BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
East Palo Alto City Council has decided it needs to sit down with the East Palo Alto Sanitary District in order to find out why it is holding up development projects in town.
Council’s decision comes after learning that it could potentially lose a $20 million state grant for low-income housing and transportation due to delays from the sewer district.
The council is worried about losing a grant to increase the number of low-income apartments in the Light Tree housing development at 1805 E. Bayshore Road. The sewer district needs to provide a letter saying it will serve the project by June 14 or the state will pull the grant.
The city has put $4 million into the project, and is a partial recipient of the $20 million grant the city received from the state.
The district has sparked ire from developers in town because it has raised the amount of fees it wants developers to pay in order to hook up to the system. The district says it needs to raise fees to update aging sewer lines, and it wants development to pay its own way.
The sewer district wants the Light Tree to pay $4 million in fees. It also wants Sobrato to pay $6 million in fees for its office and retail project behind the Chevron at University Ave. and Donohoe St. and wants $4 million from the Primary School, the school started by Dr. Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg’s wife.
General Manager Akin Okupe has told the Post previously that the high fees are because the large developments that have been approved by the city will overwhelm the city’s sewer system, so, new and larger pipes need to be brought in and it is against the law to make residents pay for the costs caused by new development.
However, Assistant City Manager Patrick Heisinger said that the developers have not been given an explanation about how the district came up with its high fees.
A further wedge between the city and district is that Okupe and board members say the city never told them about developments happening in the city. However, Heisinger said that it is state law that the city tell special districts such as the sewer district about developments.
The council decided to put Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones and councilman Larry Moody on a subcommittee that will try to meet with the sewer board’s own governance subcommittee to try to sort out the issue.
The district’s elected board will be meeting Thursday night, and the council asked Heisinger to make sure someone from the city speaks at the meeting to express its worries about losing out on the grant.
Palo Alto resident Owen Byrd, who is involved with some development projects in East Palo Alto, said that the city needs to carry a “bigger stick” when it comes to the sewer district. Byrd said he was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of his current projects in town.