Measure W: Innovative Funding for Stormwater Projects

Sourcing funds for stormwater project implementation has been an ongoing issue in many areas of the country, particularly in California where state legislation restricted local government from developing taxes for such infrastructure. To address this significant funding need, Los Angeles County put forth a stormwater quality and supply driven funding initiative for voter approval. Last November, 69.5 percent of voters in the county approved Measure W, which created a special tax on impermeable surface within the Los Angeles County Flood Control District (LACFCD). The $0.25-per-square-foot special tax will generate approximately $300 million annually to fund the Safe Clean Water Program.

The funds generated by this initiative will be distributed among the county’s cities and unincorporated areas for local use on capital programs and projects, as well as operations and maintenance. A portion will be earmarked, per approval of nine watershed area steering committees, for larger regional projects and programs to invest in stormwater capture and pollution reduction.

After a previous effort to implement a stormwater fee in 2013 was abandoned, Measure W’s approval by more than two-thirds of voters is considered a major achievement in developing stormwater capture, treatment, and reuse projects within Los Angeles County. Historically, more than 100 billion gallons of stormwater annually has gone untreated, carrying trash and contaminants to local waterways and the Pacific Ocean. The funding generated from the county’s special tax will help cities and unincorporated areas develop projects and programs for the collection, treatment, and reuse of stormwater, which will reduce runoff pollution and increase water supply. These projects and programs will also help local government comply with the Federal Clean Water Act and associated water quality regulations. Without this funding, such projects and programs are fiscally infeasible for many communities in the county. 

Taking a Thoughtful Approach

Woodard & Curran helped Los Angeles County Public Works (LACPW) and LACFCD develop methods and model potential scenarios to determine the best initiative to put before county voters. We worked closely with the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor to integrate parcel, land use, and coverage data to determine the tax value for more than two million parcels within the county. By using GIS and other data sources, we were able to provide scenario reporting to estimate overall revenue potential, municipal return on investment, aggregated major landowner impacts, and provide a sensitivity analysis to anticipate the effects potential tax modifications would have in order to meet programmatic needs and ensure the proposed tax put forth to voters would be approved. 

The success of Measure W was largely dependent upon a concerted effort and collaboration between local agencies and a suite of environmental, business, rate-payer, and community advocacy groups. Through the modeling process, we successfully helped the county staff understand potential taxation impacts to better conduct outreach and modify strategies to meet voter satisfaction. As a result, Woodard & Curran developed a new model database and interface, which can be applied to multiple projects and aid other government entities with similar funding initiatives.  

Creating an Annual Funding Source Model 

Measure W establishes a reliable ongoing source of funding to help project implementation and future operations and maintenance in the country’s most populous county. This could serve as a model for other local and regional governments seeking a consistent funding source. 

A major step in the success of this initiative was the process used to determine the special parcel tax amount. The new model database developed by Woodard & Curran allows municipalities or utility districts to assess the tax per parcel in a designated region to achieve funding goals. This approach will provide a sustainable funding source for ongoing watershed maintenance, while being conscientious of the burden on rate payers. 


Persephene St. Charles National Practice Leader Water Resources

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