This is A big developing story . . .Some water access approved outside city limits

The Sonoma City Council this week amended its moratorium on water-service connections outside the city limits, in an initial test as to how city officials could maneuver within the tight constraints of its recently renewed Urban Growth Boundary.

The amendment now allows for the potential for future water service to public parks, schools or agricultural lands beyond Sonoma city limits. The change in policy also minimizes the number of properties outside the city limits eligible to receive city water, due to failing wells.

The amendments were necessary in order to establish consistency between the decades-old moratorium and the renewed Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), the city’s limit on new development outside the city limits. The City’s existing UGB was renewed for 20 years by voters in 2020 – but exceptions to water service connections didn’t align with those in the moratorium, which was first adopted in 1976.

The City Council on Monday approved the amendments 4-0.

Skeptics of the 20-year UGB renewal – or, Measure W on the November 2020 ballot – expressed concern during last year’s campaign that the growth boundary was too inflexible to satisfy legitimate development needs that might arise beyond the outskirts of town.

Vice Mayor Jack Ding, however, said at the Oct. 4 meeting that the council’s action demonstrated that the City could successfully deal with the various issues that conflict with the UGB as they come.

Ding said that, although the moratorium and UGB are technically different regulations, they are “definitely related.”

“(It’s an opportunity) for voters to see they made the right decision,” said Ding, a vocal supporter of the Measure W campaign.

Other exceptions to the City’s water moratorium and UGB include non-city properties whose owners have a contract with the City for water service, and those within the Thornsberry Assessment District, which comprises properties in the Thornsberry Road area whose water has been provided by the City of Sonoma since the 1970s.

Thornsberry residents are serviced by a water tank on a hill at Lovall Valley and Wood Valley roads, which is in turn supplied by a water tank and pump located at the end of East Napa Street. Thornsberry Assessment District residents pay a 15% surcharge for the City to maintain the added infrastructure in order to provide them water.

The moratorium amendment aimed at existing non-city properties with failing wells lowered the eligibility criteria for city water from parcels of 1.5 acres down to parcels of .25 acres. Those properties must also be near an existing City water main, and their owners must not own an adjacent parcel. According to Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson, only one request has qualified for and been approved for that exception: a .22-acre residential property near Denmark Street and Seventh Street East, whose well is dry and a drill rig can’t access the well for rehabilitation.

The property owner, who identified himself as Steve at the meeting, promised the council that he and his family will be “good stewards” of the City’s water and are employing such water-conservation efforts as installing water-efficient appliances and keeping only low-water plants.

“We have no intention to build or develop or do anything like that,” he said. “Simply, this is just to have water.”

Ding, meanwhile, voiced concern over the drought’s ongoing effect on wells.

“If this drought continues into the future maybe more residents will apply for City water because wells would be drier,” said Ding. “Do we potentially have this kind of number? Because groundwater is getting lower and lower.”

Ferguson, however, said the amended policy would result in there being only two properties outside the city limits that would meet the eligibility requirements to be granted the exception. “They are very small parcels that are already fully developed,” said Ferguson.