Laguna Beach City Council’s unanimous vote makes the city Orange County’s first and Southern California’s second city to put a moratorium on new pool construction.
LAGUNA BEACH – City officials on Tuesday agreed to halt new pool construction for at least 45 days, with plans to reconsider the issue next month to make the ban stick until the state’s emergency drought declaration is lifted.
The City Council’s unanimous vote makes Laguna Beach the first city in Southern California to put a moratorium on new pool construction. City officials in Milpitas, a city between San Jose and Fremont, banned all new pool construction by passing an emergency ordinance in June.
“We put a moratorium on all new pool construction until the drought is over,” Milpitas City Manager Tom Williams said. “If there are existing projects, we will allow them to go through.”
Williams said two applicants in the city so badly wanted to have pools that they proposed importing water from Washington or Colorado. Likely, the Milpitas City Council will reject that idea, he said.
Two other cities – Santa Barbara and Malibu – considered the moratoriums earlier this year but decided not to go forward with plans. The city of West Sacramento on Wednesday was expected to reconsider an earlier prohibition on filling or refilling pools.
Laguna Beach’s decision was part of a larger discussion on ways to conserve water. Councilwoman Toni Iseman said a measure like stopping construction of new swimming pools – which in some cases take as much as 30,000 gallons to fill – is the “patriotic duty” of residents during California’s historic drought.
News of the vote spread quickly Wednesday and has pool and spa officials upset.
“We have sent letters to each council member and to the city manager, said Alex MacIlraith, a representative with the California Pool and Spa Association. “We’re very concerned. We haven’t seen another city we’re aware of that has passed a moratorium. People in the pool industry woke up Wednesday and suddenly learned they’re out of business.”
“We ask that you please reconsider this prohibition as it is unfair that the only industry being put out of business under current restrictions in Laguna Beach is the one that replaces a water-intensive turf landscape with a more water-efficient swimming pool,” the letter states.
Laguna Beach City Attorney Phil Kohn said that the seaside town may be the county’s first to stop construction but that other cities – through their water district regulations – effectively are saving water by prohibiting the filling or refilling of pools.
The South Coast Water District, which serves 40,000 residents in Dana Point, South Laguna Beach and parts of San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, in April banned filling or refilling of residential pools or spas. Violators can face fines of up to $500, district General Manager Andrew Brunhart said.
The state Water Resources Board has called for mandatory water reductions statewide by 25 percent. In Laguna Beach, which imports all of the water that its residents use, the two water districts that serve the city have mandated reductions.
The council’s vote put an immediate stop to new pool applications for 45 days, with plans to make the decision binding for a longer period at their first meeting in August.
City Manager John Pietig cautioned the council on making the decision too quickly, suggesting that some residents may already have approved applications for pools in the works.
There are 1,213 pools in Laguna Beach; 92 pools have been approved by the city’s Design Review Board since 2010. About 76 spas and water features also have been approved.
In addition to the pool moratorium, the council also adopted an urgency ordinance Tuesday allowing residents with city-approved landscape plans to change those to drought-resistant landscapes without new approvals.
The council also agreed to direct staff to draft an ordinance banning water fountains and other decorative water features unless they have nonpotable water-fill systems installed. They agreed to move forward with some beach renovation improvements including showers – but decided to not install shower fixtures until drought conditions improve.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow urged the council to work with both of the city’s water agencies to get them on parallel footing regarding use regulations. At present, Laguna Beach County Water District is at a Level 1 conservation rating and the South Coast Water District has tougher restrictions consistent with Level 2 use.
Iseman said it’s unconscionable for the city to allow new pool construction during the drought crisis. Building, but not filling, pools is not an option, she said, noting safety and health risks associated with empty or near-empty pools.
Iseman points to countywide efforts already in place to prevent water pooling in evaporating swimming pools that can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
“In this time where we are monitoring how we brush our teeth and making other sacrifices, people are not doing their patriotic duty in this time of crisis,” she said. “Laguna was named a water-wise community in a national contest. How can we claim the water-wise label and let pools appear in the drought?”
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