July 22, 2010

Bidness As Usual

irrigation water in the gutter in Arbolitos

Last (Tuesday) night, I wasted a few hours attending the workshop on the proposed water and sewer rates. There were mostly large-lot folks from north Poway at the meeting and they got what they wanted. The city is going to bail on the 5-tier conservation water rate structure and go with a 2-tier system. Everybody will pay $4.02/unit for their first 199 units in a billing period. The 200th unit on up will cost $5.74/unit. 200 units in one billing cycle is an ENORMOUS amount of water. It is way more water than the Cruse household uses in an entire year. Hardly anyone in Poway uses that much water, so for all practical purposes, we are back to a flat rate for most everyone.

Those of us who use less than 125 units in a billing cycle will see the water consumption part of our bill jump about 20%. The large-lot people who consume between 125-200 units in a billing cycle will see their water consumption bills jump about 10%.

The city will have to spend thousands of dollars to send out mailers (required by Prop 218) and give everyone notice of the changes and an opportunity to fruitlessly protest. Then in October, the council will lock in the new rates with a vote and they will become effective in January, 2011.

Last night's meeting went pretty much as I expected. A consultant presented several water and sewer rate options. Well, really just one sewer rate option and four water rate options. The four water rate options offered a choice between a 5, 3, 2 or no tier(s) structure. The first public speaker was Bruce Tarzy from the GVCA. Tarzy had already had a meeting with staff where he presented his 2-tier plan.  For months now, I have been hearing about how unfair it is that some people pay a different water rate than others, that some pay less than the cost to provide the service and are subsidized by others. So, why a 2-tier plan instead of a uniform unit rate? I'm not totally sure I get this, but from what I was hearing, it goes something like this: Everybody should pay the same rate. Except the people who use more than 200 units. Because they really need to learn to conserve. So, they have to pay more. As a result, the large-lot people are gonna get subsidized by the handful of super-large-lot people. And they seem OK with that. Advantage is relative.

After the people had their say, the council weighed in. Newbie John Mullin seemed to still be fond of a uniform unit rate. Jim Cunningham went next. If Cunningham had to be succinct to save his life, he'd be a goner. You can watch the replay, or if you want, but my analysis is that Cunningham's verbage amounted to: "What Tarzy said." Same with Carl Kruse. Next up was Merrilee Boyack. She wanted Don Higginson to go first, but he insisted that she state her position next. Boyack asked a few questions, but went with the Tarzy plan. Ditto the mayor.

I requested to speak during the public comment period. I wanted to address the sewer rates, or fees, as they are more appropriately called. I pointed out that we were all paying different rates. I even gave some examples of anomalies caused by the crazy tiered sewer fee structure:

1.)   Even when someone uses no water at all, they have to pay a minimum of  $45.00 for not using the sewer.    
2.)   The jumps between tiers are irregular.  A single extra shower or load of wash taken during the winter months could jump a user’s bill from  $304 to $458 per year.  That’s a $154 shower or load of wash or drink of water.
3.)   The person who uses 6 units of water pays the same total amount as the person who uses 12 units of water. How can this be conservation pricing when someone gets twice as much for the same price?  The person who uses 6 units pays twice the rate of the person who uses 12 units.
4.)    In general, the per unit cost for the sewer decreases as sewer use increases.

Well, I found out that the large-lot people and the council's passion for equity applies to water rates, but not to sewer fees, especially sewer fees that are tilted to their advantage.  Mayor Higginson, who interrupted me twice to hurry up with my comments, did not address my concerns. Neither did Boyack or Kruse. I am not sure if I heard correctly, but I think Mullin may have said something about looking into the sewer rates. To his credit, Jim Cunningham asked the staff about the sewer rates; staff told him there wasn't time for it this year, not enough time to get something sent out to the voters and ready for the October vote, it would have to wait.

So, there you have it.  Yep, I took the time to attend the water and sewer rate workshop. I stood up and spoke in front of a roomful of people who were seething with the injustice of unfair rates. I addressed a council that I had pre-sensitized for months with a barrage of emails and copies of my blogs. I'd even met with the staff and was the one who pointed out to them that there was quite a surplus in that sewer fund. And the response? There isn't time to fix the sewer rate structure.

Like I said, I wasted a couple of hours last night.