As we reported last week, the county clerk’s office certified more than 1800 petitions, a sufficient number to qualify the water rate initiative for the ballot. The petitioners did themselves few favors, however, if they wanted the measure on for June 2014, as they waited until the last possible date to turn in the petitions.
Like the sales tax measure that the council is considering, the council has to act by Tuesday if they wish to put this on the ballot.
Staff, once again, is leaving the matter in the hands of council. They have three options. First, they can “refer the initiative to City staff for a report on the effects of the initiative and take no further action until March 11, 2014.”
Second, they can adopt the initiative without change in which case they would “direct staff to take actions necessary to implement the initiative.”
Finally, they could order the initiative be placed on the June 2014 ballot. Writes staff, “If this option is chosen, approve the following Resolution: Resolution Ordering an Initiative Entitled ‘An Initiative Petition to Repeal Water Rates Applicable to the City of Davis Water System’ to the Ballot for the Previously Called June 3, 2014 Municipal and Special Election, Directing the City Attorney to Prepare an Impartial Analysis, and Providing for the Submittal of Primary and Rebuttal Arguments.”
If the council takes action on Tuesday, the initiative would be placed on the June 3, 2014, regular city election. “If the Council refers the initiative to staff for a report, the report would be returned to Council on March 11. At that time, the deadline to place items on the June ballot would have passed and the initiative measure would be set for a vote either at the June 2016 election or, at Council’s discretion, an earlier special election, such as the November 2014 election.”
In July of 2013, the proponents of the initiative submitted the initiative to the voters. The initiative would repeal Section 39.03.030 of the Davis Municipal Code which increased utility rates generated on and after May 1, as well as Section 39.03.040 of the Davis Municipal Code, which set the Schedule of Water Supply Fee for those utility bills generated on and after January 1, 2015.
The initiative also would repeal Section 39.03.045 of the Davis Municipal Code, the Schedule of Metered Rate Charges for water used beginning May 1, 2013.
While Measure I dealt only with voter approval of the surface water project itself, this would repeal the Prop 218 process setting the water rates. The target here would appear to be the CBFR structure and the accompanying rate increase.
In their language, Ms. Nieberg and Mr. Head argue, “The City Council of the City of Davis has approved substantially increased new rates charged for water use.”
“New rates approved by the City Council this year increase annually for the next five years,” they write in their initiative statement of proposed action. “After the five year increase, the water bill paid by a typical, single-family residential customer (including new base rates and consumption fees) will have at least tripled.”
They argue, “The new, confusing Consumption Based Fixed Rate (CBFR) fee included in the new rates would base each rate payer’s monthly (January through December) water rates on the amount of water used during the 6-month peak consumption period (May through October) of the previous year.
“The resulting CBFR supply fee would significantly affect a typical water bill. One example is that Davis has an unusually high residential ‘household move rate’ per year, and the CBFR system would unfairly charge residents who recently moved into a home or apartment with last year’s occupants’ water consumption habits.
“This would: reduce current year conservation savings (why conserve now, when the rate payer is negatively impacted with last year’s households’ conduct); transfer a higher proportion of overall system costs to residential users with landscape irrigation needs; and penalize water use required during dry, hot summer months.”
“Such a large and rapid increase in water rates would have adverse financial effects on the City, schools, businesses, and individuals,” they continue, arguing, “City assumptions used to set new rates did not account for large users leaving the City water system or greatly reducing system use. Several such efforts are now in the planning stage.”
“The resulting smaller volume of water delivery would require additional rate increases to regain revenue from a reduced volume of water sold, because the new surface water project has very large fixed costs and borrowing that has to be paid back no matter if water demand plummets due to conservation caused by the new rates,” they argue.
They then attack the Prop 218 process, arguing, “Voters have not been given the opportunity at a regular, direct election to approve recent water rate increases, despite the voters’ clear statement in the successful Fall 2011 water rates referendum that the voters desired to repeal or vote upon such large increases.”
They add, “The people of the City of Davis desire to establish reasonable water rates that accurately represent the cost of providing water services to residents and business. By approving this initiative, voters will repeal the confusing, unfair and onerous CBFR rates that the City Council deliberately kept away from the voters by excluding these rates from the March 5, 2013 ballot with the surface water project.”
The initiative proponents submitted the signed initiative petitions on January 23, 2014, to the city clerk.
The city clerk then transmitted the remainder of the signed petitions to the Yolo County Clerk Recorder to determine whether the petitions contained a sufficient number of valid signatures. Because this is an initiative authorized under Proposition 218, to qualify for the ballot the initiative had to contain valid signatures totaling at least 5% of the number of votes cast by registered voters for all candidates for governor at the last gubernatorial election, staff writes.
The critical question is in council’s hands – whether to submit the initiative now to the voters in June or to delay and allow the issue to linger.
—David M. Greenwald reporting