June 2, 2011

Ma & Pa Kettle Math, Poway Edition

It's been a really frustrating day. This post is a bit of a rant. You might not make it through the whole thing. So, I'm going to post this reminder at the top: If you or anyone you know has some thoughts on the Poway Wal-Mart expansion, either pro or con, NOW is the time to send them off to the council. If you like, you can comment on anything in the DEIR (draft EIR), or you can just email a note to the councilmembers telling them why you do or do not want the Wal-Mart expansion.

Send the emails to:

Note: Near the bottom of this post, there is a link to an interesting blog written by Joe St Lucas. And don't worry, there's no heavy math terms in his post, although the number 30 will figure in. Be sure to click on the link and check it out.

And now to my whining.

If I haven't mentioned it lately, let me mention it again. I believe in government. I like having roads and schools and hospitals and cops to round up the bad guys. I like a little advance warning when a tornado is coming and a little help afterwards when our community is devastated by fire. Heck, I like medicare and social security too. I hate thinking about old people eating cat food to survive. I'm not one of those "shrink government down and drown it in a bathtub" people. But today, I am frustrated. Really frustrated. If some crazy wacko tea-partier goes on a bender about how government is the problem, I'm not going to interrupt. Not today.

I'm frustrated because the people running my local government seem to be saying and writing a lot of nonsensical things. For example, for 15 years the city has been saying that traffic sucked so bad on Poway and Community and Midland Rd., that they were exempt from the state law which requires that they permit granny flats to be built. Now that Wal-Mart wants to build a bigger store that brings in more traffic, the City decided to use a completely different method for evaluating traffic that concluded traffic doesn't suck anymore. It is a piece of cake to get through town, as long as you don't mind waiting through a couple of rotations of the traffic lights.

So I was already POd about that. Then, on next Tuesday's Poway council agenda, there is an item called "the draft Urban Water Management Plan(UWMP)" that really set me off. Poway (and all the other cities) are required by the state to prepare an UWMP. The data that is submitted is supposed to help the state plan for future water needs and also to set some water conservation goals for each jurisdiction. Part of the data that must be included in this document is the gallons per capita per day(GPCD) used by Powegians. To calculate GPCD, the total amount of water used in Poway over a certain period of time is divided by the population (using city water) and also divided by the number of days in the time period. For their calculations, Poway is using old Sandag data which estimated that the population of Poway was 52,056 in 2010. The numbers from the 2010 census are in and Poway's official population in 2010 is 47,811. So Sandag got it wrong, they overestimated by 4,245 people. But why is Poway using known faulty data in their UWMP? Could it be because dividing by a large population makes it look like Poway is using less water per capita than we really are? What value is this data when it is so far from being accurate?

I have another bone to pick with the City over the UWMP. It is an old one, which I have harped on before. In the report, there is a copy of a form Poway has to submit to the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC). On that form, Poway declares that they use conservation pricing for both their water and sewer pricing structure. Poway's 2-tier water rate structure is barely conservation priced. The only people who are given any incentive to conserve are the folks who use 200 or more units in a billing cycle. 200 units equals 149,600 gallons of water. There are only a handful of people who ever use that much water in Poway, so I guess you could say we have a very "elite" water conservation plan. For the vast majority of us, there is no conservation incentive at all.

So maybe they can bluff their way through calling the water rates "conservation priced", but, no way, no how, can anyone of a reasonable, minimally educated mind, declare that Poway's wastewater (sewer) fees are conservation priced. For one thing, CUWCC actually defines conservation pricing and Poway's sewer fees don't meet the criteria. Nevertheless, the City is claiming that they use an "increasing block rate" structure for billing for sewer.

CUWCC defines an "increasing block rate" as one "in which the unit rate increases as the quantity of units purchased increases". Poway's sewer rate structure is just the opposite. The more the customer uses, the cheaper the unit price is. It costs $12.49/unit for 2 units of wastewater and it costs $4.41/unit for 10 units and $2.64/unit for 20 units. The more one buys, the cheaper it gets, per unit. So how does that incentivize someone to conserve?

Today I have been going round and round with Kristen Crane, the Poway Utilities Administrator, who filled out that CUWCC form. She is insisting that Poway's wastewater pricing is an increasing block rate structure. It is so frustrating. Rates are taught in grammar school. You'd think somebody making $100,000 or so (courtesy of the taxpayers sewer customers) would know what a rate is!

I am sounding like those tea-stained loonies. Time to take a deep breath and think. Maybe Ms Crane isn't paid big bucks because she has a firm grasp of math and good comprehension skills. Maybe it is because she is willing and able to obfuscate. Otherwise, why would she so obstinately insist that Poway's sewer pricing structure is an "increasing block rate"?

It's been one of those days, when the people who "work for me" seem to be highly paid pencil pushers. Is government bloated with civil servants who spend their days filling out meaningless forms with bogus data? Why bother?

Like I said, I am very frustrated.

And now, as promised, here is the link to Joe's blog. I don't want to give the whole thing away, but let me give you a little hint. Would you say that a council member who sweeps aside a city rule, for the benefit of his sons and their friends, is acting ethically?


NEWS_FLASH said...

ATTENTION CHRIS CRUSE: Poway City Hall must REALLY hate to see you come in the door or any E-mails with your name on them. However, from my perspective, Poway is a much better city (or should be) for having Chris Cruse regularly poke thorns into the collective butts of its City Hall and City Council members.

There is no excuse for a highly paid city staff person to misunderstand what a "rate" is. Too bad it takes a major effort on the part of an alert resident to point this out. Alas….

Poway's City Hall operates way too often on lots of flashy P.R., cover-up, superficial appearance, distraction, and downright obfuscation --- and has been for many years. Fairness, even-handedness, consistency and old-fashioned hard work went out the window a long time ago. This goes way back to before the Mayor Cafagna days. And the Poway public has been "trained" to dutifully eat it up. Very few complain or speak up when they notice anything wrong. I'm sure that's why the city goes crazy when CHRIS CRUSE gets in their face. They are not used to Poway folks “peeking behind the magic curtain” & sifting through the details.

Let's hope POWAY BLOG readers grasp the big picture here. Overall, our city has learned how to be really good at manipulating data and tricky obfuscation to make the city “look” better or for any handy purpose.

PAY ATTENTION POWEGIANS: In addition to obfuscating waste water data, your city has done some whiz-bangy alterations in its street traffic data analysis methodology and redefined traffic flow characteristics for major Poway streets in its annual traffic report. NOTE THAT MANIPULATING POWAY’S ANNUAL TRAFFIC REPORT HAS BEEN DONE SPECIFICALLY TO BENEFIT WAL-MART AND ITS EIR FOR THE PURPOSE OF ACCOMODATING WAL-MART’S UPCOMING SUPERCENTER APPROVAL. AND THE SUCKERS BEING CONNED AND MANIPULATED ARE YOU, THE POWAY RESIDENTS. Check out the previous POWAY BLOG (posted May 23, 2011) for more details on Poway traffic report alterations.

As Chris Cruse stated, NOW IS THE TIME TO LET THE CITY KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THE PROPOSED WAL-MART EXPANSION IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR CITY. (The deadline for submitting E-mails and letters to the City of Poway is June 13, 2011.) Don’t wait until the construction crews, tractors, trucks and equipment show up at the Wal-Mart site. By then it will be too late.

Anonymous said...

The sewer rate may not be a true 'increasing block rate' as defined by CUWCC--but there is incentive to conserve. I would much rather be charged the Tier 1 rate vs. the Tier 5 rate, for example.

The information you present about the differing traffic assessments is troubling. Has this issue been addressed at all during a council meeting?

Also--good article by Joe St. Lucas. That type of 'skirting' of the rules is very frustrating. With no doubt--I consider it to be unethical. It's amazing how easy it is to 'railroad' something through, often with no account for protocol, rules, or common sense when it's--"for the children".

Leucadia Blog said...

Without at least a few people like Chris, those turkeys would try to get away with even worse stuff. Oh yes, it happens.