Redlands Water Police Working Nights & Early Mornings To Make Sure No Unauthorized Lawn Irrigation Takes Place

In a use of its municipal authority that has gone unheralded and unknown to the public except for those residents who have been stung by it, the City of Redlands has created what is called a water conservation code enforcement department that is hunting down water use scofflaws at all hours of the day and night.
The intention behind the new authority, city officials maintain, is to prevent the profligate use or squandering of water, an ever more precious commodity in the wake of global warming and recurrent California droughts.
Nevertheless, some residents say the city is overstepping its authority, and that City Hall has been misapplying a three decade-old ordinance or enforcing one that does not exist.
Moreover, questions have emerged as to where the city is getting the funding to pay overtime to code enforcement employees working after hours, particularly given that in order to make ends meet last year, the city engaged in a massive round of layoffs. Indeed, some residents have expressed the suspicion that the city has created the secret division as part of an effort to simply generate revenue.
Even more suspicious are anecdotal accounts holding that the lion’s share of those being rung up by the new division are older residents – meaning those primarily over the age of 70 – many of whom are living on fixed incomes and who do not have the means or the wherewithal to resist the financial penalties being imposed on them, whether the city’s action is legitimate or not.
It is relatively well established that the basis of the city’s action stems from the California drought that persisted from December 2011 to March 2017. What is less clear is what legislative or administrative basis there is for the city’s action.
Some, perhaps even many, Redlands residents are aware that those with odd numbered addresses are limited to watering their lawns on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, while those with even-numbered addresses are free to water their lawns on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Lawn watering is prohibited on Wednesdays. Among those in the know, it was recognized that during normal business hours Monday through Thursday some weeks and Monday through Friday alternating weeks, the city’s code enforcement division is on the lookout for those who violate that policy. Those found to be in violation of the regulation are given a warning on the first offense. Thereafter, a second violation will trigger a 25 percent surcharge on the offender’s entire water bill the next billing cycle. A third violation entails a 50 percent surcharge for unauthorized watering on homeowner’s water bill in the next billing cycle. A fourth violation brings a 75 percent surcharge on the next bill.
City officials are quick to point out that the surcharges are not fines, but simply fees to encourage compliance.
A difficulty is that in pursuing this water conservation program, the presumption of the city official monitoring resident water use is final, and there is no realistic appeals process.
The Sentinel is aware of at least one circumstance where the city, utilizing what it said was photographic evidence showing a resident watering on the wrong day, levied the surcharge. That photograph, however, was taken and cropped in such a way to alter the evidence, such that what could not be ascertained from the photo was that the resident was not watering a lawn but rather soaking the roots of a tree. There is an exception cut out in the city’s regulations for tree root irrigation.
More troubling still is that over the last several months, in both the winter and spring months of 2021, the city has been enforcing the day-of-the-week watering limitation, subjecting households city officials adjudged to have run afoul of the regulation to the subsequent surcharges. There is no authorization in the city’s code or ordinances going back nearly three decades for that action, however. The basis for those surcharges is predicated upon a 1991 Redlands ordinance that was passed in the aftermath of an earlier drought. That ordinance, in fact, makes clear that the weekday watering limitation applies only in the months of June through October. Thus, the city was misapplying its regulations, charging some residents a surcharge in recent months where there was no legal grounds for doing so.
This week, it was brought to the Sentinel’s attention that city employees are now working overtime, beginning at least as early as 7 p.m. and continuing to as late as 5 a.m., carrying out an assignment of driving about the city, looking to catch homeowners watering their laws on the wrong day or on Wednesday.
The Sentinel was unable to find any explicit authorization for those patrols nor any appropriation for the overtime pay this would entail, in any action by the city council going back to October.
In May of 2020, based upon the city finance department’s tallying of an $8 million shortfall in the 2019-20 fiscal year spending cycle ending June 30, 2020 and a prognostication that the city was to see a $15.7 million downturn in revenue in 2020-21, City Manager Charles Duggan was given authorization to lay off 52 city employees, 21 of those full-time and 31 part-time.
Residents are now questioning how the city now has the resources to pay overtime to those monitoring residential water use.
City officials were not available for comment.
-Mark Gutglueck

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