|CCT Editorial Calls on Richmond To Deal
March 9, 2006
The following editorial appeared in today’s Contra Costa Times. There are those in City Hall who would have you believe that the sewer problem is the fault of City employees who have already departed and that today’s new proactive administration is doing everything they can to clean up the mess at flank speed. This is simply not true. For example, the other sewer district with which we share our outfall (West County Wastewater District) has long since adopted ordinances that require backflow preventers for all residences, and they have an ordinance that requires lateral compliance inspections at the time of sale. They instituted a grant program whereby they will contribute up to $2,000 to homeowners who voluntarily replace their defective sewer laterals.
Why hasn’t Richmond done this? Ask the city attorney who recently asserted that only he can write ordinances. Ask your City Council members who apparently like the status quo and Richmond’s ponderous way of making progress (“The Richmond Way”). Ask those who are running for mayor why they haven’t provided the leadership to get this accomplished by now.
I rest my case.
Fix sewer lines now
IMAGINE COMING HOME one day to find your entire place swimming in raw sewage. Your most cherished possessions, things that can never be replaced, are ruined.
For the last 11 months, you, an 82-year-old woman, have been forced to live in a tacky hotel room while your attorney and the city's attorneys bickered over how much money you deserve.
That's exactly what's happened to Dorothy Nash from Richmond whose home got damaged last April when one of the city's main sewage lines backed up and fecal matter flooded through her toilet and pipes.
So far, taxpayers have shelled out $26,000 to temporarily house her. Although the Nash case is extreme, the city has paid out $500,000 every year for the last five years to settle sewage damage claims of some form. Richmond has one of the highest rate of sewage spills in the state.
A big part of the problem is an ancient infrastructure that is falling apart. In addition, Richmond's population has had a growth spurt in the last 30 years. The main sewage lines can no longer handle increased volume.
Sewage systems are complicated and cannot be replaced overnight. Yet there is no excuse for the snail's pace at which the city has addressed this recurring public health hazard.
The foot-dragging is unacceptable, especially given the city has been sitting on $20 million in bond money that voters approved for sewer upgrades in 1999. Why hasn't there been more progress in the last five years?
Things seem to be moving now, thanks to a lawsuit filed against the city by Baykeeper, an environmental protection organization, over the frequency of 100,000-plus gallon spills into San Francisco Bay.
True, the city did do some things right. Viola Water North American Operating Services was brought in two years ago to manage sewer lines and storm drains, and has done a better job than city workers did.
The company says it has inspected 94 percent of the city's 184 miles of sewer lines and will produce a master repair plan by October. Then, company officials say they will put the projects out to bid.
But why has it taken so long to get to this point?
The city missed it's November deadline for having a finalized plan, amid various excuses.
The bottom line is, no one made sewage collection a top priority. City Manager Bill Lindsay, who inherited the mess, agrees there's no excuse. The money was there, but as has been the case all to often in Richmond, nothing was done. Now, Lindsay says, things are moving forward.
But others like Councilman Tom Butt believe the city is still dragging its feet.
He wants the city council to pass an ordinance requiring mandatory inspections of the lines that link property to the main, city sewage lines, before any sale can occur. If those lateral lines, which are the financial responsibility of the property owner, need repairs, those would have to be done before the sale could go through.
That sounds like a worthwhile idea. When property owners don't maintain lateral lines, rainwater floods the ground and seeps into them, causing major headaches.
Why wait for a master plan to get started? Lines in older parts of the city are definitely going to have to be repaired or replaced.
In the meantime, it's time to settle Dorothy Nash's civil suit and cut the poor woman a check. She's been through enough trauma.