Measure P Passes; Council and URAC Will Figure Out Next Steps

Proponents of the Water Initiative turned in signatures in January
Proponents of the Water Initiative turned in signatures in January

Yesterday’s completion of the ballot count formalizes what was believed previously: Measure P has prevailed. The question is what happens next and the answer is not clear.

Last week, the City’s General Manager of Utilities Herb Niederberger backed off more doomsday predictions and told the URAC that he was told as recently as Thursday morning that, as long as the city has rates in place with no pending legal challenge by October 1, the city would get low interest loans from the State Revolving Fund through the Clean Water Act.

The timetable is narrow and tonight the URAC will work toward completing a rate comparison chart to assist the council in weighing their options. There will be a brief discussion next week at what was previously scheduled as a parcel tax workshop before the council makes their final decision on rates on June 24, a week before the July 1 deadline.

The emerging consensus, whether it is accurate or not, is another story – that the Measure P vote was a rejection of CBFR rather than the higher rates overall. One councilmember told the Vanguard that the inclination may be something similar to the Lemongello-Williams model without the CBFR name – relatively low fixed rates with the rest being variable.

City staff has expressed concerns for such a formula. In an email, Mr. Niederberger noted that the proposed Lemongello-Williams modifications “effectively transform CBFR into a conventional water rate design with a fixed component of $8.25/month (3/4-inch meter) and two variable rate tiers, 0-20 ccf/mo @ $4.34/ccf & >20ccf/mo @ $5.74/ccf.”

“This results in the fixed component of the water bill generating approximately 13% of the total revenue and about 87% of the total revenue relying upon consumption. While this is a very conservation based rate, it is also a recipe for disaster,” he writes.

He states, “Even minor fluctuations from historical demand result in catastrophic losses in revenue.” He adds, “Staff would never recommend such a structure to City Council.”

While council will have to sort out the rates issue very quickly, Michael Harrington has his own ideas as to how the process ought to work.

In an email to legal staff on Tuesday, Mr. Harrington wrote to Harriet Steiner, “I think there is a possibility that the City acted outside of its legal and voting authority of Measure I when the City signed the JPA/Woodland/C2m Hill contracts to build the plant.”

He added, “If so, I don’t think the city will get stuck with the tab, since the other signing parties knew about the ‘subject to’ clause and the YRAPUS litigation and the pending initiative that I drafted and qualified and put on the ballot, aka Measure P.”

He writes, “The City did not have to put Measure I on the ballot, but once it did, the City is firmly bound by the language that the City drafted.”

In a Wednesday email to the city council, Mr. Harrington wrote, “As you probably know, County Elections just posted the final results, and P passed 51% to 49% percent.   It’s a great win for the ratepayers. We will have a formal communication soon, but in the meantime I know you are all planning on how to proceed with new rates.”

He added, “We want the City to know that the new rates simply have to be on a citywide vote ballot, as an advisory measure.  If it passes, and it should if the rates are greatly improved in Version 3.0,  then the City can run the Prop 218 process with no hindrance.”

He argued, “The voters have twice said they want to vote on the rates, and we have to honor that for the third try at rates. The most likely ballot for this could be November, but I am sure you are having many discussions as to new revenue measures, too.”

“My understanding is that the old rates go into effect ten days after when the election is declared, which should be this Friday, or does the CC have to put it on the agenda for CC approval?” he continues. “We appreciate that the CC really wants to try a fast Prop 218 process and slam in some new rates, but we ask for your patience so there is a public process that all can get behind.”

The city has not formally discussed the possibility of putting the rates on the ballot, however, at least one councilmember dismissed the notion and indicated that Mr. Harrington could collect signatures if he were so inclined.

Tonight’s URAC meeting, and council meetings on June 17 and June 24, should clarify where things are headed.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ryan Kelly

    If the vote is merely advisory, why the delay and expense. The 218 process is described in Measure I. If Harrington doesn’t like the 218 process, he should work to change that law.

        1. Ryan Kelly

          No. Measure P did not elect Mike to drive this process or represent the electorate. He is a citizen, which he repeatedly confirms. Measure P voters only disapproved of the adopted water rates.

          1. David Greenwald

            My view is that he put the Measure on the ballot, the measure was passed by the voters, that gives him a seat at the table – like him or not.

      1. Ryan Kelly

        The process is clear. It is in Measure I. Measure P doesn’t change that. It is time to focus on coming up with a new rate structure that doesn’t involve low water users subsidizing high end users, and doesn’t have a look-back to determine future rates.

        1. Ryan Kelly

          My view is that he can already have a seat at the table and, per him, he did take a seat by attending many, if not all, meetings. But he is not entitled to a separate process or make additional demands. He can’t be allowed to turn this into a lawsuit and expect “settlement hearings.” If he wants to be the driver of the process, he should run for City Council.

          1. Mark West

            I agree with Ryan.

            As for the perpetual feedback loop, we will have that regardless since attempts at appeasement will do nothing to stop the continuing attacks. The only way the attacks will stop is if we kill to water project altogether, which is clearly the ultimate goal.

            The City should follow the 218 process as required by law, nothing more, nothing less.

          2. Davis Progressive

            and when he forces them to have another referendum or initiative, the project gets delayed by another six months?

          3. Barack Palin

            Just do a vote on the rates and get on with it. To try and bypass the voters again is just stupid, Measure P spoke loud and hard that the people need to be included by way of a vote on the water rates.

          4. Mark West

            DP: “and when he forces them to have another referendum or initiative, the project gets delayed by another six months?”

            There is no reason to believe that the delaying tactics will stop unless and until the water project is scuttled, not matter who is at the table.

  2. dlemongello

    IF the rate structure Matt Williams and I are proposing was to be interpreted as Mr. Niederberger interprets it, the numbers would be $3.14 @20ccf or less and $4.54 @ >20ccf, not ” 0-20 ccf/mo @ $4.34/ccf & >20ccf/mo @ $5.74/ccf.” However, that is NOT how the structure works. The Supply Charge is separate from the Variable Use fee (which Mr.Niederberger seems to be combining) and the Supply Charge is subject to any necessary adjustment up or down, based on consumption, to make the structure revenue resilient. Furthermore, of all the rate structures proposed, no other even comes close to achieving equity compared to ours. This is FAIRNESS. Come see the comparisons for yourself tonight at the URAC meeting at 6:30 pm.

    1. John Munn

      Things to pay attention to in all rate structure proposals are differences in rates between classes (single-family, multi-family, commercial, and irrigation) that determine what different classes are paying toward the total system cost and differences between classes in tier volumes and tier costs that determine who is paying what toward overall system cost within the class. The more complicated this gets, the more room there is for confusion and game playing in the rate setting process.

      John Munn

  3. DurantFan

    Ryan Kelly, June 12, 2014 at 9:44 am “… Measure P voters only disapproved of the adopted water rates…”

    The heavy-handed, top-down, (developer driven?) Project approval/implementation process may also have contributed to the “Yes on P” vote.

  4. Ryan Kelly

    The voters approved Measure I, which included the 218 process for approving the rates. People like Mike want to ignore that, saying that is not what people really meant. Now Measure P has passed, again with the 218 process for setting rates and again Mike is saying that’s not what people really meant.

    As for DurantFan’s assertions, the Yes on P folks wrote the Measure, so I don’t know what he’s talking about. It is just more fiction.

  5. Ryan Kelly

    Which , per Measure P, will go through another 218 process for approval of the rates.

    Interesting, does Mike need the Council to proceed with a different process to approve the rates in order to carry forward with his argument against the validity of Measure I?

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