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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

Landlords Getting Granular With Water Usage

Nearly half of all Californians live in multifamily housing, but fewer than 20 percent of them ever see a water bill. That’s because apartment and condominium buildings have traditionally been constructed with separate usage meters for utilities such as gas and electric, but they shared one water meter – and one bill. When water was cheap and plentiful, that worked out fine. But now, with landlords trying to comply with drought-inspired water-reduction targets set by Gov. Jerry Brown, the shared-meter status quo is a problem. “We are looking into getting some understanding about water and ways we can share the cost of it and make people accountable for what they use,” said James B. Clarke, executive vice president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. There is no legal requirement for apartment complexes to install individual meters for each unit, but state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, has introduced SB 7, a measure that would require installation of submeters in new multifamily buildings. And similar language has recently been included in the governor’s budget package, said Steve Carlson, a Sacramento lobbyist who met with Brown’s staff on the issue last week. “I’ve been working on water legislation in California for two decades and I think maybe – finally – we’re close to doing this,” he said. The apartment owners association also has been getting quotes on the cost of installing and maintaining sub-metering systems in existing buildings, though none of the legislation in Sacramento envisions a retrofit mandate. Simple economics are spurring the association into exploring what it envisions would be voluntary retrofits for landlords who want to pursue them: “Water prices are likely to go up 16 to 20 percent over the next few years, while rent control keeps (rent increases) at 3 percent (a year),” Clarke noted. The rub, of course, is that installing sub-meters is complicated and expensive, given the labor-intensive job of cutting into pipes and installing separate meters for each unit’s hot- and cold-water lines. Clarke added that if individual L.A. landlords decide to install sub-meters in existing buildings on a voluntary basis, the City Council would have to take action to allow tenants to be billed directly for their water. As part of that legislative process, Clarke said his group would lobby for rebates or promotions that would help landlords pay for the cost of retrofitting. Proposal Rejected A plan to raze five single-family homes in Sherman Oaks and replace them with a 29-unit apartment building has been unanimously turned down. Horace Heidt Estates, a Sherman Oaks developer, wants to build the multifamily project at 14241-14261 Magnolia Blvd., but half a dozen nearby homeowners spoke out against the project when it was presented to the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council’s land-use committee last month. “The neighbors have had enough of developers coming in and proposing these big buildings that block the sunlight and create traffic problems,” said Neighborhood Councilwoman Lisa Petrus. The area has recently seen multiple large-scale mixed-use developments, including the 113-unit Metro Art Sherman Oaks on Ventura Boulevard east of Van Nuys Boulevard and the 325-unit Il Villaggio Toscano on Sepulveda Boulevard near Camarillo Street, which is held up in litigation. Horace Heidt Estates was founded more than half a century ago by big band leader and radio and television personality Horace Heidt Sr. It owns about 300 units in Sherman Oaks, including the 10-acre Horace Heidt’s Magnolia Estate apartments at 14155 Magnolia Blvd. The Hawaiian-theme property features 160 apartments and 20 bungalows on landscaped grounds with four pools, waterfalls and a par-three golf course. Petrus said it is the kind of lush, low-key complex that would get a more favorable review if the developer decides to rework the project. Horace Heidt Estates was represented before the committee by Tom Stemnock, president of Planning Associates Inc., a Studio City planning consultancy. He did not return calls for comment. Staff Reporter Karen E. Klein can be reached at (818) 316-3123 or at kklein@sfvbj.com.

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