More About Sewers

Dear Mayor and Council Members,

The City of Santa Barbara conducted a sewer lateral inspection on our residential rental property located on Paseo del Descanso. On January 11, 2019, we received notice we had a “broken or defective sewer lateral”. We were informed that we were to pay for and provide a televised inspection of the line from the house to the main sewer line within the next month or so. We called our plumber and informed him, and he complied with all the demands by the city. Because we had replaced the sewer line from the house to the property line several years ago, we were only required to repair the portion under the city street to the main line. The total cost of this project was over $7,500 including the city’s permit fees.

Just one month later, on February 15, we received another letter from the Public Works Department informing us that we were required to send video and make necessary repairs to our lateral hook up to our own residence on Paseo del Refugio, as well as the sewer line leading from our residence. Apparently while our neighbor across the street was going through this process, the city discovered that our line had “roots intruding into the lateral or City main”. Once again, we were given a specific date to provide the video and make necessary repairs, or face stiff fines. The work was conducted in accordance with the city’s demands to the tune of about $10,000 including the city’s permit fees.

This whole costly and unexpected process cost us a great deal of money, and it immediately brings to mind how difficult this must be for retired persons living on fixed incomes, or any other residents that don’t have a great deal of cash on hand to pay for such an expensive project.

I have developed a list of “bullet points” that I would like the city to explore, and provide answers. I apologize that this might be a somewhat lengthy list, but in the interest of those citizens that you serve, I think it should be noted:

The seemingly most obvious question is: Why is it that the property owner is responsible for lateral sewer line connection that is obviously buried under city property? Of course, it is the homeowner’s sewage that is leading to the lateral, but one would think that what is under city streets should be the responsibility of the city. Further, since the property owner is responsible, and is hiring a plumbing contractor that must be approved by the City of Santa Barbara, why is it that the city requires a different contractor to make the actual sewer connection to the main line, and charge an additional $925 permit fee when the approved plumber could have easily made the connection himself? And why should there be any city permit fees at all, when the City of Santa Barbara is requiring that the work be done in the first place?

It is apparent that the reason for the City’s inspection and repair program is due to the excessive amount of raw sewage that has been deposited into the ocean for many years. It is also understood that many citizens and environmental groups have taken cause with the city, consequently forcing the city to enforce compliance. There can be no argument that raw sewage is bad for ocean life and the health of our own residents. However, it appears that the City may not have been diligent in maintaining these lines for many years, and now we are all having to deal with costly repairs. Since neighboring cities like Carpinteria and even Goleta are not enforcing such requirements, why and who decided that the City of Santa Barbara should make the individual homeowner or property owner pay? I would be interesting in finding out if there exists an ordinance for this, and if public input was allowed prior to its enforcement.

When one drives down my street, there are a number of patches in the asphalt, and it is easy to see that just about every property owner has made lateral sewer line repairs over the course of the last decade. It would seem much more practical that if the city were to request bids to hire one low-bid contractor to make lateral sewer repairs to one whole block at a time. Wouldn’t that be much more efficient, less costly, and less intrusive to traffic and the neighborhood?

The typical sewage charge on our monthly water bill is around $35-$40. If there are about 16 lots in a typical city block, that would generate about $600 per month, to the City of Santa Barbara. Over a ten year period, that money to the city would be approximately $72,000. It appears that that money should be used toward the cost of these “once in a lifetime” lateral repairs to the city’s sewer line. After all, not all areas of the city are plagued by “orangeburg” or disconnects at the lateral line.

Here are a few more observations that I personally made during this process:

Inspectors scheduled meetings, and then didn’t show up, or “forgot.” Or they gave little notice to the plumbing contractor when they did come.

The counter clerk at the city desk, when asked to remove a back flush valve on the permit because it was unnecessary, asked the plumber why he felt he was authorized to make that call. He then suggested that maybe the gardener should make that call.

Final approval was held up until we filled out a form indicating that we had working smoke and CO2 monitors in our house. Understandably, the city is concerned over fire and CO2 gas issues, but has little to do with our sewer line.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Also, thank you for your service to the City of Santa Barbara, and its citizens.

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