There are a number of factors involved, I'm sure. The economy being one of them, along with the general impression many in this community hold that what City Hall does just isn't all that vital to their lives. Despite all the prattle you hear about services and how the City "gives back so much."
As someone who is still waiting for approvals from the City to repair the damage to my house from the windstorm, I know I'm not exactly convinced on the "services" thing. Every time I look at the blue tarps that are still on my roof my thoughts are decidedly different.
But I think it goes back to the recent water rate increase, and the less than aboveboard way it was handled by then Mayor Joe Mosca. Initially rolled out as necessary for repairing aged water infrastructure such as ancient mains and pipes, thanks to some great research by residents here in town, it was soon revealed that the true reason for increasing water rates was old water bond debt. A deception that the City never did apologize to anyone for, they just changed their message once word got out.
I was going through some old issues of Susan Henderson's Mountain Views News and nowhere is this Orwellian message shift more obvious. The Looney Views News, as it has become known in town, has always being completely obedient to the marketing requirements of City Hall. The City being the source of much of the paper's income. This incident was no exception. Check this out from July 10 of 2010:
Current revenues from water users are not sufficient to continue operating the City's aging water system properly. This is primarily due to the fact that there has been no rate increase since July 2006 to keep up with the escalating costs of, for example, electricity that runs the pumps ... The City's current water delivery system, which dates back to the early 1900s, requires constant maintenance and improvements. As recently as this week, as if a warning to the City that the system's need for maintenance is immediate, an aging water main broke in the canyons. It appeared that the main had not been replaced since the 1930s.
So that was before the news broke here about the situation with the water bonds and how things such as that "aging water main" in the "canyons" had precious little to do with it. Here is how the Looney Views News reported that new information in January of 2011. With, of course, no acknowledgement that its previous messaging on the topic was entirely false, or that they had even said it.
At stake was the City's ability to pay the existing bond obligation on time. Those obligations, entered into years before this Council was seated, were created in the 1990s and for political reasons rates were not raised as recommended to keep up with increasing costs.
Even this was not completely true, however. Some of the $19 million in bond debt service does have its roots in the 1990s, but the majority of it came into being in 2003 when Bart Doyle was Mayor. Bart, widely suspected of being a benefactor to Susan Henderson's paper in many ways, was given what appears to be a pass here on any responsibility for the city's current bond debt woe.
On July 1st water rates do go up another 7.5%. This will bring the total increased take to 15%, with similar additional rate increases coming down in 2013 and 2014. Despite a massive Prop 218 water rate protest and a legal challenge.
So what does this less than on the level water rate increase have to do with the defeat of the UUT rate increase this week? Plenty in my opinion. This to me looks like it was the deal breaker. The UUT passed overwhelmingly in 2008 because the people of Sierra Madre believed what the City was telling them. There was a level of trust that made voting for an increase in utility taxes something that seemed necessary. They believed what they were told, and responded accordingly.
As we saw this week, that trust is no longer there. And the voters of Sierra Madre began the process of taking back from the City what they had so generously given in 2008.
Despite a long and protracted struggle with water ratepayers, the City did in the end get its water rate increase. But what it lost in the process is now costing so much more.