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Santa Barbara Looks to Reduce Sewage-Line Sticker Shock

City Water Czar Joshua Haggmark Outlines Some Ideas to Take Sting Off

City water czar Joshua Haggmark said City Hall is exploring ways to help city homeowners defray the sudden expense for major and often totally unexpected infrastructure work. | Credit: Paul Wellman File

At any time, hundreds of homeowners within Santa Barbara city limits are experiencing serious sticker shock over mandatory repairs they’re told they must make on the sewage laterals that connect their residential sewage lines to the city’s serpentine system of sewer mains. “Depending on what’s involved, the price can range from $2,500 to $15,000,” stated city water czar Joshua Haggmark. “It’s a big shock.”

At this Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Haggmark outlined some ideas to take the sting off. For example, he said City Hall has contracted with a specialist in such work; residents who choose to use this vendor, he said, would have the advantage of knowing the work would be done right and at City Hall–negotiated rates. Those rates could be cited by city residents who opt to negotiate with vendors of their own choice. Estimates for such work, he noted, vary drastically.

Haggmark said City Hall is exploring grants and low-interest and revolving loans to help defray the abrupt expense for sudden, major, and often totally unexpected infrastructure work. Likewise, he said the city hired a private consultant who suggested better communication strategies. Some critics have complained of interactions with city staff about such repairs being abrupt and unyielding.

In 2010, city planners estimated private property owners would be dealing with 75 faulty laterals a year. In 2012, City Hall began a program to have sewer mains inspected via closed-circuit TV, an industrial-grade colonoscopy that’s revealed there are now 850 faulty laterals, 500 of which are serious enough to require repairs. In response to a lawsuit over excessive sewage spills, City Hall now spends about $2 million a year on such repairs. Given that there are more miles of privately owned laterals ​— ​300 ​— ​than there are city-owned sewer mains ​— ​256 ​— ​Haggmark said it’s not unreasonable to expect private repairs to cost a similar amount.

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