Atwater council adopts water and graffiti ordinances

Residents will see some big changes to the city’s outdoor watering policies and enforcement of graffiti abatement within the next month.

The City Council unanimously adopted two new ordinances this week, one that deals with water conservation and another that forces residents to remove graffiti within a set time. Councilman Joe Rivero was absent.

In response to one of the driest years on record, the council voted to ban residents from watering lawns or landscaped areas between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. year-round. The city’s original ordinance restricted watering from noon to 6 p.m. from June 15 to September 15.

The new ordinance also prohibits outside watering on certain days of the week and increases penalties for violators.

Homeowners with even-numbered addresses will be allowed to water Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; those with odd-numbered addresses can water on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. No outdoor watering will be allowed on Monday.

“It’s something we definitely needed,” said Brian Shaw, the city’s utility manager and chief water operator. “It’s to conserve water and help our wells replenish the aquifer. It makes it easier on the whole system when you don’t have everyone watering every day – there isn’t such a big demand and the wells aren’t working so hard.”

One resident spoke against the new restrictions at Monday’s meeting, saying they are motivated by city officials who want to net more revenue.

“If it’s a way just to get more money out of people, let’s be upfront about it,” said Jim Murphy, who works as a plumber. “I don’t think penalizing people for using their sprinklers is the right way to go ... I just think this is more government regulation we don’t really need.”

Atwater doesn’t have enough city staff to enforce the new watering restrictions, he added.

Shaw responded Tuesday by saying the ordinance will be enforced by the Public Works department, the code enforcement officer and Police Department. “We’re just going to have to take it one day at a time and hopefully we start getting some more personnel back,” he said.

Homes built after 1991 are on a water meter system, Shaw said, and the city’s goal is to have all residents and businesses on a meter by 2025.

Also, the council adopted a graffiti ordinance that requires property owners in “high-target” areas to remove graffiti on their property within three days. After that, the city will have the authority to remove it and charge the property owner.

High-target areas are defined by the ordinance as a building, fence or location that is “clearly viewed upon entering the city limits.” All other property owners will be given five days to remove graffiti.

Councilman Jeff Rivero proposed having a plan for disabled or elderly residents who may be unable to remove the graffiti on their own.

“I’m supportive of the graffiti ordinance as long as we don’t make victims of the victims,” Rivero said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m trying to look out for those people and I don’t want to victimize those people for a second time.”

Atwater City Manager and Police Chief Frank Pietro said the city will work with area nonprofits to help with graffiti abatement for those residents. The ordinance allows the city manager to waive removal costs if the owners agree to assign their victims’ rights to the city, allowing it to seek restitution if the vandal is caught.

In other business, the council deferred a discussion about establishing term limits for members and the mayor. The discussion was put off because of Joe Rivero’s absence and will be continued at the May 12 council meeting, Pietro said.

If approved, the item would place a measure on the November 4 ballot to limit City Council members and the mayor to no more than three four-year terms, or a maximum of 12 years.

Two residents spoke in support of limiting the number of years Atwater politicians can serve in public office.

“I firmly believe you can get everything you need to get done within that three-term period,” said Eric Lee. “We need new ideas in the city and I agree that we can’t have people who want to camp out in a position.”