In a sweeping proposal released on Wednesday, ahead of the December 6 meeting that will address the issue of the referendum that qualified for the ballot last month, Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson and Councilmember Dan Wolk are bringing back their motion from the September 6 meeting, with some critical revisions.
“It is clear a significant portion of the community needs more information as reflected in the referendum, as well as the number of protest votes,” Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson said in a statement to the Vanguard on Wednesday.
Their proposal calls for the rescinding of the ordinance that was passed on September 6, 2011. Instead, they want to direct staff to bring back a one-year Prop 218 motion, based on the needs to cover current deferred maintenance and on-going needs rather than being based on the surface water project.
They would then direct city staff to return within nine months with a report on all options for funding a surface water project. This could include a formal rate study, that the city never undertook when it launched its initial rate hikes.
At that time, they would also consider a full public vote for a long-term rate increase, in connection with the water project.
As Councilmember Wolk told the Vanguard, “For a number of reasons, I don’t believe putting the ordinance on the ballot is wise. Instead, we need to work together to forge a better path forward on this issue.”
He said that was his intent on September 6 and “we need to try again at this one.”
At the same time, both Councilmembers Swanson and Wolk emphasized their continued commitment to the surface water project, long-term.
“I want to be clear, however, that I refuse to kick the can down the road on this issue. Like every other member of this Council, I support moving toward surface water in the long term,” Councilmember Wolk told the Vanguard.
“As I’ve said before, my generation — and my children’s generation — bears the burden of a lack of long-term planning, unfunded liabilities and crumbling infrastructure, particularly in the area of water,” he added. “But the buck stops here. We must take the necessary steps toward securing a safe and reliable water supply.”
“I am committed to a long-term, sustainable water supply. I still believe we need surface water and feel it is imperative to protect our water rights we have procured,” Mayor Pro Tem Swanson said.
Nevertheless, both members of council, who will need to find at least one more vote in order to enact their plan, believe that this process has been divisive and that mistakes were made.
“As someone who has tirelessly worked to find a middle ground on this issue, I have been very disheartened by the divisive and acerbic nature of the debate surrounding it,” Mr. Wolk said.
“What has changed for me regarding Sept 6’s 218 is the assurance we can take a brief pause and get the community and ourselves even better engaged and informed,” Ms. Swanson told the Vanguard.
“I still believe the one year increase would have been a better path,” she said. “As I stated then, I felt the tier structure was regressive and confusing and planned to request a new 218 to put into effect an improved rate structure, hence my agreement, though reticent, to approve 5 years.”
Their proposal includes recommendations that the council revisit rates every twelve months to vote on whether to lower them.
It continues with the technical advisory committee appointed by the City Council to review the project, bid process, bond terms and any other financial matter related to the construction and operation of the water project—in progress.
It ensures that all significant decisions by the JPA be brought before the council for discussion and possible consideration and approval.
Their proposal seeks to analyze and make recommendations on the possibility of incorporating a public operation into the project.
They also seek flexibility on the timelines for the project and raising capital, including requesting the assistance of the city’s legislative delegation, with the goal of stretching out the rate schedule. This includes seeking a variance, if possible.
They will seek guarantees to ensure that the project will use only local and regional businesses and labor, to the maximum extent feasible.
They will also look for federal and state funding, including state water bonds and potential delta restoration dollars directed toward the Yolo Bypass.
In addition to the city’s current conservation efforts, their proposal seeks to access state and federal funds, if feasible, to offset the costs to residents of implementing water conservation strategies or replacing equipment.
Finally, they will continue to explore the creation of rate-subsidy programs for low-income households.
Councilmembers Swanson and Wolk told the Vanguard that the purpose of putting this proposal forward now is that they seek public input and seek to gauge the public’s response to these proposals.
As mentioned, they will need to find a third vote to move their proposal forward. Right now, there appear to be three different blocs on council, with Mayor Joe Krovoza and Councilmember Souza, both representatives on the JPA, having originally put forward the current rate structure that was passed on September 6, and with Sue Greenwald opposing the water project and hoping to postpone it a number of years.
This proposal clearly represents a middle ground. The councilmembers recognized that the current rates that were passed were unacceptable, while at the same time supporting the project.
“I now feel more comfortable that we can take some more time,” Councilmember Swanson said. “However, I do not believe we can prolong this endeavor and kick this can further down the road to future councils and future generations.”
Councilmember Wolk added, “Water is one of the most important factors to our community’s future. It demands that kind of conversation.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting