Opponents of Surface Water Project Make Final Push with Op-Ed: The opponents of the surface water project, despite the result a week ago Tuesday where the voters approved Measure I by 1200 votes, or a 54-46 margin, continue to work for ways to oppose the water measure.
However, time is running out for the Prop. 218 protest, which will close officially with a public hearing at the Davis City Council meeting next Tuesday. Under the provisions of Prop. 218, the owners of the various parcels around town are able to submit formal protests to the city.
In September of 2011, there were more than 4000 protests received by the city on a day when the council at 3 am voted 4-1 in favor of the rate hike.
Nancy Price, continuing to push for the Prop. 218 protest, writes today in the Davis Enterprise, “We’ve heard that the last poll taken before the Measure I vote showed that a majority of voters were opposed to the surface water project as currently configured. This is consistent with our own observations as the campaign progressed to the end.”
“Many who voted early on, before hearing both sides, even asked us if they could change their early vote before Election Day,” she argues. “Unfortunately, we had to explain that this was impossible.”
However, she argues that there is still a way for voters opposed to the project to be heard.
She writes, “You can file a Proposition 218 rate increase protest if you own property. And, if you own more than one parcel, you can file a protest for each parcel.”
“The Prop. 218 law gives property owners the right to turn down proposed water rates. The city should have made it clear how to file a Prop. 218 protest, including a form and envelope as it did in summer 2011, but it did not do so this time around,” she charges.
After explaining the process, she argued, “Local residents have shared many different reasons with us for opposing the project as currently planned. Some believe that the tripling of water rates in three years and quadrupling them in seven to eight years is simply unsustainable in these difficult economic times.”
“These residents, of course, are often among the 50 percent of us whose household income is below the median of $57,000 a year,” she added. “Others can afford it themselves, but understand there will be many unintended consequences if we pursue this course that will give us among the highest municipal utility rates in the state. Businesses may leave Davis, and school bonds and supplementary taxes won’t pass.”
“We documented that the deep aquifer water is not deteriorating in quality,” Ms. Price continued. “Rather, it is currently healthy and stable, according to the city-commissioned Brown and Caldwell Engineers Phase II Deep Aquifer Study.”
They summarize: “Recharge is in approximate equilibrium with extractions from the deep aquifer.”
“There is time to develop economically fair and sustainable approaches to assuring our long-term water supply and to implement fair rates,” she concludes. “So, I urge you to fill out and sign a Prop. 218 protest form and be sure it is received by the city clerk before 5 p.m. Tuesday.”
However, the claim about the aquifer has been disputed by those supporting the surface water project.
The Yes on Measure I campaign quoted Graham Fogg, the UC Davis professor of hydrology, who testified before the WAC.
“When I came to Davis 23 years ago, there was a prevailing view that the water quality in the intermediate aquifer was invulnerable because there was layer after layer of clay and silt overlaying the aquifer, and that groundwater recovers every year. … In the ’90s, I started predicting what was going to be happening to water quality … and unfortunately my predictions are coming true,” he told the WAC.
“We are seeing deeper and deeper migration of contamination,” he said. “I’ve seen it before. The thinking then was it is a big confined aquifer, it’s protected, and it’s invulnerable.”
“But guess what?” he continued. “At the rate of about … a well every two years … for the past 15 years in Davis, you’re seeing adverse impacts. … So … I do hate to see a mistake made twice. … I think it would be a mistake to assume that the deep aquifer is invulnerable, will stay clean indefinitely …”
“Given the WAC’s work, there can’t be any misunderstanding: this project is needed, and now,” Mayor Joe Krovoza argues.
“The cities will own and control the project. Period. We aren’t giving up ownership or control. We will contract for the plant’s operation – with full ability to cancel the contract if there are problems,” he continues. “Costs will be lower and ratepayers will have greater certainty. We make contracts like this for many city services like parks maintenance, garbage and recycling. Be assured, privatization concerns based on experiences in other communities will be protected against in our contracts.”
“Recent events have reinforced my view that continued long-term and exclusive reliance on either our intermediate or deep aquifer is irresponsible,” he wrote.
He continued, “In recent years, our 14 intermediate aquifer wells have continued to suffer degradation due to increased contamination. Since 2003, the City has had to take five wells offline because of excessive levels of nitrates, selenium, and total chromium. Our remaining intermediate aquifer wells have seen consistently increasing nitrate levels for the past ten years.”
“Some have suggested we can rely solely on our deep aquifer,” he wrote. “That, too, would come at great cost and uncertainty. While the deep aquifer does not have the same problem with contamination due to nitrates, selenium and chromium-6, our deep aquifer suffers with excessive levels of manganese.”
He noted that Well 30 was taken offline due to manganese contamination.
In summary, he argues, “Davis must not spend money on a system that doesn’t promise us a long-term fix.”
The Prop. 218 process is not the only way to prevent the water project from taking effect, however.
There is also the court challenge filed by Michael Harrington, that has never been served on the city.
Mr. Harrington further claims, “The Current Water Rates violate Proposition 218 and are unconstitutional and illegal in that, inter alia, they impose a fee or charge incidental to property ownership which exceeds the proportional cost of the services attributable to the parcel. The City knows this, and staff and/or paid city water consultants acknowledged such constitutional deficiencies at various meetings of the City Water Advisory Committee.”
He adds, “Plaintiff contends that Current Water Rates are in violation of Proposition 218 and therefore unconstitutional and illegal. The City disputes this contention.”
A January 15, 2013 letter to the city clerk from Nancy and Don Price writes, “We believe that the current rate system, adopted in 2010, and the new proposed structure, unfairly charge some classes of users differently than others, are terribly confusing and, for the many reasons outlined in the documents submitted to the Water Advisory Commission, city files, and the City Council, the current and proposed rates otherwise do not conform to law.”
The suit argues, “The Loge Williams Rates do not comply with Proposition 218 and are unconstitutional and illegal in that, inter alia, they impose a fee or charge incidental to property ownership which exceeds the proportional cost of the services attributable to the parcel.”
But the suit has, to date, not been served on the city, with Mr. Harrington citing strategic considerations.
As Frank Loge and Matt Williams argue in their response column, “Saying rates are not proportional, though, does not make it so.”
They continue, “What would a proportional system look like? The suit offers no specifics beyond Dunning’s column, which argues that every gallon of water should cost the same to deliver to every ratepayer every day of a given year.”
“Reality, however, does not conform to this analysis,” they contend.
Senator Lois Wolk argues, “Davis’ Proposition 218 rates are legal, consistent with the California Constitution and state law and worthy of our support.”
She writes, “Davis’ proposed rates for the following three years are also consistent with this state law. Those rates make certain that each homeowner pays for his/her proportion of the fixed costs. As conservation increases, then costs will decrease. This new rate approach resolves a problem that water agencies have long been struggling to address – how to pay for your fixed costs (the lion’s share) with variable or dropping payments.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting