costs that will kill development in cities that fail to get it under control. You can only heap new bond issues on the taxpayers so long -- while you let their streets and parks go to hell -- in order to pay for this stuff. Some day that well will run dry.

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Someone's going to have to pay for this mess.
It makes so much more sense to plan ahead and try to keep these huge new obligations as low as you can. That's what this is. It's planning ahead and making sure we're not creating a situation where the roof will fall on our heads someday.

Mayor Mike Rawlings and council member Ann Margolin said at yesterday's City Council meeting they were worried about new taxes and retroactively changing the deal on property-owners who developed their land under a set of rules at a given point in time. Both very fair points.

But there are different ways to look at it. Property-owners citywide are about to get hit with a whole new tax to pay off the bonds for the storm sewers needed under Uptown. When I bought my house, nobody told me I was going to have to pay to bail out a bunch of new development that isn't able to pay its own way.

Changing the rules mid-game is a legitimate concern. But are there not ways to do this that would grandfather in landowners who built under the old rules while applying new rules to new development?

There's got to be formula. Getting to it will require everybody to maintain basic respect for everybody else's issues. But Hunt said something yesterday that was spine-tinglingly major: She called this new idea "huge" and "a paradigm shift."

She's so right. You know what? This isn't just about storm water. It's about using the marketplace to price the environment. It's a principle that should apply to everything from air to noise to line of sight.

We need to stop pretending we can create a decent place to live and work using the old police-power model, sending the EPA out with its wet noodle of a stick to admonish everybody. We need to say, "Look, there are costs here. Real costs we can measure. And there are benefits. Here's the algorithm. Let's look at you. 'Oh, man, you're so neat, we owe you money.' Or, 'Man, you're so burdensome, you owe us money.'"

We can't just keep pushing it forward. That's not a road to success for anybody. Hunt's right. This idea is huge. That's a blue whale that showed up down there yesterday. It ain't cat-food.


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28 comments
Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

Yet another tax/fee!  Each year another fee.   I have a brain storm!   How about responsible spending!  How about living within your means!  How about getting off those abatements they keep granting to developers!    After all Dallas is owned by developers several city officials have told me in the past.  To think of all the projects that the city has trumpeted and failed miserably in managing in opening and cost.   The white water rafting,  The water department billing system etc.    And in the past several years after busting buns trying to balance the budget the city council and staff go on a spending spree that shows the short lived memory of the pain the budget balancing process was.   Major adult attention deficit disorder with tax dollars.

Warren Peace
Warren Peace

I like the fact that the tax (and it is a tax, fee is just a nicer synonym) the tax is tied to the behavior that creates the expense.  More pavement, more runoff, more stormwater management expenses.  So tax the creation of pavement that creates the expense.  I dislike all these taxes that end up paying for unrelated things: phone taxes, gas taxes, hotel taxes, car rental taxes.  It distorts the marketplace and obscures the actual cost of the things they pay for.

dallasmay
dallasmay

This bond program spends $300-$400 Million on one project. And guess what, that project already has a engineering designer and contractor. Hmm, I wonder who it is?      It's Halff and Associates, the largest engineering and contracting firm in the metroplex. When was the bidding process?      There wasn't one. So, if $300-$400M is going to one company, and $50M is going to street repaving, what will happen to all of the other, smaller, local engineering and construction firms in Dallas?      They won't survive, and that's the point.

Bob Loblaw
Bob Loblaw

Why isn't the money the City currently collects in property taxes enough to pay for this fundamental job?  Flooding isn't new and it's always been the City's job to handle it. Why is that suddenly insufficient?  And why does no one ever ask this basic question? 

Replay
Replay

Is the problem being caused by those bad, bad developers building too much impervious surface (those bad guys just love to spend lots and lots of money creating these stormwater runoff problems), or is it because the City has not maintaned its storm sewer systems adequately? I'm guessing both are at fault.

The Hunt/Griggs idea is very progressive, but the City's (Neanderthal) Development Code is far from it. Do you really think that people want to spend the money to build all of those impervious parking areas? No, they are forced to do it because the City's rules force them to do it. So, before anyone starts assessing any higher fees, some consideration needs to be given to what really caused the problem. And, some very serious action needs to be taken to amend the Development Code so that it is "state of the art" to match the progressive fee structures being discussed.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

I still don't get why people in this region haven't become more responsible for their actions when it comes to water management. Look at Austin/SA as an example of how to properly manage both water and storm flow. Dallas is the type of city whom just doesn't  seem to "get it" when it comes to proper enviro. mgmt. 

Also, a question to pose to our city/county leaders, when it comes to adding "storm water"-reducing measures for new/existing homes (i.e rain barrels, ect..) are there any tax breaks/refunds that can be had? Reason I ask is due to the fact many cities/counties around this fine country of ours offer rebates for being green. 

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

Another issue, well recognized by Jim S in canoe trips is resulting scour of our local creeks. Neighborhoods already see the effect of erosion and the loss of old trees, because the increased volume and velocity of waters from runoff. Paving Paradise and putting up a parking lot has a cost. Its just a question of who pays. 

Amy S
Amy S

We all end up paying more for the police-power model, with far less success. Next thing you know, the budget has to be met and half the "police" are cut to pay for the real police.

G_David
G_David

I don't know man, this doesn't sound very bidness friendly.  And we're all about that here in Texas.  Besides, when Rick Perry is president, we won't even have the EPA anymore.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Will it affect the horse park? That question must be addressed first!

cp
cp

Sorry, Jim. None of those cities you listed above are "world class" cities. Therefore, Dallas will not enact this, not unless, oh say, Portland does. 

RC
RC

 Mayor Mike Rawlings and council member Ann Margolin said at yesterday's City Council meeting they were worried about new taxes and retroactively changing the deal on property-owners who developed their land under a set of rules at a given point in time.

So are we talking about residential property owners or business property owners? I find it interesting that both Margolin and Rawlings did a 'tag team whoa baby' on this topic.The bottom line: the more concrete you pour, the more you gotta pay or show us your rain barrel system.

I was watching this meeting online yesterday and saw how Griggs began to tell the horseshoe about how many millions it's going to cost the city until 2030 to control our water issues. LOL!It was dead silent except for the sound of Suhm's fingernails digging into the table.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

I think A  program at Arcadia Park Library was funded by Storm water fees .

And Jim Wouldn't this just be something else that could be Negotiated or exempted away like taxes already are for New Construction ? 

MarkS
MarkS

Doesn't the City of Dallas already charge a variable stormwater drainage fee based on the amount of impermeable surface area non-residential properties have?

http://www.dallascityhall.com/...

Parisrec
Parisrec

Hey jim,  apropos of nothing--have you read Menken's biography " Menken  The American Iconoclast " by Marion Rogers? Cool book, cool guy!

Replay
Replay

City Hall..............predictable...........they have their "go-tos".

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

Because it doesn't make us "world class".

Bob
Bob

We should dig stormwater ditches like Phoenix, the next American city to be abandon.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Luckily the past few months showed us that when will be never.

JimS
JimS

Well, as far as this "dressage" thing is concerned, I think there are some areas where we need to stick with old-fashioned police-power. You have to think about kids walking by and being accidentally exposed top something.

Amy S
Amy S

Tying it just to concrete wouldn't be exactly fair. What if a developer decides to go "down" for their parking garage instead of "out", leaving the land available for public space. They shoudn't be penalized for a design that while using more concrete, would actually accomplish the goals.

JimS
JimS

Yes, the algorithm has to be smart in order to be fair. And it has to leave room for innovation. But maybe it can do that by measuring from a certain bottom line. Here's the amount of runoff your property produces as-is. Now what effect are ou going to have on that level?  If we do that and don't tie people's hands too much about how they get there, we actually create an incentive for innovation.

Replay
Replay

The horse is already out in the pasture. It's a little late to close the barn door!

No, in order to raise the kind of money they're talking about. They will have to retroactively increase fees on all of the offenders. I see a lawsuit coming, since the largest offenders will be able to show, in court, that they only did what the City's Development Code required them to do.

The Hunt/Griggs proposal would have been really smart..........if it had been implemented about 20 or more years ago.

Alfredo
Alfredo

JS, let's go over to our area of town and the inadequate Mill Creek.  How's one more parking lot on Gaston or another building in the Baylor complex storm sewer fees going to help upgrade Mill Creek.  Besides the city would probably use the money somewhere else anyway.  This concept works well in new developments or say in Allen of Fairview.  Try putting it in south Dallas and any new development planned and you will get a repeat of the Walmart vs the tree preservationists fight of a couple of months ago.

Along with most Hunt and Griggs ideas it's great in theory and woeful short of reality.

Besides, I would think streets and higways are the biggest scource of runoff.

Replay
Replay

Great idea going forward, but how do you fairly deal with the problem as it now appears in the rear view mirror? This is what happens when City leadership "reacts" to a problem vs. "anticipating" a problem, and putting a plan in place to avert the problem before it develops.

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