Directors Amoroso, Bertsch, McClellan, Siedman present. Director McClellan presiding.
3. Onsite Wastewater Disposal Systems
Proposed Septic Policy Revisions for the County of Marin’s Environmental Health Services (EHS) program. These Policy Revisions are intended to serve as guidance in interpreting the County’s existing ordinances and regulations for on-site wastewater systems (Marin County Regulations for Design, Construction and Repair of individual Sewage Disposal Systems, Section 304 and Marin County Code, Chapter 18).
Special Guests: Marin County EHS Chief Philip Smith
EPA Water Quality Liaison Rebecca Tuden
Supervisor Steve Kinsey opened with an outline of the history and intent of the proposed policy revisions. He explained that the County of Marin regulates wastewater systems under a waiver from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and is required to meet the RWQCB standards. In 1999 the Marin County Grand Jury found the County out of compliance with its own regulation requiring biennial septic inspections and ignorant of the location of the majority of the estimated ten thousand septic systems in Marin. In addition statewide septic standards are being developed (AB 885). A committee (SepTAC) was formed to come up with recommendations to improve the situation. The current Draft Framework Document is scheduled for approval by the Board of Supervisors in January 2003. The goals of the document are: to streamline and economize the permitting process, utilizing low-cost fixes, loans and grants, phased repairs and a simpler permitting process; to understand the overall septic situation by inventory and monitoring; and, ultimately, to legalize the lifestyles of the communities affected. Parties interested in the outcome include homeowners frustrated by onerous regulations, environmental organizations and the aquaculture industry. The County hopes, by having its regulations and policies in place before the statewide rules are released, that it will not be forced to make major changes. The Environmental Protection Agency is also developing its own regulations.
Director Kayfetz arrived at 7:48 p.m.
Environmental Health Services Chief, Phil Smith, explained that SepTAC consisted of 25 people representing the range of interested parties. The committee has been working for 15 months to create the current document. He stated that the County is moving away from the “central command and control” approach; that the watershed-wide overview is being included and that successful programs in other communities have been reviewed. While noting that the amnesty part of the DFD is the least developed, the direction of the recommendations is towards some type of septic maintenance management, based on ongoing, risk-based inspections, which preferably would be locally based and locally managed. Innovative technologies and simple resources have been considered, as a means of reducing costs, although the EHS doesn’t see itself as a Consumer Reports of alternative technologies. In 2001 a pilot program of risk-based inspections in Marshall produced favorable results. The new policy would allow homeowners to get permits for routine maintenance more easily. The next stage is to make changes affordable, through grants, loans and authorizing less expensive methods. Smith stated that the EHS should be concerned with public health, not used as a growth restriction tool.
Malcolm Ponder announced that his regulation mounded septic system carries an annual burden of permit fees, inspection fees and the granting of an easement to the County. He was told by Phil Smith that his easement would be returned and that EHS is looking at how to reduce the fees.
Director Kayfetz brought up the issue of the amnesty, pointing out that, as written, it covers only EHS fees; however it does not cover the unpaid planning and building fees for unpermitted building work on the property which could be reported by EHS inspectors. He noted that inspections by a local agency could create an uncomfortable situation within the community.
Planning Chief Alex Hinds said that amnesty should cover building fees, but basic safety issues such as electrical wiring would be important. Supervisor Kinsey said that County codes aren’t going to work in the community so there are challenges but he wants to make it work. He pointed out that fairness is an issue, when some homeowners go through all the proper channels but others evade them.
Director Kayfetz said that if BCPUD has to decide its position before the November 20 comment deadline, including agreeing to the principle of local jurisdiction, then the actual proposal needs to be clearer. Kinsey responded that the priority for the comment deadline is Section A, dealing with permitting.
Tom Williard pointed out that the DFD does not reflect what Kinsey, Hinds and Smith were saying and that the written material makes the burden on the homeowner more onerous. Smith stated that a lot of repairs were exempted from septic inspection. Concern was voiced over the scenario of inspections in the winter when the mesa is very wet, in part because there is insufficient drainage throughout the mesa. The stipulation that no part of the system be in contact with groundwater would condemn every system on the mesa in winter. Kinsey stated that this is an issue across the state and finding a way to address it, including defining the connection between groundwater and health is one of the challenges. Smith mentioned drip system technology as a possible solution.
Lloyd Kahn spoke of his place as the only homeowner representative on SepTAC. He stated that the standard mound system is a flawed technology, promoted by engineers in collusion with regulators, and that gravity systems work. He sees a trend to adopt unnecessary higher technology driven by financial gain. He claimed that inspections are unnecessary and said that he doesn’t believe health problems come from septic systems. Smith said that the possibility of repairs without engineers is being considered. He has asked his staff to come up with the simplest system that will meet regulations.
The question of property assessments being charged twice in the case of a home assessed with the value of illegal buildings on it at the time of purchase and then being reassessed as a result of the permit process needs to be addressed. Kinsey asked if only being able to benefit by staying outside the law would be a preferable option.
Jennifer Blackman was assured by Hinds that only Section A of the DFD was being submitted for approval by the Board of Supervisors. The rest of the document would only be alluded to. Blackman noted that although the repair and remodel standard are an improvement, those who wished to add sq. footage to a house of less that 1250 sq. feet would be worse off. Megan Matson said there should be a socio-economic report of the impact of the changes on the community.
A suggestion for a community-wide sewer system met with little enthusiasm.
After November 20 no more comments on Section A, the remodel regulations section of the DFD will be accepted but the document will be available for review after the comments have been received and before going to the January Board of Supervisors meeting. The public may attend that meeting.
Kinsey asked if the BCPUD is prepared to become a septic district. Director Kayfetz answered that its earlier attempt to do just that had not been approved by the RWQCB. The Board has not discussed the possibility in the present circumstances.
Hinds said composting systems would need to be evaluated by a certified environmental health professional and a demonstration model undertaken before they could be accepted. Paradise Valley was mentioned as a demonstration model. Jennie Pfeiffer asked if the ordinance permitting Paradise Valley could be expanded. Kinsey replied that if BCPUD takes on expanded responsibilities then it could work on designing a similar program with Hinds and his staff. It was noted that Stinson Beach has its own septic district.
In response to Director McClellan’s question Kinsey indicated that the County would be open to working with the community to improve the drainage situation on the mesa.
Kinsey said that the county does not accept anonymous calls but does keep the names of callers confidential in cases of reports of residents in violation of codes and permit requirements.
Bob Hunter asked for a commitment from Kinsey to not require full compliance so as to accommodate the need for affordable housing in the community. Kinsey replied that he would commit to that but that other means may have to be found.
Robert Mowry said the document was premature. Acceptable alternative systems should already have been identified and included in order to get the support of the community.
4. Community Expression
Director Amoroso proposed convening to formulate comments.