Last week, the San Marcos City Council heard a first reading for a new ordinance that would give fines to restaurants that improperly dispose fat, oil and grease into drains.Problems arise when grease is emptied in sinks. Grease solidifies as it cools and causes buildup in sewer pipes, leading to massive clogs throughout a city.
The city has rules in effect preventing businesses from disposing of grease down drains, but there are currently no penalties or fines assessed for not complying.
Mayor Susan Narvaiz said she and other council members expressed concern that the ordinance fines would negatively impact small businesses.
“It’s not necessarily the size of the business, it’s how much grease they’re disposing, so this could affect some of the mom and pop businesses where we all like to eat at,” Narvaiz said. “We want to make sure that we don’t do something that has a negative impact on our local businesses, whatever size they are.”
Narvaiz said the city council will make sure restaurants have all the information they need to comply with the ordinance.
“I believe the council will come up with a process that helps businesses comply and educate them on how they can participate and help to support the infrastructure that we all need in place in order to have a good quality city,” Narvaiz said.
Tom Taggart, director of water and wastewater utilities for the city of San Marcos, said the city requires restaurants to have grease traps, devices that separate grease from water and other fluids in collection systems.
“What the ordinance does do, which is somewhat different than what had been done previously, is provide for certain cleaning schedules for the traps and requires that the restaurant owners keep records of the cleanings,” Taggart said.
He said this will be included in the restaurant inspections that are done by the health department.
“Our intention is to not rigidly enforce the ordinance. We will go through a period of educating people on the issue,” Taggart said. “Most of the restaurant owners are already familiar with using grease traps but there may be some that aren’t quite there yet.”
He said first time violators will be given a written warning, and the restaurant will receive a fine of up to $2,000 if their grease disposal methods are not improved.
He aid he does not expect restaurants will receive fines for this.
“Most restaurant operators are very familiar with the requirement of grease traps and properly using them,” Taggart said. “This is basic restaurant business 101.”
“Our intent is not to enforce by going out and writing a bunch of tickets. Someone would have to deliberately ignore this to get into a situation where they are being fined,” Taggart said.
He said there will be different avenues for restaurant owners to get information on grease trap use and the new ordinance. Material will be available through the health department, city offices, the library and the water and wastewater Web site.
Richard Garcia, general manager of Gil’s Broiler, said his burger joint properly uses grease traps and disposal in compliance with the city health inspection code.
“Using a grease trap is one of the basics to running a restaurant,” Garcia said. “Everyone who works in a restaurant knows you shouldn’t pour grease down a sink.”
Garcia said he supports strict fines for restaurants that dump grease down the drain.
“If you can’t afford a grease trap, then you shouldn’t be running a restaurant,” Garcia said. “It’s just irresponsible.”
The next City Council meeting is on July 15 at City Hall at 7 p.m. where the council will hear a second reading on the grease ordinance.
By HAYLEY KAPPES