Following the council’s unanimous vote in support of 87-13 on Wednesday, the Vanguard proclaimed that the water issue had been put to rest. However, behind the scenes several warned that city staff still has to put forward a competent Prop 218 and there might be some behind the scenes who still believe they have the opportunity to quash the 87-13 rates.
The question is, how much of a danger is that possibility? Yesterday, a flurry of emails were forwarded to the Vanguard which do not yet depict overt efforts to undercut the council motion, but at least cause us to be a little cautious.
In his comments from the dais last Wednesday Mayor Dan Wolk stated, “I think I have been motivated on two things. One is finding a fair and viable rate structure and the second is honestly trying to find a global solution to this water issue. I feel that an adoption of a rate structure 60-40 does not address really either of those. It doesn’t appease a large group of our community and I think there is a real fairness issue about that 40-60 rate.”
Mayor Wolk then moved, “Consistent with Article 10 of the California Constitution my motion would be two parts. First, we would adopt an 87-13 rate structure with uniform tiers by class. Second, we implement a drought surcharge.” It was immediately seconded by both Rochelle Swanson and Lucas Frerichs.
But there are also clear signs that city staff attempted to block this conclusion.
We have the exchange when outgoing Mayor Joe Krovoza dressed down Herb Niederberger for working contrary to the best interests of the city that employs him.
Mayor Krovoza told the utilities manager, “Everything I have heard, you have not worked with them to try to make it rate resilient. Everything I have heard is they have an idea, an idea I believe that matches our community’s values so much better and for weeks and weeks they’ve been stonewalled in being able to work with quality staff to figure out if they can make it workable.”
He argued that at this meeting they once again received the staff’s 60-40 presentation and were “in my mind not getting a good faith effort to see if this rate structure could work for us.”
“I am terribly disappointed, I think that this is decision making at almost its very very worst at this point in time,” he said. “I am not going to support this [the motion by council member Lee to approve the 60-40 alternative]. We are moving forward toward a rate structure that is less conservation oriented than we have at this point in time.”
He would add that we are only at this point because staff has stonewalled for months and “it is absolutely equitably unfair and even unconscionable.” He added, “This a huge step backwards for this city.”
Donna Lemongello, the next day in a letter to the Enterprise, wrote:
“It is really unfortunate that what I essentially begged, on June 17 (or was it the 10th?), for the Council to have done, an analysis for the comparison of all the water rate structures side by side, will most likely never happen. As I said that night, if we had that, and if the URAC had had that, the decision would have been made much easier. The decision could have then simply moved to differences of opinion on policy and how these structures fit into policy.
“We were never allowed to combine all the information into a comparable, accurate and consistent format to simply make these numerical graphic comparisons. Instead what we got was a presentation by the consultant to council and to us citizens, of inconsistent, incorrect, misleading and therefore meaningless graphs, that cost money for the consultant to make. Anyone who thinks for just a moment realizes how senseless and frustrating that scenario really is.”
At the same time, council has pushed away from the perception that this is the “Williams-Lemongello” rates.
Councilmember Swanson later noted in her comments that part of the reason why some people saw this rate proposal as experimental was that instead of simply referring to it as “an 87% Variable and 13% Fixed rate” we referred to it using people’s names. She said, “Even if we do 13-87, we’re not doing something outside of the box. I think maybe we have done ourselves a disservice by adding a level of complexity by calling it by the proposers’ names. It was well intended, but probably we shouldn’t have done it.”
She emphasized that point by stating that just because we do not use the specific numeric assumptions of Matt Williams and Donna Lemongello, “the philosophical reasons for going to 87-13 hold strong. I think that’s where there’s confusion for some of it being experimental because we’ve assigned a name to it. When they talk about equity, they are talking about the split.”
Herb Niederberger responded to the Swanson comment by stating, “We used all the same assumptions (for the rate comparisons), it’s just the revenue split (that’s different).” He added, “The 87-13 that was analyzed behaves very similarly to what Matt and Donna had done.”
Is that enough to suggest that staff who clearly favored 60-40 would fairly evaluate the water rates and implement the council’s motion? That is still a big question.
However, as we noted, Bartle Wells consultant Doug Dove was fair and honest last week when he gave a presentation of all of the rate structures, which both complemented and fleshed out the presentation that followed, by Matt Williams, on the equity and financial strength of all three alternatives, and ultimately council was armed with enough truly comparable information that they were comfortable that they could put this to rest.
Still, the email exchange bears remembering, if things go sideways next Tuesday.
—David M. Greenwald reporting