The League of Women Voters sponsored a debate on two issues that will be on the ballot next month – Measure O (Sales Tax) and Measure P (water rates). With all due respect to Councilmember Lucas Frerichs, the Measure O debate was turned into a travesty by Jose Granda. We will have more on that tomorrow.
But the Measure P portion of the debate featured an intriguing match-up of Sue Greenwald, the three-time Davis city councilmember and onetime mayor, and Matt Williams, who served on the WAC and who, along with Frank Loge, designed the CBFR (consumption-based fixed-rate water rates).
Sue Greenwald, in her ten-minute comment, stated that Sacramento State Economics Professor Mark Siegler did the fiscal analysis for the Measure P campaign. “What we found is that homeowners and tenants of single family homes will still be paying almost 40 percent more for each gallon of water than other residential users under the new water rate structure and much more than commercial as well.”
“Not only is this unfair, it’s going to ultimately result in higher costs for most rates,” she continued. “It will lead to some adverse, unintended consequences.”
“We all agree if you use twice as much water, you should pay twice as much. But not almost three times as much or more. Yet that’s what single-family homes will be paying under the new water rate structure,” she stated. “Voting yes on Measure P will repeal this water rate structure and send a very strong message to council to implement a rate structure that is fair to all.”
She again reiterated that residents of single family homes will pay 40 percent more per gallon than other residential users for two reason. First, the reliance on the summer peak month use to determine two thirds of the bill for the year. The other she said, “is using a meter size and the way they’ve done it to determine a portion of this bill.”
“Fair rates become increasingly important as our water rates escalate,” she said. “The cost of the new wastewater and surface water treatment plants will result in our municipal utility bills being among the highest statewide. I know because I’ve called the state regions and talked to their long range forecasters.”
Sue Greenwald said that Mayor Joe Krovoza has argued that this rate structure is fair “because they say that the cost of the surface water project is dictated by what they call peak use, which they define as summer use.” She added that Matt Williams stated that peak time demand is more important than time of year. “He said that, I have it on tape,” she offered.
“They argue that it’s fair to charge one household less per gallon than its neighbor, year round,” she continued. “If that household has a vacation home and can afford extended summer vacations, then they could use just as much water year round and the neighbor that can afford a summer home and a long vacation will pay less because of the peak summer structure.”
“The peak use argument is completely false to begin with,” she continued. “The city claimed that the peak use pays for the fixed costs, which is mostly the water project. That’s like 80 percent of our bill. The city claimed we needed the surface water project for reasons that have nothing at all to do with peak use such as securing river water rights, improving water quality, complying with new selenium standards – we would use this whether there was peak use…”
She argued that we could have met these needs without the project, “I can document that, I have a report that says so.” She argued that what she keeps hearing is that the size of the treatment plant is determined by peak use. “We’ve already heard from the staff that decreasing the size of the treatment plant further won’t have any noticeable impact on our water bills.”
“So there really is no justification for shifting the costs of this massive project disproportionate to any users in this case that happen to be single families,” she argued.
“The city council has made the incorrect claim that two-thirds of the people will be paying less under this new system,” Sue Greenwald continued. “It’s not true. It relies on the false claim that the big summer irrigators (the city and school district) will pay massively more. But they’re opting out.”
“Matt argues that that’s been taken into account already and I will prove in my rebuttal that it absolutely will not as all,” she said. “So most people will be paying more when this occurs.”
She noted that in her belief the city has assumed future growth and that new subdivisions will be paying the same rate. She argues that because of the costs of water, those new subdivisions will be opting out and digging their own wells.
“By using the summer rate system, the city is basically forcing out our largest rate payers, our best customers,” she said. “The unintended consequences is that the council has claimed that its environmentally preferable for large irrigators to opt out and kick the costs back to the remaining taxpayers because the new mantra is potable water should not be used for irrigation.”
“Finally there’s going to be no dire consequences for the passage of Measure P as claimed by council and staff,” she said. “These are the usual scare tactics… “
Sue Greenwald rebuttal
Matt Williams rebuttal
Note: we will have the comments by Matt Williams posted shortly