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A slide shows the city of Tehachapi’s path to compliance with SB 1383. Some activity will take place in 2022 and a curbside collection program for organic waste is set to begin in July 2023.

A plan to comply with a state mandate to divert organic waste from landfills — with an estimated $450 million annual cost — won reluctant approval by the Tehachapi City Council on Sept. 20.

After a presentation from Assistant to the City Manager Corey Costelloe, the council voted 3-2 to approve the city’s SB 1383 Implementation Plan. Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Davies and Councilmember Susan Wiggins voted no. 

Mayor Phil Smith and Councilmembers Christina Scrivner and Joan Pogon-Cord voted to approve the plan, but none seemed pleased. Smith asked how much of an increase residents may have to pay (still unknown) and Scrivner urged city staff to continue efforts to work with state officials.

“Please continue to try to find common-sense solutions,” she said. 

City Manager Greg Garrett said the law was another example of a state mandate difficult for small cities. “One size does not fit all,” he told the council. “Rest assured we will continue to fight the fight.”

Previously the city sent a comment letter to CalRecycle expressing concerns about the cost increase to residents of mandatory organics recycling, Costelloe said. Although the city’s input did not directly impact the regulations for organics compliance, he said that the state agency said they helped lay the groundwork for delayed enforcement of those regulations.

The problem Senate Bill 1383 set out to address when it was approved in 2016 is to reduce the impact of short-term climate pollutants that generate methane and impact climate change by diverting organic material — including yard waste and food waste — from the landfill and waste stream, Costelloe said.

The law becomes effective Jan. 1, 2022, but the city has developed a plan to reach full compliance by July 1, 2023. By that time, a weekly collection of a third refuse bin will be required.

The state even specifies the size of the bin and what must be printed on it, he said.

The city is working with Waste Management, its franchised solid waste and recycling services provider, to be ready for that, he said. 

Other requirements are an edible food rescue program to promote and account for donations of food and prepared meals by grocery stores and restaurants to nonprofit and community organizations and — eventually — monitoring, enforcement and outreach associated with all of the elements of SB 1383.

The city’s commercial organic waste and self-hauled green waste are already transported to the Mt. Vernon Composting Facility in Bakersfield for composting; it will eventually be necessary for the city to also accept the material back in the form of finished compost or mulch.

Sludge from the city’s wastewater treatment plant is also handled by a compost company and repurposed for use on soil management and erosion control projects, Costelloe said. Some additional work will be necessary for the city to meet all of the procurement requirements of the state law.

Second readings

At its meeting Sept. 7 the council approved first readings of ordinances concerning sign regulation, Accessory Dwelling Units (also called “granny flats”) and a zone change to allow a new AT&T cell tower.

Development Services Director Jay Schlosser made brief presentations about all three.

An ordinance to amend the city’s zoning code regulating signs is to ensure that the city is compliant with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that it is unconstitutional to regulate signs on the basis of content, he said.

The adoption of an ordinance amending various sections of the city’s zoning code to regulate ADUs and Junior ADUs is needed for the city to comply with state law that exempts the units — whether add-ons to existing homes or free-standing separate small dwellings — from the California Environmental Quality Act and other requirements. Under the law the city has little discretion in approving the units, Schlosser said.

Approval of an AT&T cell tower on property owned by Tehachapi Unified School District (near the high school) requires the adoption of an ordinance changing the land’s zoning, he noted.

All three second readings were approved 5-0 by the council, with no public comment and no discussion, resulting in passage of the ordinances.

Alta Estates

Also approved, as part of the consent agenda and with no discussion, was an amendment to allow builder K Hovnanian to move forward with a plan to build homes on 55 lots in Alta Estates without bonding and constructing public improvements for the remaining lots in the subdivision.

Alta Estates is a 384-lot subdivision located west of Curry Street between Pinon Street and Highline Road. It was designed with five phases, but construction halted during the economic crash of 2007-08. Eventually, homes in the first three phases were completed, but 122 lots in phases four and five remain vacant.

In a report to the City Council, Schlosser said that the City Municipal Code typically requires public improvements associated with a Tract Phase to be bonded and constructed in full before individual dwellings can be constructed and sold.

“Given the size of Phase 4 (or Phase 5), this requirement is effectively cost prohibitive in our current housing market,” Schlosser wrote. 

He recommended the city allow the development of a partial phase and the council agreed to allow KHov to bond for and construct the public improvements needed to release the first 55 lots of Phase 4. 

The council action was to approve a draft agreement for future signature by the mayor after the builder completes property acquisition and posts bonds for the 55 lots. He said this is expected within about 60 days.

The Tehachapi Planning Commission approved designs for the homes planned by KHov at its meeting on Sept. 13. 

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: claudia@claudiaelliott.net.