Regarding Realtors Concern with Ukiah Ordinance

Dear Eric,
As you know, I helped negotiate the sewer lateral inspection ordinance, and hope to negotiate many more of them. I certainly respect Mary Grace Pawson, and Cathy Hayes, however the real estate foot draggers have no case and are just trying to delay and throw up a study and weaken the ordinance. They have no reasonable excuses for attempting to obstruct this obviously needed ordinance.

The ordinance will not interfere with the supply or demand for housing in any measurable way. It will not interfere with the timing of a sale. Compare its impact to something like the $70,000 permit costs for new home construction for low cost housing mitigation, and you see that a requirement to perform a several hundred dollar inspection is not a significant economic issue that Realtors should be worried about. What about the mold inspection, the termite inspection, title search etc? Why should a seller be allowed to sell a defective structure without disclosure of its most likely defects? I guess the real estate industry just wants to shield their buyers eyes from future problems. I thought that they were supposed to represent buyers interests also? Hiding a repair that might cost 5 thousand dollars is not in the interests of a buyer. It might be nice if they also represented the public interest ahead of expedient profit. Lateral inspection goes a long way to quickly correcting infiltration problems that are not being addressed in most communities.

Infiltration is responsible for a great deal of the raw sewerage overflows that contaminate our land, surface water and drinking water wells. It also provides a preferential pathway to contaminate large areas. For example a lateral connected to a drycleaner or leaking underground storage tank can follow such a preferential pathway to a drinking water well or stream or another sewer lateral. I’ve seen the floating rubbers and feces in storm drains in front of public schools caused by to much water in winter wet weather attributable to leaking laterals.

Some of our communities border on third world standards even though they have sophisticated treatment plants that are paid for with high sewer rates, and high connection fees. The Engineers love this because the typical response is the construction of ever bigger plants, and the need for winter discharges into our river, instead of reducing the flow to the existing treatment plants by the practical control of Infiltration at its source.

Infiltration from laterals represents one of the main reasons for very expensive sewer project expansions and ever increasing sewer rates. It feeds gentrification. It creates the need to increase capital and operating budgets. The excess water must be pumped with large horsepower pumps many times and treated with chemicals, aerators and other equipment making it a big green house gas contributor, and an ever increasing waste of ever increasingly expensive energy resources.

Realtors don’t even recognize their own self interest in this issue. Lower sewer rates are a selling point. An improvement to a home is a selling point. The value they add in helping the buyer and seller with this inspection issue provides greater justification for their commission. All they need to do is have an inspection scheduled and completed, just like the termite or septic pump inspection. This is an identical condition to that which is now already required for every home with a septic tank. The escrow can close in the same time period, with repairs accomplished with a bond that secures funds needed to accomplish those needed repairs.

The state is gong to require this in the near future in its NPDES permits, in order to be in compliance with the intentions of the Clean Water Act, as they should. River Watch has had to prod local municipalities that universally want this ordinance because Realtors coerce and threaten the local political officials. If homes turn over at 3% per year, then 1/3 of Infiltration can be repaired in 10 years instead of never. Imagine the increased capacity and reduced sewer rates that this provides existing communities.

Cathy’s concern that the lines are very deep is a red hearing. There are
technologies that slip line the lateral without excavation or damage to
landscape. These do not require digging in the street. It is most cost
efficient and creates a better repair to do the lateral from house to the
sewer main.

Bob Rawson

Holiday Greetings –
If you haven’t seen article, thought this would be of some interest.
Ukiah Daily Journal now archives online, complete copies of its
print edition for 2006.
Happy New Year, Eric

Sewer Law has Realtors Concerned
By KATIE MINTZ The Daily Journal
Ukiah Daily Journal
Article Last Updated:12/23/2006 09:42:29 AM PST

Beginning Jan. 17, the city of Ukiah will start to enforce part of an
ordinance that’s been on the books since 2004, according to City
Attorney David Rapport.

The Sewer Lateral Inspection Ordinance, required by a consent decree
in the settling of a lawsuit filed against the city by Northern
California River Watch, mandates that when any property with a sewer
hook-up is sold, the pipes — called the sewer lateral — that connect
the building to the city’s sewer main be inspected for leakage at the
point of sale.

City Manager Candace Horsley said the ordinance was drafted following
the filing of the suit that alleged raw sewage was being discharged
from the city’s collection system and infiltrating the Russian River.
However, because the original ordinance did not have much public
input, it was never effectively implemented by former Director of
Public Utilities Bernie Ziemianek.

Now, with the deadline for implementation set at Jan. 17, Rapport said
the city needs to comply with the consent decree.

But, while the consent decree also specifies that repair or
replacement of sewer laterals should proceed if a need is indicated by
an inspection, Rapport said it is not specific as to when the repairs
have to be made.

“We’re going to take some steps to inform the real estate community
that the city is going to expect at least the inspection to be
conducted for escrows that open on real estate transactions after Jan.
17,” Rapport said.

He noted that the city is working to amend its ordinance in a way that
makes repairs and replacements to the sewer laterals, which are the
sole responsibility of the property owner (including the portion that
lies beyond the owner’s property line in the public right-of-way),
more easily implemented and equitable to property owners.

On Wednesday, the Ukiah City Council heard a presentation from Mary
Grace Pawson of consulting engineer firm Winzler & Kelly. Pawson,
hired by the city to assist in revising and implementing the Sewer
Lateral Ordinance, has met several times with members of the real
estate community, plumbing contractors, two city councilmembers and
other interested parties to develop a list of issues and possible
alternatives to be taken into account in the ordinance’s revision.

The City Council, led by Councilman Doug Crane, who has been highly
involved with the working group, gave direction to Pawson based on the
10 issues presented.

Those issues included that a point-of-sale requirement for inspection
would not be as effective as one based geographically in reducing
infiltration and inflow, that repairs to the portion of the laterals
in the public right-of-way would be expensive and difficult to obtain
permits for, that point-of-sale requirements place new liability on
Realtors, that requirement for repair prior to final sale could slow
transactions and that re-inspections could be unnecessarily frequent
if the property quickly changes hands.

According to Kathy Hayes of the North Bay Association of Realtors, in
some areas of the city, sewer laterals can be buried as deep as 20
feet and cost from $12,000 to $15,000 to repair.

“We continue to be concerned about the process and concerned about the
impact to homeowners and to the real estate industry in Ukiah,” Hayes
said, addressing the council during public comment.

Many took issue with Ukiah’s policy that the entire lateral belongs to
property owner even beyond the line.

“I can understand going to the property line,” Sharron Hatfield of
Beverly Sanders Realty Co. said, “but let’s say there is a problem but
it’s not on the building side, it’s in the street — maybe there’s a
tree that belongs to the public…that’s gotten into the lateral. I
don’t think it’s fair to ask the property owners to pay for that.”

Pawson is expected to return to the council next year with more
information on the issue of ownership and with a refined ordinance for
possible approval.

Katie Mintz can be reached at