"People will hear what they want to hear." - John Buchanan
Last night MaryAnn MacGillivray took one more shot at trying to get the G4 to recognize the wisdom of once again putting the water rate hike out for the review of the rate payers through the Prop 218 mechanism. She went so far as to offer the enticement of raising water rates even higher than originally proposed last spring, but it was to no avail. So deep is the G4's fear that the people of Sierra Madre will once again rise up against them that they opted to take less money. All because to ask for more could once again trigger Prop 218.
Which makes John Buchanan's tiresome little rap about having been elected to lead all the more farcical. Because for all intents and purposes this was a full scale retreat in the face of what those who they were elected to serve really want from them. Which is fiscal restraint and a city government that isn't so absurdly expensive.
Though it was somewhat interesting to hear John, Joe and City Staff discuss our water bond debt last night, and how 90% of any rate hike would be absorbed by the servicing of that debt. Interesting because when the rate hike was first proposed 7 months earlier they didn't dare to discuss that issue at all. Rather they all opted to tell people it was all about repairing water infrastructure. Which was not the truth.
On September 13th I delivered a letter to City Hall detailing their vulnerability on the Prop 218 issue. Many mistakes were made during that legal procedure, all of which are clearly spelled out in this letter. I thought I'd reprint it here today because many of the issues descibed there will become very important in the months ahead.
City of Sierra Madre
232 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard
Sierra Madre, CA 9024
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 program" to convince residents that a rate increase was actually necessary.
For the reasons 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 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 an 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 of 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 an increase. This critical information was not provided to the Owners, however, until on or about June 23, 2020, which is less than 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.
While certain individuals would like to limit this discussion to just water rates, this is now about something far more important. It is about the defense of our rights as citizens.
We should not sit quietly by as four rather low calibre city councilmembers take away our Constitutionally guaranteed rights to review what is for all intents and purposes a tax hike. People have fought and died to defend just those kinds of freedoms. It behooves us to not allow such individuals the power to strip us of something that important.
It is time for us to begin discussing what actions we must take. This has now become a matter of basic principle. We need to stand up, be heard and take back our stolen rights.