The Win-Win-Win Scenario for Paso Roble’s Stormwater Program, Regulators, and Developers. Off-Site Alternative Compliance Plan and Stormwater Project Financing on the Central Coast
Municipal stormwater program managers often struggle to resolve the competing expectations and misaligned incentives of developers and regulators, while trying to cost-effectively provide community improvements. Regulators require actions that translate to improved stormwater quality, accountability to post-construction requirements, and tracking of program progress and effectiveness. This is good for the environment but affects incentives to develop and adds increased administrative cost to municipal agencies. On the other side there is the pull from developers and advocates of affordable housing to cost-effectively build out urban areas and create denser development. This is good for community development, economic growth, and the homelessness crisis, but can be inefficient for providing city-wide multiple benefit improvements (e.g., flood management, community spaces, and environmental habitat) and places an administrative burden on stormwater programs to review, approve, verify, and track dozens to hundreds of private stormwater projects. The City of Paso Robles (City) sought a means of accomplishing these various desired outcomes for less cost.
The Paso Robles Watershed Plan (Plan) was developed to achieve this objective. The Plan establishes how regional multi-benefit off-site projects will be implemented to meet the Central Coast Post-Construction Requirements (PCRs) for runoff retention and peak flow management of future development projects, with more efficient program management. The Plan, which was reviewed by and responsive to Central Coast Regional Board requests, identifies public-benefitting stormwater projects that can be funded through a diverse set of financing tools, including an in-lieu fee element that allows developers to maximize their developable acreage and reduce their onsite O&M burden - creating a win-win-win outcome.
We will present the practical benefits of the Plan, the process and tools used to develop the Plan, and provide general guidance and practical lessons learned for other agencies to produce successful off-site compliance plans. To further engage the audience in the presentation, a google earth tour will provide an overview and highlights of the stormwater projects included in the Plan. We will specifically describe the three foundational pillars of an effective off-site compliance plan, which include:
1. identifying potential future development projects (especially noting those with potential space limitations for stormwater retention) and use of robust modeling that meets regulator expectations for quantifying mitigation “credits”;
2. identifying feasible, public-benefiting, grant-ready regional stormwater projects on public land through review of previous studies, new GIS screening, and mining local knowledge of City staff, and then prioritizing based on storage volume, cost, implementability, and multiple benefits (e.g., increased water supply, water quality improvements, trash capture, and DAC improvements); and
3. developing a crediting program that clearly and consistently tracks compliance efforts to ensure water quality is protected or enhanced while developing downtown spaces. We will highlight three options included in the City Plan: 1) in-lieu fee payments to support operation of the off-site mitigation projects and funding towards new projects, 2) a developer-driven credit trading that allows one developer to build an oversized mitigation project and then other developers to buy in to that project, and 3) City-developer swaps where developers build and maintain projects on adjacent City land.
By developing an off-site compliance plan built on these pillars, the City is envisioning a future with richer community development, while sustainably funding stormwater projects that provide multiple water quality and community benefits.