So anyway, what we have now is a special meeting (aren't they all special?) dedicated to this budget item alone. And if you think that we're going to be witnessing something tonight that has little to do with City Hall's desire to once again try and raise utility taxes for the third time in six years, well, then I have a bridge you might want to consider buying.
Here is how the finest portion of the staff report for this evening looks. For the entire thing click here.
As we are all well aware, the voters of Sierra Madre let it be known twice that they want this City's utility taxes to sunset back to 6%. It now falls upon the City Council and staff to somehow make that twice resident approved revenue reality work.
However, I am not completely sure they are up to it. Especially after Mayor Harabedian vowed in his State of the City address that he was planning to go out into the community and ask the residents what they want to do. Which is not something that I would call leading the charge.
Besides, hasn't that whole "What would you cut?" strategy been used before? I think Noah Green ran for City Council using that slogan. I don't recall him being elected.
The correct answer should be, "No, Mr. Mayor. What would YOU cut?" You wanted the job, so you do it. This is far too important a matter for passive aggression.
It seems obvious that, having already voted twice to cut their utility taxes, the residents have made their wishes quite clear on this matter. Sunset the UUT and order City Hall live within the resulting budget.
We'll have to wait and see if the City Council can handle that.
The end of tiered water billing?
(Mod: There has been a lot of press explaining the Court of Appeals ruling on the unconstitutionality of tiered water billing this week. This is a set-up that the City of Sierra Madre has been using for years, and is the heart and soul of the Water Department's current billing schemes. I thought that this following article from the Central Valley Business Times was pretty succinct and clear. Link here.)
Court decision may drain the clout behind governor’s water orders - Trying to “encourage” water conservation by charging higher and higher rates linked to increasing use is unconstitutional, says the California 4th District Court of Appeal.
Its ruling is in the case of the Orange County city of San Juan Capistrano which was sued by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association Inc. The city charges the biggest water users nearly four times what it charges the most frugal.
“We are called upon to determine not what is the right – or even the more reasonable – approach … but what is the one chosen by the state’s voters,” says the decision. “Our job – and it is daunting enough – is solely to determine what water plans the voters and legislators of the past have put in place, and to determine whether the trial court’s rulings complied with those plans.”
Tiered rate schedules are not automatically wrong, the court says, but “the tiers must still correspond to the actual cost of providing service at a given level of usage.”
“We do hold that above-cost-of-service pricing for tiers of water service is not allowed by Proposition 218 and in this case, [the city water department] did not carry its burden of proving its higher tiers reflected its costs of service. In fact it has practically admitted those tiers don’t reflect cost of service, as shown by their tidy percentage increments and City Water’s refusal to defend the calculations.”
Earlier, Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. issued edicts that demand an over 25 percent cut in urban water use. He made no demand on agriculture. Part of the governor’s demand includes having water agencies develop rate structures for force Californians to use less or pay higher rates.
On Saturday, the State Water Resources Control Board issued its orders to the more than 400 water retailers in the state as to the percentage of water use to be cut. That order is expected to trickle down to cities, counties, irrigation districts and others establishing how to curtail water consumption.
(Mod: Back in 2013 we posted an article about this citizen initiated legal challenge to tiered water rates. It was called "Shocker! OC Register: Tiered Water Rates Violate Law, Judge Rules" (link). In February of this year we posted something additional called "The Letter You Will Receive With Your Water Bill Next Week" - link. Here is what we so presciently shared back then.)
The way you are charged for the use of water is based on a tiered water rate system. And according to a lawsuit brought about by a group of residents in San Juan Capistrano, tiered rates could be in violation of voter approved Proposition 218. Their lawsuit has already made it past the first level of judicial review, and now the 4th District Court of Appeals is about to weigh in with their decision. The results could be dramatic.
Here is how they describe it in today's edition of the Daily Republic (link):
Orange County case challenges legality of tiered water rates - A lawsuit in an Orange County city could change the way customers California-wide pay for water.
The suit alleges San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water-rate structure violates state law, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Under tiered systems, the more water a customer uses, the higher the rate. It’s a strategy water districts employ to encourage conservation.
A group of taxpayers argue the tiered structure violates Proposition 218, a 1996 state law that prohibits agencies from charging customers more than the “cost of service” provided.
A lower court decided in their favor, and an appeals court is expected to rule soon.
The residents argue that San Juan Capistrano charged arbitrary fees — especially in the highest tiers. The city’s 2010 rate schedule charged customers $2.47 per unit — 748 gallons — of water in the first tier and up to $9.05 per unit in the fourth, the newspaper said.
The city charged customers who used the most water more than the actual cost to deliver it, plaintiffs said.
“People were getting nailed,” said John Perry, a 79-year-old resident who helped create the taxpayer group. “They were having $500 or $600 water bills on Tier 2 and Tier 3. There were horror stories.”
At least two-thirds of California’s water providers, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, use some form of the tiered rates that are at issue in the lawsuit, consultants and water lawyers said.
A 2014 study at the University of California, Riverside, estimated that tiered rate structures similar to the one used in San Juan Capistrano reduce water use over time by up to 15 percent.
A state superior court judge declared the city’s rate structure invalid in 2013. The city has flattened its tiers and tied charges more directly to water costs while it awaits a decision by the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal.
If the appellate court publishes an opinion upholding the previous ruling, many Californians could see changes to their bills either immediately, or during their water agency’s next rate-making cycle, lawyers said. Agencies could flatten their tiers, adopt uniform rates or simply wait to see if they get sued, they said.
That could prove interesting.
For the record, we did cover this story a little back in August of 2013 when it all began. Check out who San Juan Capistrano hired to defend their legally at-risk tiered water billing system. None other than Michael Colantuono himself.
I swear, that dude is everywhere!
Mod: Remember where you read it first.