Sewers spur sprawl

A recent decision by the Sacramento County Regional Sanitation District board of directors to increase sewer hookup fees is sure to pinch the pocketbooks of area homeowners and businesses. But it may also encourage suburban sprawl.

The immediate effect will be the doubling of fees to start sewer service over the next three years, from $2,404 to $5,255 for a single-family home. But the long-term effect may be to discourage redevelopment of existing neighborhoods in the urban core, and exacerbate development on the suburban fringes.

Sanitation district staff had submitted a proposal to the board that would require lower hookup fees for “infill” development, or new building in established neighborhoods that are already close to existing sewer lines. But that proposal was rejected by the board, much to the dismay of area environmentalists, who believe the current system promotes sprawl.

“The rates should be designed to foster infill development. It makes no sense to charge the same fees to new growth areas,” said Earl Withycombe with the Environmental Council of Sacramento.

Under the current “postage stamp” fee structure, the same fee is levied on homes and businesses, whether they are in Midtown or the far reaches of suburban Folsom. This is one reason that suburban development enjoys a relative cost advantage over infill.

The district is also busy making plans for a web of new sewer lines that will serve areas that have not yet been approved for development, including sections north of North Natomas and south of Folsom, outside its current Urban Services Boundary.

District officials say this planning is necessary to anticipate future growth in the region, but critics say planning such lines will become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sprawl.

“We don’t think the district should be planning for any new growth in these areas until the county has gone through a general plan update,” said Withycombe.