By Councilmember Dan Carson, Commissioner Elaine Roberts Musser, and Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs
We call upon our community to defend Davis from a serious potential climate threat. We face the risk that, sooner or later, super-storms like the renowned Pineapple Express will dump extraordinary amounts of rain on Davis. Unless we act with foresight, and vote “yes” on the city’s stormwater initiative, a catastrophic series of storms could someday inundate and disrupt our community and cause loss of life or property damage.
It is time – in fact, long past time – for us to act to upgrade and modernize a stormwater control system with some equipment and facilities that are nearly a century old. If this system is not fixed, expanded, upgraded, and better staffed to conduct maintenance and other operations to proactively manage the system, it could fail, with potentially dire consequences:
- Failure of the Richards Tunnel Pump Station #6, built in 1924 when the city was much smaller, would result in flooding of the Richards Boulevard tunnel that would cut off this route into and out of the city and potentially hinder the ability of our emergency services crews to respond to South Davis. A temporary pump must be brought in by truck sometimes to handle the excess water.
- South Davis Pump Station #5, built in 1966, is subject to major flooding within the station itself, creating hazardous conditions for city staff and even thwarting their access to the pump during emergencies. Failure of the station would result in significant flood damage and flooding that could reach Interstate 80, causing safety and operational issues.
- The H Street Pump Station #3, which has protected Central Davis since 1948, is at risk of structural damage in a seismic event and is inadequately sized to meet the required capacity. Failure of this station would result in significant and widespread flooding within the area from State Route 113 to Pole Line and from just north of Covell to Russell Boulevard.
- Strict new government clean water standards require the removal of pollutants from stormwater before entering our local waterways. This will require additional resources we don’t have.
If you are a City of Davis property owner, you may have already received a ballot in the mail from the city. It will ask you to cast your vote on whether to adopt an increase in stormwater rates sufficient to fix these problems. We urge you to vote “yes.”
The proposed stormwater fees are reasonable. For a Davis home on a medium-sized parcel, for example, the fee would increase from about $6 to $13 per parcel with future adjustments for inflation. While state law prohibits the city from discounting utility fees, there are several government programs in place to provide assistance for low-income persons affected by the pandemic that could assist in paying their entire city utility bill, including these fees.
In the future, the City Council has the option to limit future increases in these fees that are offset by other revenue sources, such as federal or state grants. However, the fees can never exceed the amounts approved by voters.
The stormwater fees paid by a particular property owner are based on a formula reflecting what proportion of their property is taken up by impervious surfaces such as pavement and roofs that cause water runoff. Commercial properties, which generally have more impervious surfaces, will pay more. This is a fundamentally fair approach to allocating these costs. A more detailed explanation can be found at stormwater.cityofdavis.org.
The roughly $4 million in annual revenue generated by the fees will allow the city to finance $34 million in critically needed capital improvement projects to upgrade the pumping stations highlighted above and improve other facilities. This funding is needed because our stormwater system is a massive and complex piece of infrastructure – with 195 miles of storm drain pipes, drainage channels, and access roads, and 3,400 storm drain inlets that must be inspected and cleared before the rainy season each year.
The fee revenues cannot be used for any other program or purpose than stormwater management and cannot be taken away by state government. The money must be used in Davis to fix Davis’ stormwater problems.
The process to move forward with the fees has been transparent. The proposed stormwater charges are based on a detailed rate study prepared by an independent expert which is available for public review. The study was scrutinized and approved by our independent citizen Utilities Commission in a public meeting and then discussed in a series of officially noticed public forums. Only 18 property owners filed opposition protests.
Following an additional public hearing, the City Council voted unanimously to send the proposal forward for a vote by the owners of 16,000 properties within the city, in keeping with the process placed into the California Constitution by Proposition 218. Proposition 218 specifies that property owners, the parties legally obligated to pay the fee increase, get to make these sorts of decisions. If a property owner has multiple properties in Davis, they will get one vote per parcel. Their ballots will soon arrive in the mail if they have not already done so.
Please return your ballot by mail or deliver it in person to the City Clerk’s Office at 23 Russell Boulevard, Suite 1, in Davis. It must be received by 5 p.m. on June 25, 2021, not just postmarked by that date, so if you are replying by mail it would be wise to get your ballot in well ahead of that deadline to ensure it counts. Call the City Clerk at 530 757-5648 to arrange for in-person delivery.
As we are all learning, climate change leads to more extreme wet and dry years in our region. Right now, another California drought is looming. Fortunately, our city leaders and Davis voters had the foresight in 2013 to approve the purchase of additional water rights on the Sacramento River and to partner in the surface water project with Woodland to bring that water to Davis. Your “yes” vote on the stormwater initiative will show that we will do our part again to protect our community from catastrophic future rainstorms that could also result from climate change.
Let’s take care of Davis. Let’s deal with the realities of climate change. Let’s vote yes for the stormwater fees needed to protect our community from harm.
Dan Carson is a Davis city councilmember. Elaine Roberts Musser is a member of the city Utilities Commission. Lucas Frerichs is vice mayor of Davis.
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