The city of Chino Hills was named with three other entities in a class-action lawsuit filed Dec. 17 in San Bernardino Superior Court by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for not submitting a water conservation report required by the state for three consecutive years.

The other entities were San Bernardino County, Rancho Cucamonga and Redlands.

The NRDC is a non-profit environmental organization established in 1970 with offices in Santa Monica, San Francisco, other states, and abroad.

The state’s Department of Water Resources began requiring cities and counties to report annually on their landscape permitting programs in 2015 to ensure that new irrigated landscapes are water efficient.

The four entities are singled out as “named respondents” and approximately 300 cities and counties are in the “proposed respondent” class.

Chino Hills and the other three entities had robust new growth and are representative of all jurisdictions that failed to file one or more of the annual reports between 2015 and 2018, according to Ed Osann, director of national water use efficiency for the NRDC.

“While all cities and counties have the responsibility to apply efficiency standards to newly permitted landscapes, the more development that takes place in a jurisdiction, the more the report makes a difference,” Mr. Osann said. “Imagine the water-saving impact of applying stringent standards to two landscape projects vs. 2,000.”

The city of Chino is included in the “proposed respondent” class. The city of Chino did not submit its 2015 report for 23 dwelling units as of Dec. 17 when the lawsuit was filed, Mr. Osann said. It will be up to the court to certify the full class in response to the proposed class, he said.

1,500 new dwellings

The city of Chino Hills issued permits for approximately 1,500 units between 2015 and 2017 without submitting the required reports. 

According to Chino Hills building reports from 2015 to 2017, new dwelling unit permits were issued as follows: 110 permits in 2015, 448 in 2016, and 1,030 in 2017.

The residential growth spurt included Bristol Chino Hills, Vila Borba, Santa Barbara and Jade Tree in southern Chino Hills, the Founders development on Grand Avenue and Founders Drive, and The Crossings at Chino Hills on the northeast side of Fairfield Ranch Road and Monte Vista Avenue.

Chino Hills city spokesperson Denise Cattern said the city does not comment on active litigation, however the city is committed to water conservation and complying with all water conservation reporting requirements.

She said the city can affirm that the report for 2018 was submitted in 2019 and the 2019 report is in development for submittal in 2020.

Mrs. Cattern said staff is reviewing reporting requirements for any additional years outstanding.

San Bernardino County, one of the largest jurisdictions in the state, did not file any of the four required annual reports since 2015, Mr. Osann said. 

The county issued permits for more than 2,200 dwelling units from 2015 to 2018, he said.

Mr. Osann said the state’s Department of Water Resources sent reminders to non-compliant jurisdictions six months ago and the NRDC sent reminder letters to more than 400 jurisdictions on Nov. 15.

Out of 540 cities and counties in the state, the majority have yet to file one or more of the annual reports, Mr. Osann said.

Since half of California’s drinking water supply is used for urban landscape irrigation, substantial water savings can be gained when new landscapes are installed through careful plant selection, efficient irrigation equipment and proper installation, he said.

The NRDC is asking the court to name the four entities as representatives of the respondent class, issue a writ of mandate requiring named and proposed respondents to complete annual reports to the state and report to the court and to NRDC at reasonable intervals, and to award the NRDC reasonable attorney fees and costs of the lawsuit.

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