Matt Williams explained his rationale for offering up a compromise, “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.
I completely believe the motivation behind the efforts of Donna Lemongello and Matt Williams to fix CBFR, to make what was a more equitable rate structure than the Bartle Wells alternative even more fair.
However, I think Michael Harrington’s analysis from a political standpoint is surprisingly strong.
If the council gets to hear the alternative tomorrow, and it is less than clear that will happen, there is no guarantee prior to the election that the compromise CBFR rates will go before the URAC (Utility Rate Advisory Committee), get sent to the council, get to a Prop 218, and get approved. That may well be the intent of the drafters of the compromise, but they lack the ability to make it so.
As Michael Harrington points out, “The Davis Enterprise editorials have lately concluded the CBFR rates need a drastic overhaul.” Mr. Harrington writes, “The principle author and ‘Daddy’ of the CBFR in the last two weeks has decided the baby’s DNA-level flaws simply have to be fixed, and he has generated a report and asked the City Council to agendize it for this Tuesday, May 27.”
Mr. Harrington is using the compromise against the opponents of Measure P, arguing, “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.”
He points out, “Want to be sure these experimental, confusing, and home owner-punishing rates are fixed? Vote YES on P to repeal them, and send the City Council back to develop a set that is fair, intuitive, and progressively looking forward.”
It is a great political point that was really handed to Mr. Harrington at the 11th hour. Now whether they can really take advantage of it now is up in the air. But essentially Mr. Harrington is going to argue that now the drafter of CBFR believes that the rates are flawed, but you can’t trust the city council to fix them, and therefore you have the ability to force the city to fix them by voting Yes on Measure P.
When CBFR came out, the Vanguard quickly recognized the obvious. Under a traditional rate structure, fixed costs are based on meter sizes, and the crudeness of that model means that low-end water users pay far more per gallon than high-end users.
CBFR started to fix that by making the rates based on actual usage during peak times to approximate the total strain on the system each individual user created.
But this model was new and apparently confusing for the public.
The city was able to narrowly get the water project approved by a 54-46 vote. While the margin was victory was fairly comfortable, sometimes numbers are misleading and the number of vocal critics was relatively high.
It is easy to point the finger at a Michael Harrington, argue that he and his colleagues are simply misguided, greedy, and wish to kill the water project. What that ignored, however, is the seam of public discontent.
The root of the problem goes far beyond the confusion and perceived inequity of the CBFR system. The city should have been hammering home the fact that the Bartle Wells system would have meant that low-end users pay nearly 50% more per gallon than their high-end counterparts.
Moreover, the city took only a half measure to deal with the impact of rate hikes. The low income assistance plan was too little and too limited to be of much help. A resident like me can neither afford the rate hikes nor have access to the current assistance plan. The council really does not seem to care about this fact.
The bottom line is that these concerns about affordability in Davis have been captured by Measure P and also by John Munn. As we noted yesterday, John Munn is surging and has a good chance of finishing in the top 2. He benefits from being the only supporter of Measure P and opponent of the water project.
There is a very real wave of discontent in the electorate and, while the council in some ways improved upon things over the last four years, in the last six months that has fallen off the page.
With two councilmembers running for Assembly and one running for reelection, and the city manager having left, what has been accomplished in 2014? What is the big policy achievement?
In 2013 there were many major issues that were taken off the table. In 2014, I can’t name a single major policy achievement of the council. Their biggest achievement was the midnight approval of the sales tax that was written so poorly it had to be re-written at the next meeting to make sure everyone understood what they were voting on.
The council learned in June 2013 that it was facing huge deficits again, raised the idea of seeking revenue but did not revisit it until December, then belatedly sought out citizen input in January before approving the tax plan at the last possible moment.
We wonder why people might be skeptical that the council plans to revisit the rates if Measure P goes down.
Unfortunately, Measure P comes with some backside concerns. A Yes on Measure P vote might mean an instant lawsuit by Michael Harrington based on the language in Measure I, arguing that without effective rates, Measure I is null and void.
Moreover, the time it takes to get new rates approved, if Measure P removes them, might lead to the cascade of impacts staff laid out back in April. Did staff overplay its hand with that report? Probably, and that leads to distrust.
The bottom line here is it will be interesting to see how the public responds if the council hears the rates compromise. Will the majority trust the word of basically a lame duck council and oppose Measure P, believing the city has the means to fix the rates without removing them and exposing the city to potential fiscal perils, or will they decide that council cannot be trusted and vote yes, believing that it will force council to do what they have been reluctant to do so far?
Meanwhile, the low income residents might be wondering when the council will take their concerns about the rate hike impacts more seriously.
—David M. Greenwald reporrting