A rule proposed March 25 by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers could broaden the definition of "waters of the United States" subject to Clean Water Act regulation. Among much else, that could expand the areas where developers need Section 404 permits from the Corps to go forward, in a parallel permitting process in addition to local government.

The Association of California Water Agencies says the rule apparently would place "most intermittent and ephemeral streams as well as wetlands located near rivers and streams" under Clean Water Act protection. (See http://www.acwa.com/news/water-news/proposed-rule-clarifies-clean-water-act-protections.) The firm of Alston & Bird LLP has posted its analysis at http://bit.ly/Pdlybx. As of April 1 the proposed rule had not yet been posted for comment purposes on the Federal Register site nor Regulations.gov, but a preview of the document is available at http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-03/documents/wus_proposed_rule_20140325_prepublication.pdf.

Tax legislation could end the Jurupa Valley trap

The League of California Cities is backing two bills, SB 69 (See http://http://legiscan.com/CA/bill/SB69/2013) and AB 1521 (http://legiscan.com/CA/bill/AB1521/2013), to undo the sudden funding disadvantage that pushed the newly incorporated city of Jurupa Valley toward disincorporation this winter. The bills are based on the prior SB 56 and are designed to restore funding to newly incorporated towns from vehicle license fees

As CP&DR reported in January (see http://www.cp-dr.com/articles/node-3427), the legislature first sent vehicle license fee (VLF) money to help new towns like Jurupa Valley with their new municipal governments, then took much of it away with SB 89.

The two new bills propose to restore incentives for new cities to form and for existing cities to annex territory, which the League writes has been absent since a state budget maneuver, the VLF-property tax swap of 2004, left cities unable to count directly on substantial VLF revenues. The new bills would change property tax and/or VLF distribution formulas to favor recently incorporated or annexed areas. See http://www.cacities.org/Top/News/News-Articles/2014/March/Legislation-Proposes-New-City-Incorporation,-Annex.

The Central Valley is sinking from groundwater loss.

National Geographic and California newspapers reported this week on news from USGS that ground levels have sunk, in places alarmingly, near the Delta-Mendota Canal in the San Joaquin Valley. The USGS announcement is at http://bit.ly/1htGt4e. National Geographic has an extensive writeup at http://bit.ly/1dKrNcg quoting one researcher for the news that "one 2-square-mile... area... is subsiding almost a foot.. annually." Further recent reports on groundwater as a crisis in the San Joaquin Valley appear in the San Jose Mercury News at http://bit.ly/O7KD6l and the Hanford Sentinel at http://bit.ly/1mGeGkR.

Online hotel-booking services held not to owe San Diego hotel tax

The Second District Court of Appeal ruled twice in March that "online travel companies" (OTCs) such as Priceline, Expedia and Travelocity do not owe San Diego's transient occupancy tax on fees they collect for serving as middlemen between hotels and guests.

The decision focused on tax amounts that cities may lose through cases when the OTC pays wholesale room rates to hotels, charges retail rates to guests, and keeps the difference. The court referred to the text of the San Diego tax ordinance, and compared prior rulings in the same group of coordinated cases for Anaheim and Santa Monica, to find tax was only due on room rent charged by the business that provides the lodging. Hence, the court found, tax is only due to the city on the wholesale rate that the hotel operator is paid, even if the hotel guest might have spent more. It added in a footnote that the 1912 case of Los Angeles Gas & Electric Corp. v. City of Los Angeles, 163 Cal. 621, "does not support a ruling that hotels may delegate to OTCs all of their responsibilities under the [transient occupancy tax] ordinance, nor does it suggest that the OTCs may be audited or held liable for nonpayment of any [transient occupancy tax] under the circumstances before us."

The matter was originally heard in Los Angeles Superior Court. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Second District issued a unanimous initial opinion March 5 that it did not order formally published (at http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/nonpub/B243800.PDF). The panel then agreed to revisit the matter, but after rehearing issued a nearly identical opinion March 27 (at http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B243800A.PDF).

Airbnb to pay hotel taxes in San Francisco and Portland

Under pressures from city officials that included partway-drafted regulatory legislation, Airbnb announced March 31 that it would collect and pay San Francisco's 14 percent hotel tax on behalf of hosts in the city who list housing through the Airbnb service. Carolyn Said of the San Francisco Chronicle explains details at http://bit.ly/1mGqOlH. She further writes that the company made a similar announcement in Portland, Oregon last week and has offered $21 million in tax payments in New York. The San Francisco announcement followed the San Diego hotel tax decision by four days but it was not mentioned in the Airbnb weblog post announcing the decision (at http://publicpolicy.airbnb.com/san-francisco-taxes-airbnb-community/).

Storm water Industrial General Permit up for final adoption April 1

The State Water Resources Control Board meets April 1 to consider adoption of the updated statewide Industrial General Permit for "storm water discharges associated with industrial activity". The General Permit covers entities in California including oil, gas and mining facilities, landfills, recyclers, feedlots, factories and food processors, airports, certain vehicle maintenance shops, and sewer systems.

If granted, the approval would update a prior document, long since expired, that has been in effect by default since 1997. The new proposed permit would apply National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) standards under the Clean Water Act. It would require specified levels of effort, depending on circumstances and type of pollutant, to keep runoff within limits based variously on the contents of the effluent and the carrying capacities of the bodies of water receiving the runoff. Unlike the prior 1997 General Permit, it would require minimum Best Management Practices statewide along with other new standards.

On March 28, the Friday before its Tuesday approval meeting, the board released responses to commenters that reflected some tension over the scope and timing of the third and last comment opportunity on the draft Permit: comment had been allowed only from February 19 to March 4, and only on the latest round of revisions.

Several more substantive comments questioned the new definitions of Best Management Practices and of Numeric Action Levels (NALs), which are thresholds for pollution conditions including pH, suspended solids, oil and grease, and individual chemicals and metals. NAL exceedances trigger stricter levels of regulation and requirements to present plans for improvement.

A unique comment from the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California prompted the board to warn dischargers that local mosquito control ordinances would apply to stormwater facilities where water might be left standing.

The meeting notice, comments, staff response chart, and other relevant documents are at http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/stormwater/industrial.shtml.