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Council Green Lights Food Recycling, Stormwater Project

By Vincent Nguyen
and Jessica Doherty
The Review

The South Pasadena City Council earlier this month approved staff recommendations on two agenda items involving organic waste recycling and a stormwater project.
At the forefront of both initiatives was Public Works Director Ted Gerber, who outlined the proposals to the Council.
First up was the Huntington Drive Regional Green Street Stormwater project. Councilmembers unanimously approved staff recommendation to explore the feasibility of constructing a stormwater project along Huntington Drive.
City staff at the Dec. 6 Council meeting sought approval for environmental, geotechnical and preliminary design reports for the Huntington Drive project.
The Council previously approved three task orders in July 2022, but after the city was rejected for state and federal funding, staff requested approval on Dec. 6 to further explore the feasibility of stormwater construction in order to present a developmental plan for public funding.
Gerber said the goal of the stormwater project will fulfill requirements established in the federal Clean Water Act, which requires states to prepare a list of water bodies that do not meet water quality standards and establish pollutant load allocations for each of those water bodies.
Staff recommended a tunneling project to get the city’s stormwater system to meet requirements, according to Gerber. The process will capture dry weather runoff, which is irrigation overflow or any other events that occur during dry or summer weather, or wet weather runoff during rain events.
“This is a project that has been developed over a number of years to incite compliance for the city and also increase water reuse and infiltration,” Gerber said.
The targeted portion of the city is the horizontal part of Huntington Drive, which Gerber said is the “subwatershed” staff is concerned about, covering 717 acres.
The city had applied for multiple funding sources for the project, both locally through the LA County Safe Clean Water Program (or Measure W) and the Metropolitan Water District Stormwater for Recharge Pilot Program. Staff also applied for federal grants through the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART Drought Response Program, and state funds through Prop 1. The city was rejected for all funding sources except by the water district, which sought a small percentage for the construction of the project.
Gerber added the city was rejected because staff did not provide a more comprehensive project development plan, which is also the case for other municipalities.
“They are prioritizing applications that have developed their work,” Gerber said. “They’ve done their environmental review. They’ve done some of the design. They’ve completed their geotechnical. And that’s exactly what we’re proposing to do tonight – is to utilize some of the funding that we are suppose to be using for this type of work in order to develop our proposals much more, so we can apply for the $10-million-plus that it would take in construction funding to build a project like this.”
Local funding from the county is a key part in city staff’s recommendation. Gerber said the majority of the funding comes from Measure W. The city is supposed to use 70% for new projects, but is only using some of the funding for some projects and regular stormwater maintenance.
The city is not building the project, Gerber added. Staff is completing the initial studies to evaluate the feasibility of the project to allow the city to apply for funding and maybe one day build the project.
“It would be many years off,” he said.
City staff’s goal is to at least comply with stormwater requirements by providing preliminary environmental, geotechnical and preliminary design reports, and Gerber acknowledged that some construction projects may succeed or fail. Many stormwater projects would be spread out as well, with some developmental plans nearing completion.
“It’s worthwhile for us to try to explore these,” Gerber said.
The environmental and geotechnical reports would help support the feasibility of the construction efforts, Gerber added.
“We’re not sure of its engineering feasibility, but we need to explore that because, if it is feasible, it would meet the city’s needs in a very big way,” Mayor Jon Primuth said.
Gerber said three vendors have been selected and will work as a team to create tunnels that would capture and recycle stormwater.
The city in 2022 approved three task orders under an existing Master On-Call Professional Services agreement with three agencies: Ultrasystems, which will provide an environmental initial study for the project in the amount of $86,298; Ninyo & Moore, which will be in charge of providing the geotechnical evaluation of the project in the amount of $116,952; and SEITec, Inc., which will provide funding application support and a preliminary design report at the cost of $132,634.
According to Gerber, a large portion of the city drains through the Marengo-Huntington intersection. Most of the city’s drain infrastructure converges at that one intersection. Other large storm drains in the city are located on Fair Oaks Avenue and Wayne Avenue.
“As far as the location opportunity to bring all this water in one place to do something with it, it’s a fantastic opportunity just because of the way things are configured,” Gerber said.
Staff’s proposal would focus on tunneling and workers would target the median along Huntington Drive. The proposal would dig up the median, remove the trees and create a large surface construction project down the middle of Huntington.
Primuth asked if the multimillion-dollar cost could be used elsewhere, to which Gerber acknowledged the hefty price tag, but suggested staff’s proposal would be better since workers would not excavate a linear pathway.

With state funding available to move forward with regulations set forth by state Senate Bill 1383, the city staff sought Council direction on how to utilize the two rounds of grants.
The city already received the first round of funding — about $37,000 — but has not spent a dime yet. Gerber said staff was waiting for direction on how to implement regulations under SB 1383 alongside waste management group Athens Services. CalRecycle, the agency enforcing the senate bill, is ready to dispense the second round of funding, which is expected to be $75,000, Gerber said.
Under SB 1383, the city must begin to divert organic, green waste to organics recycling facilities, as well as implement food recovery programs where food generators like grocery stores are making sure their unused perishable foods are transported to food recovery organizations — giving food out to those less fortunate — among other requirements.
Staff recommended the Council to join other cities in utilizing the state funds.
The city has already joined the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments for the food recovery program, according to Gerber, and South Pasadena has partnered with neighboring cities, which has hired consultants to conduct inspection work. Consultants would go to grocery stores and food recovery organizations to ensure compliance for food recovery.
“It makes sense for us to continue partnering with the COG for that food recovery program, and we would work with the COG to determine what other benefits we can utilize the remaining $75,000 for,” Gerber said.
Given the city’s direction to stay the course with the current Athens Service model, staff recommended the city to use the rest of the first round of state funding to “some percentage” of kitchen pails — a container that residents can use to store organic waste until Athens picks it up for their waste collection.
Gerber said the initiative would focus on multifamily units, which he said would have difficulty separating into single-family home containers.
Cacciotti liked the idea of pails and suggested that staff funnel some of the funding, either from the first round or second round of state grants, to the Holy Family Church to help the organization move forward with the initiative.
“Since they’re really the ones that save us by taking a lot of Trader Joe’s or many other store’s food that they would have to take somewhere else outside the city,” Cacciotti said. “It provides a big benefit for South Pas. Rather than them taking from just the parishioners of the Holy Family, they can take from the city, too.”

First published in the December 22 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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