VIA HAND DELIVERY
September 13, 2010
City of Sierra Madre
232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.
Sierra Madre, CA 91024
Dear Ms. Aguilar:
As you know, on July 27, 2010, the Sierra Madre City Council ("Council") at its regularly scheduled meeting determined that there were an insufficient number of valid protests to defeat the Council's proposed water rate increase. Thereafter, the Council resolved to conduct a "public outreach campaign" to convince residents that a rate increase was actually necessary.
For the reason set forth below, the undersigned demand that the Council conduct another public hearing upon the proposed rate increase, not less than 45 days after mailing a legally adequate, written notice of the proposed rate increase to the record owner ("Owner") of each identified parcel.
California's Proposition 218, which amended the California Constitution, requires, among other things, that 45 days before the hearing on any proposed rate increase that the City provide written notice to the Owner of:
(1) "The amount of the fee or charge proposed;"
(2) "The basis upon which the amount of the proposed fee or charge was calculated;"
(3) "The reason for the proposed fee or charge."
The provisions of Proposition 218 including the above requirements "shall be liberally construed to effectuate its purposes of limiting local government revenue and enhancing taxpayer consent." The written notice ("Notice"), which was sent to the voters on or about May 17, 2010, does not satisfy these constitutionally mandated requirements and effectuate the purposes of Proposition 218.
First, the written notice does not provide each Owner with the proposed fee increase as required by Proposition 218. Instead, the Notice requires each Owner to estimate his/her/its increase based on such factors as the meter size and the applicability of a discount for "low income." Because the Notice lacks definitions of and explanations for such factors, however, it is impossible for each Owner to make any estimation.
Second, without such definitions and explanations, each Owner cannot comprehend "the basis upon which the amount the proposed fee or charge was calculated" as required by Proposition 218.
Third, the Notice does not provide "the reason for the proposed fee or charge" as required by Proposition 218. Instead, the Notice states vaguely and in the present tense that "the City imposes its water rates in order to fund the City's costs of operating and maintaining the water system, as well as to pay off the costs of improvements to that system." Absent in the Notice, however, is the actual "reason" or "reasons" that the current level of funding is insufficient to accomplish these purposes and suddenly must be increased.
Realizing that the Notice failed to adequately inform each Owner about the proposed rate increase, the City belatedly sent each Owner a flyer ("Flyer") entitled "Water Rate Increase Fact Sheet FAQ" on or about June 23, 2010. For the first time, the Flyer reveals that an Owner can determine the meter size diameter by finding the meter box and then looking for a stamp on the meter inside the box. If that fails, the Flyer provides the names and numbers of City employees who can "look up" the size of each Owner's meter. Also, for the first time, the Flyer explains that the term "low income" refers to both "low income" and "extremely low income" as those terms are defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The explanations and definitions in the Flyer provide information that some Owners could use to estimate the amount they would be charged under the proposed rate increase and the basis of such increase. This critical information was not provided to the Owners, however, until on or about June 23, 2010, which is less than the 45 days before the hearing required by Proposition 218 that was held on July 27, 2010.
For the first time, the Flyer also discloses the "reasons" for the City's decision to increase dramatically the water rates in Sierra Madre. The Flyer states that absent an increase:
1. Deterioration of the water system will result;
2. Sierra Madre will lack sufficient funding to avail itself of local, state and federal matching water system funds;
3. The City's Water Department might be sold;
4. The City's water fund credit and bond rating will deteriorate; and
5. Groundwater levels will continue to decline.
Many Owners no doubt appreciated the City's belated dissemination of the reasons for the proposed water rate increase. Once again, however, this critical information was not provided to the Owners until on or about June 23, 2010, which is less than 45 days before the hearing required by Proposition 218 that was held on July 27, 2010.
For the reasons set forth above, the undersigned reiterate their demand that the Council conduct another public hearing upon the proposed rate increase to the Owner of each identified parcel.
At the end of last night's meeting MaryAnn MacGillivray requested that two items be added to the agenda for the next City Council conclave. One was to authorize a comprehensive audit of Sierra Madre's water bond program. The previous municipal audits would not have accounted for such things as where the money was raised or how it was spent. This is a matter of public trust that involves $23 million dollars, and the truth must be made available to all. Not just the privileged few.
The other was to reopen the Proposition 218 process on the water rate increase. Given the reasons written above, plus the water bond issues, it seems obvious that what is in place now would never survive a vigorous outside inquiry.
Our rights have been badly abused in both of these now related cases. We're going to fix that.