We are in the final stages of amassing the signatures needed to get the water rate payers of the City of Sierra Madre the review they deserve. The proposed water rate hike is nearly 40% stretched out over 5 years, with the first year increase being over 13%. It is the opinion of many that at the bare legal minimum of 45 days this process has been rushed, and as the people who foot the bill we deserve a little more input from those who would like to take a lot more of our money.
There can be no doubt that improvements to our water infrastructure are necessary. Water is one of the big challenges California faces these days, and we are hardly exempt. And if this were a matter of raising several million dollars to drill a new well and fix some rusty pipes, I wouldn't be writing this post. But it is not. We are talking about something in the range of $18 million dollars, a lot of money even by City Hall standards. Yet to date we have not received an itemized accounting of just exactly how this money would be spent. You wouldn't buy a car without looking at the engine or kicking the tires, so why would you accept a 40% infrastructure based water rate hike without seeing any actual plans? That is, if they even exist. All we have seen so far are vaguely worded wish lists.
Out of this $18 million figure, $10 million would come in the form of a matching grant from the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington DC. My fear here is that our City put the cart before the horse when they initiated this rate increase. The City needs to raise matching funds in order to qualify for this EPA grant. It could very well be that the actual impetus behind the large 40% water rate hike has a lot more to do with raising the money necessary to get this $10 million federal grant than it does any carefully considered plans, or actual needs for obtaining so much.
Some have suggested that this $10 million in EPA funding is somehow found or free money, and that we'd be winning a big game show prize if we get it. As someone who pays Federal Income Taxes, I think I know where this found money actually comes from. And believe me, it is hardly free.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone living in Sierra Madre is wealthy. We have a very large senior population, mostly retired with many living on fixed incomes. A 40% water rate hike might seem like an affordable sacrifice to some, but for many this will mean a further stretching of already thin budgets. A true community would consider the needs of everyone, and I am not certain that has been done here. The last things Sierra Madre should be doing in the midst of a severe recession is further increasing the financial insecurity of some of our most vulnerable residents.
Ethical gentrification is a myth, and doing it on the backs of our seniors a crime.
Under Proposition 218 we are entitled to a review period on rate increases such as this one, and if enough signatures are gathered we will get to call the shots. And given the thin amount of justification for so large a hike, I don't see how we cannot send this one back for further review. The due date for your signed form is July 13, so please do not delay. We are very close to our goal, and every ratepayer signed form is vital.
The most responsible control is citizen control. Stand up, be counted, let your voice be heard. And please, take more than 3 minutes doing it.