December 4, 2010

"Tis The Save on Your Sewer Bill

We don't have sewer meters in Poway.
Yet, on every bill we get charged a "sewer commodity charge".
Sometimes the sewer fees and sewer commodity charge make up more than half our bills.

Since we do not have sewer meters, how does the city know how much to charge us?

They guess.

The guess is based entirely on a customer's water use during a 2-month period in the wintertime. Water use during the rest of the year doesn't affect your sewer bills at all. To lower your sewer bill, you need to lower consumption during your special 2-month lowest winter water period.

Note: The City of Poway uses an entirely different method to calculate sewer consumption for apartments and condos. This post only refers to sewer fee calculations and hints for single family homes.

The exact methodology the city uses involves averaging the lowest wintertime water use from the last 3 years and then multiplying that average times 85%. So, if your lowest winter water use in the last 3 yrs was 18 units, 10 units and 15 units, the average would be 14.3 units. Multiply that times 85% = 12.2 units. 12.2 units puts a customer just into Tier 3 of sewer billing, which currently costs $76.25 each billing cycle. If this same customer reduced his/her water consumption by just 1 unit during that time, his/her average would drop him/her to Tier 2 which costs just $50.65 each billing period. That's $153.60/yr less, just for reducing water consumption a little bit during a 2-month period in the wintertime.

Lower sewer fees will go into effect in January, but the pricing between the lower tiers is still pretty steep and makes it worthwhile to reduce water consumption for a limited period to get in, or stay in a lower sewer tier.

How do you know when your special 2-month lowest wintertime use is? For almost everyone, it will be in Dec & Jan or Jan & Feb. I get my water bills in Jan/Mar/May/July?Sept/Nov.
My lowest water use is always in the March bill, which covers the 2-month period in January and February. People who get their bills in Feb/April/June/Aug/Oct/Dec will likely find that Dec/Jan is their special 2-month period when it will pay to reduce water consumption.

To determine the exact day the special period starts, you have to know when the meter reader reads your bill. I called the city and gave them the first 3 digits of my account number. They told me what week the meter reader will come, but if I want to know the exact day, I think I will have to employ some of the same strategies I used to keep an eye on my liquor bottle(s) when I had teenagers around. I will need something bigger than a hair laid across the meter cover. Maybe a stick will work, or a piece of tape across the hole in the cover. Barring that, I may just have to count on the whole week being in the conservation period.

Below are some Poway Blog hints for reducing water consumption during the 2-month period:

1. The Garden. Turn off all irrigation. Don't turn it on unless you really need to. Autumn rains have been really helpful so far, but if late December looks like a long dry spell, I will water my landscaping before my 2-month low-water-use period starts. That way, I will be able to coast as long as possible without irrigating. Keep an eye on potted plants. They may need hand watering.

If you are going to plant new plants or a new lawn area, wait until after your 2-month period is over. Then you will be able to keep them watered in a dry spell.

2. Don't change your pool water. At lot of my water-wise hints are really about timing. If you need to empty and fill the pool, do it before or after your 2-month low winter-water use period.

3. Showers. Take shorter showers or less frequent showers. Shower at the club, school, wherever else you can. Promise your teenager that if they take short, quick showers during this 2-month period, you won't nag them about long showers for the rest of the year. Those long showers might cost a buck or two more here or there, but getting bumped up from tier 2 to tier 3 costs $150 more per yr for the next 3 yrs. in sewer fees.

4. Laundry. Don't change the sheets as often. Let the laundry pile up at the end of the 2-month low winter water period until your meter has been read.

5. Recycle. I'm not a big fan of carrying water out of the bathroom in buckets to use in the yard. Maybe it is because I don't have an enormous amount of room in the bathroom to share with a bunch of buckets and pails. Large buckets of water can also be deadly with small children around. But I will stick an empty trash can under a gutter leak. If it rains a lot, the can will swell and look like it is going to explode, so I transfer some of the water into some empty containers. I'm not going to leave water stagnating for months to attract mosquitos, but for a short period, I will save it for use elsewhere in the yard, especially for potted plants.

6. Kitchen. Throw potato peelings and other kitchen food waste into the trash instead of running the disposal. Yeah, it fills up the landfills sooner, but guess what they do with all the green waste that is collected? They throw it on top of the other trash in the landfill. Kitchen scraps will decompose just as readily as green waste, so if nobody is worried about the green waste, they better not cry about kitchen scraps in the garbage.

7. Vacations. Plan your vacation so you will be out-of-town during this 2-mo period. And be sure to take a shower that last morning in a hotel or at a friend's house.

Try to get relatives to come to visit at another time. Ha! Ha! We actually don't do this ourselves. We seem to have company at this time every year, so I do the best I can to get the sheets and linens washed and ready to put up before the 2-month period. One or two showers by our guest won't throw us off that much.

These are our favorite strategies for keeping our water use low during the sewer calculation period. What strategies do you use?

December 2, 2010

We'll Play on Your Grass But We Won't Sleep in Your Hotels

In my last post, I talked about the years we spent coaching a youth soccer team. Our team was a "recreational" team. All of our players lived in Poway. All of our games were in Poway until the kids got older. When the kids got older, they played against teams from nearby cities, but all of the kids on the Poway teams were from Poway . Our season was from August 'til early December. We could sign up for tournaments during Thanksgiving break or after the regular season. We did that once or twice.

Some Poway parents wanted a more competitive experience for their kids. They formed a club called the "Vaqueros", which became the competitive branch of the Poway Youth Soccer League (PYSL). Back then, there were only a few teams. Today, the Vaqueros have over 25 teams of youth players. The Vaqueros teams are further subdivided into green teams and white teams, the green teams being the more skilled. The teams have professional, paid coaches. Here is what the Vaqueros website says about the green teams:
Green Teams: Green teams are comprised of the top talent in each of the specific age groups. A professionally trained and licensed coach is assigned to the team to provide education and training at the highest level and must meet certain requirements relating to their soccer background. Green team players are selected based on their desire to commit to the team for an entire season, which could be anywhere from 7 to 10 months, and will involve participation in local, and out of town tournaments, including regional and state competitions. Participation on a Green team is a serious physical, emotional, and financial commitment.

The white teams also have professional coaches and play for a "7 month season". The hope is that their skills will improve enough to make it on to a green team. Many of the kids who play on the green and white Vaqueros teams are not local Poway kids. They are kids from nearby communities who want (or whose parents want them) to have some serious soccer training. The intensity of this training means that these kids spend a lot of time on the soccer field, and a lot of soccer fields are necessary to meet the needs of the kids who are accepted into the Vaquero program.

Poway's General Plan was written back in the days when we had a recreational youth soccer club in town, where Poway players played for a 4 month season against other Poway players. The General Plan doesn't provide for enough park space for a semi-professional sports league that trains kids from a regional area almost year round. Poway Youth Soccer League (PYSL) is well organized and has used their organizational ability to pressure the Poway City Council to light several fields, including Arbolitos, to accommodate their interests. Lighting Arbolitos has hit a snag because the people who bought homes overlooking what was originally designated open space weren't too happy about having the sports fields there. And they are even madder now that the city has reneged on their promise to never light the fields. One resident, Peter De Hoff, filed a suit against the city. De Hoff claims that the city did not follow the correct procedure in making the decision to light the fields. What? We pay our city manager and staff top dollar and they don't bother to follow some basic legal procedures?

I'm gonna leave it up to the court to tell the city whether they needed to do a biological study before they made the decision to light the fields, although that one seems like a "no-brainer," as a certain member of our council is fond of saying. I want to focus on a different aspect of the Arbolitos lighting controversy.

In an Oct 21, 2010 letter to the editor in the Poway News Chieftain, Laura Van Tyne contends that Poway neighborhoods should give up their parks and open space for a sports business that caters to out-of-towners because it helps the Poway economy.
The PYSL has less than 1,400 members. It’s true that there are a number of non-Poway players. However,I would like to point out that most attend PUSD schools.

When parents drop off their child at practice many spend the hour shopping, doing errands, and then eating in restaurants within the city of Poway. This generates revenue for our local businesses that would otherwise go to businesses out of Poway.

I don't think this argument has any merits. First of all, what does it matter if the non-Poway kids are from PUSD? Their parents aren't paying for the upkeep of our parks if they don't live in Poway. Second, let me note that these lighted sports field are not located in north Poway neighborhoods. If you are a regular reader of Poway Blog, you might notice one of my recurring memes: land use in north Poway is for quality of life; in south Poway, it is for revenue generation. I take offense to the idea that south Poway should give up their open space and parks to kids from north Poway and non-Poway communities because their parents might shop in Poway and produce revenue for the city while doing so.

Outsiders shouldn't own our parks on the pretense that they will shop in our stores. I don't even believe that they shop in our stores. Most of north Poway doesn't even shop in Poway. And you want me to believe that these soccer moms and dads are shopping in Poway and not heading off to Carmel Mtn Ranch or RB after they drop off the kids?

I have evidence that the Poway Youth Soccer Club doesn't even think about promoting Poway businesses. Last weekend, the Poway Youth Soccer Club hosted a tournament called "Poway Country Shootout". Teams had to pay $300- $350 to play in the tournament. All of the games were played at Arbolitos, Meadowbrook and Valley School fields, fields in south Poway where the City of Poway has spent millions of dollars to install artificial turf, lights and/or to maintain the fields. Although most of the teams that entered the tournament were from nearby communities, out-of-the-area teams were invited too. On their web page, the Poway Youth Soccer League suggested that these teams stay at hotels in Rancho Bernardo and Scripps Ranch. Not a single one of the three Poway hotels was on their list, even though they were closer to the sports fields where the tournament was held.

Shop Poway? Naahhhh, not PYSL.