This is what I wrote about the matter in my May 12 review of our most recent City Council confab:
Bruce Inman spoke about the many reasons why our water rates will go up. There were quite a few of them, and he at least seemed to feel he'd made a good case. Of course, we had to be told that it was good for us because it would help us save water. Tiered rates encourage people to use less, or so the theory goes. But wouldn't it be great if just once when utility rates or taxes are raised we aren't helpfully informed that it is beneficial to our well-being? I'm not sure how much longer the tired notion that having to pay more for government services is good for us will work. Maybe the consultants told Bruce to say that?
Apparently there is a way for the public to overturn any water rate hike under Prop 18. It involves getting 51% of the city's water customers down to a public hearing and counted as being against it. The logistics of making such a protest stick are pretty daunting, though. Just the cost of getting enough torches into the hands of a few thousand people alone would be excessive. The Council voted to move this on to its inevitable conclusion, and a nearly 16% increase in our water rates goes to a public hearing in July.
There wasn't much of anything said in comments about this the next day. However, on Thursday of last week the following exchange broke out on the water rate hike proposal put forward by Mr. Inman. Here is how it went.
May 13, 2010 7:12 PM: Re: Water Hike ... Needed for aging infrastructure or an excuse for gouging the "Little Persons" to enable a free lunch for the Development interest. Have you forgotten the "much needed" new pipeline on Grandview? It was promoted as an emergency situation. Of course, as it turned out, it was used to provide water to the Stonehouse development.
May 14, 2010 5:40 PM: Proposition 218, don't we need a vote of the residents to raise water rates? Sierra Madre could soon be in violation of this proposition. Easy to look up. Our last City Attorney (Michael Colontuano, Sandra Levin's partner) wrote an interesting article about this in 2004 for the League of California Cities magazine. Yes, the water rate increase could be used for bringing about a bigger pipeline for the development we avoided by defeating the Downtown Specific Plan. That will be back on the table now with Mosca, Moran, Buchanan and Walsh at the wheel. Keep an eye on closed meetings regarding the parking lot below Howies. That is one of the last public properties that the city (citizens) still own.
May 14, 2010 5:40 PM: Proposition 218 (ceres.ca.gov) - In November 1996, voters enacted Proposition 218, a Constitutional amendment intended to close the so-called Proposition 13 loopholes relative to excise taxes, benefit assessments, and fees, and to settle arguments over the applicability of proposition 62, the voting requirement for general taxes. Proposition 218 added Articles XIII C and XIII D to the California Constitution. Pursuant to Section 1 of Proposition 218, it is to be known as the "Right to Vote on Taxes Act." Proposition 218 both controls how general taxes are levied and requires certain previously levied general taxes to be ratified by the voters.
Proposition 218 reduces all taxes to either general taxes or special taxes. It defines a general tax as "any tax imposed for general governmental purposes." A special tax is "any tax imposed for specific purposes which is placed in the general fund." No special district (the definition of which includes school districts) may impose a general tax. By virtue of their specific purpose, taxes imposed by a special district are defined as special taxes. Charter cities, who has successfully argued that the statutory initiative Proposition 62 did not require them to submit general taxes to popular vote, now lose that argument to Proposition 218"s constitutional amendment.
No local general tax may be imposed, extended, or increased until it has been submitted to and approved by a majority of voters in the jurisdiction. Tax proposals can only be considered at scheduled general elections, unless the governing body of the city, county, or special district unanimously votes to place the question on the ballot at a special election.
May 16, 2010 6:08 PM: Prop 218 will not be triggered for a water rate increase. Colontuano is considered the premier Prop 218 attorney working on behalf of cities throughout the State. He figures out ways to circumvent the spirit of Prop 218 while still being in legal compliance, or at least creating a defensible position.
May 16, 2010 8:46 PM: We watched Colontuano create a defensible position here - for the hillside developers.
That is where things stood for a day or so. But then the following post was left a couple days later, and I have now been told by someone who knows better than I that this is pretty much the definitive comment of the series. Check it out.
May 18, 2010 11:10 AM: Prop 218 - for a water hike affecting all residents with a water bill, they must have a 45 day notice in writing (by mail) of the increase. The residents have that time period to contest the increase in writing (sent to the City Clerk so it gets recorded) and if a majority rejects it (again in writing) the City Council can not implement it. Demand a mailer that has a return rejection form included. The City of San Diego has a notice like that. Cities will try to be sneaky and not properly inform the public that they can reject a water rate hike. This is the aspect of Prop 18 that does not require a vote of the people but does require the mailed notice which people can then reject in writing. So we can make a difference and fight their funding. The budget is balanced now. Watch the parcel numbers on the closed meetings so they do not sell the three parking lots we still have as public property (not owned by the CRA). The lot below Howie's, East Montecito (Baldwin and Montecito), and the Mariposa parking lot. They have to be publicly noticed for sale at a City Council meeting. There are rules per the State of California. Read them and make sure they are followed.
Sounds like this return rejection form on the water rate hike notice to be sent out by City Hall is a good enough issue. And definitely something that needs to be discussed during Public Comment at next week's City Council meeting. We have some rights here, and there is no good reason for our not exercising them.