The Vanguard has received word that, while the staff report is perhaps more limited that we would have liked, there will be a presentation this evening by Donna Lemongello and Matt Williams, putting forth an improved CBFR that eliminates the look-back mechanism, and implements a 12-month running fixed rate and “pay-as-you-go.”
There are caveats to this – the item is an informational item, and so, while the council cannot act definitively this evening as columnist Bob Dunning calls for, it can make strong recommendations and give direction to staff that this is the measure that they want the URAC (Utility Rate Advisory Committee) to consider a revised CBFR that would go to a Prop 218 vote and some believe should got to a vote of the people.
Bob Dunning this morning puts it this way: “Is the council sincerely interested in instituting a new, fairer and less confusing rate structure, or is it simply going to kick the can down the road and give lip service to ‘revisiting’ the rates at a later date?”
Clearly, Donna Lemongello and Matt Williams believe this is a way forward to improve upon the current system.
On the other hand, Mike Harrington in his Vanguard column on Sunday, sees this as an opportunity to end the Measure P debate.
He writes: “Now the No on P cadre are out telling people that yes, the rates are a mess, but don’t vote YES on P to force the City to repeal this package and adopt new, more fair, more understandable rates. The latest story is to vote NO on P, and trust the City to go ahead and voluntarily fix them. Agree with the No on P committee? Then I have some great seafront property to sell you about twenty miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge.”
What is the council prepared to do? That remains to be seen.
The Enterprise last week wrote, “We ask the City Council to take definitive legal action — not just make promises — instituting the following changes, which have been drafted by a group of dedicated citizens who want to see fairness rule the day.”
“The key word here is ‘definitive.’ Not some watered-down council resolution to punt the rates to the Utility Rate Advisory Committee to study for the next six months,” Mr. Dunning writes. ”If the council does nothing definitive tonight, you’ll know this whole thing was nothing more than a ruse, a sham, a con job or any other words you can come up with that indicate deception.”
He adds, “If the council doesn’t take action, my advice is to vote ‘yes’ on P if that’s what you were already planning to do or to vote ‘no’ on P if that’s what you were already planning to do. In other words, if the council is all talk and no action, I see no reason for voters on either side of the issue to change their already well-formed positions.”
In comment to the Dunning column this morning, Elaine Roberts Musser, who chairs the committee, said, “I assure you the URAC will not take six months to study the issue as you suggest, but is prepared to act in a timely fashion, having called a special meeting for June 5. The URAC is well aware of the controversy over water rates and the compressed time frame required for decision-making. The URAC is the local gov’t body assigned the task of overseeing all city utility rates and to carefully analyze what would be the fairest for the citizens of Davis. Several members of the URAC are uniquely qualified with experience in regard to setting utility rates.”
But in a sign of the times – her comment was greeted with more skepticism. One reader responding, “Elaine, I’m so very reassured. Let me take a moment to bask in the reassurance before I go vote YES on Measure P.” Another added, “In other words….we need to calm down. OK.” Finally, another wrote, “If you guys are so incredibly bright Elaine, why couldn’t you do the fair and obviously correct thing the first time around?”
Reading the tea leaves here is difficult. But much remains on the line at this point.
In March of 2013, a divided electorate approved Measure I by a 54-46. In January of this year, a ballot initiative qualified for the ballot and the council acting on due diligence put it on the June ballot.
Many have attempted to shrug off the Measure P movement, but clearly there are concerns both on the part of the drafters of the CBFR revisions and some on the council that the issues that have presented themselves and the concerns raised by citizens will translate into votes to abort the project.
As Matt Williams noted, “Based on my extensive canvassing as part of the City Council election I have had the opportunity to talk with thousands of Davis residents, and for many of them Measure P is not about killing the project, it is about fairness, and they are not at all convinced that the rates as they currently exist are fair.”
Implicit in that statement is concern about whether Measure P will pass.
As we wrote before, I completely believe the motivation behind the efforts of Donna Lemongello and Matt Williams to fix CBFR is to make what was a more equitable rate structure than the Bartle Wells alternative even more fair.
What is less clear is how best to resolve all of this. I still believe the problems here go beyond the issue of fairness. CBFR actually produced a much more fair system than Bartle Wells and yet produces a huge amount of blowback.
What tonight will likely bring is long discussion but probably not the kind of definitive action that some want the council to take. What that will mean for Measure P and the future of the water project is largely unknown.
—David M. Greenwald reporting