Faced with a growing water crisis, the Ventura City Council this week threw its support behind citywide water rationing for homes and businesses and met secretly to discuss placing a moratorium on all new water hookups in the city until water supplies improve.
After the secret council meeting Tuesday night, City Manager John Baker confirmed on Wednesday that a moratorium had been discussed and said the council will publicly discuss the subject Feb. 12.
The plan, which was discussed in closed session after city officials received threats of litigation, could affect up to 1,200 houses and condominiums, Baker said.
Baker said 700 proposed homes in the Juana Maria tract in east Ventura, 400 affordable-housing units at three other locations and 100 condominiums and apartments across from the 101 Drive-In could be held up.
"The council may look at anybody who hasn't yet pulled building permits," Baker said. The new policy could take effect at various other stages of the building process, he said.
"We haven't decided anything yet," said City Atty. Peter Bulens. "What was discussed in closed session will also be discussed in open session."
City Councilman Todd Collart, who declined to discuss the proposal's specifics, said the city's water problems had to be addressed before they got out of control.
"It's not an excuse to stop growth or to slow growth," he said. "Anything we are undertaking at this time is truly considered a necessity."
The possible moratorium was discussed in secret after the council had publicly thrown its support behind a citywide water rationing plan that some residents criticized as unfair to homeowners.
Under a proposed conservation program, residents--who make up most of the city's 25,000 water customers--would have to cut water use by 40%. The program imposes a 15% cut on businesses, schools and government offices.
The council voted unanimously Monday night to give preliminary approval to the plan, which would take effect April 1. Final action will occur at a Feb. 12 hearing.
"I for one feel there's an undue burden placed on residential users," said resident Bruce Meacham, who added that the program "rewards the water guzzlers."
Three years of drought conditions led to a 17% drop in water supplies and prompted the city to adopt its first emergency water rationing measures in 25 years.
"I am convinced that the old days are gone forever," Councilman Donald Villeneuve said. "We've been overdrafting water for years."
The open-ended rationing program could last until rains replenish the city's water supplies, said Shelley Jones, public works director.
Supplies from the city's two primary water sources--the Ventura River and the Casitas Municipal Water District--have dropped to critically low levels.
Ventura's water conservation measures involve daily quotas for 22,500 households that use the water system.
Residents of single-family houses would be restricted to 294 gallons--74 gallons per person--for a four-person family. Residents of apartments, mobile homes and condominiums are restricted to 196 gallons--65 gallons per person--for a three-person household.
Households with additional family members, family members with medical problems or mature fruit trees can request additional water.
Violators face fines of up to 10 times the highest water rate. Chronic violators could have a device to restrict water flow installed on their faucets.
The other 2,500 users, including government, businesses and agricultural users, would have to restrict their water use to 85% of past consumption. The biggest non-residential users include government offices, hospitals and schools, Jones said.
About 45% of the residential customers in the city's water system already use less than the quotas proposed by the city. The rest exceed the limits.
Convincing some residents that their water use is excessive may be difficult, Jones said.
"What we're after is to try to convince people to try to conserve water," Jones said.