Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sierra Madre City Council Special Meeting On The Budget

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This budget agenda item was supposed to be discussed at the City Council meeting a week ago Tuesday. However, the baffling and frankly dangerous resistance by Mayor Harabedian and Councilman Goss to the Planning Commission's reformed R-1 single family zoning standards as found in Sierra Madre's Municipal Code took up so much time that this matter had to be bumped to a Special Meeting this evening. Why these two members of the Sierra Madre City Council decided to put so much energy and valuable time into playing chicken with the very real mansionization threat facing this community is beyond me. It certainly was not either Councilman's finest hour in my opinion.

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.

sierramadretattler.blogpot.com

42 comments:

  1. I don't know why it's so hard for these guys to figure out. In order to keep the city sustainable, one needs to cut payroll costs across the board. That is where the bulk of our taxes go. Salaries and retirement. The police salaries are a joke. Especially when you figure the Chief already has retirement benefits as well as full salary here. The city will eventually have to file for bankruptcy if these salaries continue. Notice that Elaine says the city will, of course, cut services. Wow! The services we get don't cost that much in and of themselves. Again, it's the payroll and perks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hey, our police need to get paid high salaries because they protect us from skateboarders

      Delete
    2. They also guard Santa at Whoville.

      Delete
    3. Do away with all of them and have the mall cops down the street expand their shifts and cover our area, the effect would be the same. Our force was completely ineffective against the Valero fraud, the surge of crime after inmates were let out, and a variety of other issues. Remember, we don't have a revenue problem in this city, we have a spending problem.

      Delete
    4. Wackenhut security personnel cost $10 and hour and require no benefits. Plus they don't sue.

      Delete
    5. The Public Employees of the City of Sierra Madre are willing pawns in a brazen Ponzi scheme.
      Like all such schemes,they eventually collapse. The question is when?
      That question is important because the financial pain to the investors (We Taxpayers to the City) increases exponentially, the longer it continues.
      The big difference in this Ponzi Scheme is that it is well known and the eventual victims(taxpayers) are acquiescent. They are therefore as culpable as the fraudulent beneficiaries and their enablers on many Sierra Madre City Councils.
      You get the government you deserve?
      Feel like it is time for a change yet ?

      Delete
    6. How is Earl Richey doing with his petition for a ballot measure to end the UUT?

      Delete
    7. Why not contact him and offer to help collect signatures. he doesn't need that many.

      Delete
    8. Yes. That is why I was curious. Is this a done deal, or are they having problems.

      Delete
    9. Volunteers are welcome. Contact the Mod and he'll point you in the right direction.

      Delete
  2. Hmm. In the last month Mayor Harabedian has:
    1) Suggested he wishes to raise utility taxes, and
    2) Worked to weaken R1 zoning reforms that would halt mansionization.

    Who is this guy again?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. he's the same guy that photoshopped out police patches from a photo and used it unethically as a campaign photo

      Delete
    2. Not true. Harabedian said the cops in the picture weren't in uniform. They were in "black casual."

      Delete
    3. Correct. The city concluded in its investigations that those were team bowling outfits.

      Delete
  3. I'm at a point that I almost hope that this "drought" increases in severity and reduces our reservoirs to non-existent status. Why? Because it would FINALLY force the dummies in Sacramento to do what they should have done DECADES ago, which is killing insane concepts like the "Bullet Train", allocate money away from outrageous public employee pay and pensions, and FINALLY build half a dozen desalination plants along the California coast, which would eliminate drought situations forever AND help to reduce a rise in sea levels that's purported to be an "effect of global warming". That's an entirely different conversation in and of itself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great plan......moron!

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    2. 9:54 - How do you associate desalination plants with not being smart?

      Delete
    3. Please re-read! 8:09 am is ADVOCATING for desalination plants. His/her passon is not up to his/her grammar skills.

      Delete
    4. The future is solar desalination plants. Scrap the bullet train and spend the money saving California.

      Delete
  4. WELL THE MAN IN THE BLACK HAS RULED!

    1) TIERED WATER RATES ARE ILLEGAL -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.”
    2) City Hall is making a profit from the water enterprise income monies and paying unrelated expenses with said monies.
    2) Attorneys who sue cities, file "CLASS ACTION SUITS" will be working overtime on this one! Our city will be sued and city hall will be Ordered to return all Tiered #2 and higher tiers rate money to all city residents$$$

    UUT
    3) FACT - the residents voted down city hall proposal in years 2012 & 2014,
    FACT - Residents were never given the opportunity to "remove all UTT taxes", the time has come to allow the residents the right to vote and decide!
    FACT - city hall needs to "cut the fat" and reduce employees and spending$$$

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The city is running out of places to hide. The Wizard of Oz just lost his curtain.

      Delete
  5. CAL FIRE practiced water shuttle training in Yuba County as drought conditions reduced the number of water sources available to fight wildfires
    In Drought-Stricken California, Firefighters Transport Water To Battle Wildfires http://www.capradio.org/articles/2015/04/22/in-drought-stricken-california,-firefighters-transport-water-to-battle-wildfires

    ReplyDelete
  6. The water rate debacle pits Governor Brown against the court rulings: As a closely-watched court ruling threw California’s tiered water pricing system into disarray, the Water Resources Control board made public its latest and harshest conservation targets for municipalities across the Golden State.

    http://calwatchdog.com/2015/04/22/water-board-unveils-steep-ca-cuts/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agriculture, which accounts for 80% of all water use in CA, was untouched. As always, Sacramento's first instinct is to beat up the middle class homeowner.

      Delete
    2. Don't forget! CA needs your water for the delta smelt! Google it up.

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  7. Item 1 talks about the "inflationary growth of costs". What was the rate of inflation last year?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe they're talking about raises and benefit increases.

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    2. They're talking about the cost of Platinum Pensions. Open up your wallet!

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    3. It always is. As much as they try to disguise it.

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  8. 9.48 Please note your number of 80% is correct -BUT ,environmental releases of water account for 50 % off the top. Of the 50% remaining,you are correct 80% goes to agriculture.
    The egregious waste of water is in non-essentials like golf courses, & inappropriate crops - sod production,rice,corn,cotton,sugar beets ,......I have written this list many times for Tattler.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Two things that The Tattler does not fear. Repetition and Off Topic Posts.

      Delete
  9. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-02-13/israel-desalination-shows-california-not-to-fear-drought

    Many good ideas will come out of this current water crises.

    We have had sewage treatment technology in California for decades where we could have pumped the treated water back into the home usage cycle but the so called "ick" factor sent that good water to the rivers to the sea. Places in west Texas are using their sewage treatment plant's tertiary water now, not later after the river "cleans" it further. They don't have the to wait. We don't either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let's recycle sewage for drinking water. That way we can be # 1 with # 2.

      Delete
    2. All of the water outside of the city of LA is captured and re-used.

      I'm beginning to wonder what the real numbers are. As far as I can tell MWD total water consumption is down hundreds of thousands of acre feet since the last time there was a drought, and supply has been replaced with recapture, and water has been captured in high rain years and banked in reservoirs (a solution put forward last time around).

      People use drought years to drum up their agenda and get money for their causes. It's hard to separate the noise from the truth.

      Delete
  10. Interesting 1:44. Human aquifers.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Some misinformation today. Sitting at the council meeting when the tiered rate was proposed, I heard the consultant say it was perfectly legal if the rate was tied to the cost of providing the water. It was determined that the cost of the water itself, and the cost of pumping increased as more water was used, so our rate is based on the actual cost analysis, not the rate used by some other cities.

    San Diego is starting on their desalination plant shortly and I believe Santa Barbara is planning the reactivation of their plant. However this method is extremely expensive and there are unintended consequences. We cannot rely on the plants themselves to supply us with water needs. I agree, though that the train to nowhere should be scuttled and monies spent on some other method of water supply. The island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean relies strictly on rain water. During the dry season, the desalination plants provide the water with deliveries two days a week. If your tank runs out before a water delivery, oh well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find the word "misinformation" to be an unfortunate one. The suggestion apparently is that people are deliberately spreading mistruths is a bit of a stretch. And quite honestly, people everywhere are struggling to figure out what the consequences of the court decision on tiered rates are going to be. Government and civilian alike. What you might have heard from some consultant at a City Council meeting is not going to be taken as God's own truth by very many. The legal battles will go on for years. Every city atty around is going to figure out a way of claiming that their city's tiered rates are just fine, all the while knowing that it will take a major legal challenge to root them out.

      As far as desalination goes, 70% of the water consumed in Saudi Arabia comes from its desalination plants. It can be done. http://www.saudiembassy.net/about/country-information/agriculture_water/Water_Resources.aspx

      Delete
    2. Misinformation meaning uninformed, not a conspiracy.

      Delete
  12. According to Highsmith our tiered system is not affected.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She is staking out what she hopes is a defensible legal position. No city is going to give up their tiered water rates without a fight. They're all claiming what their city has are different. Most aren't. Besides, she is a law partner of Michael Colantuono. He is the guy who lost the San Juan Capistrano case. A monumental legal failure. You're going to have to go deep on this one. Our attys are in the thick of it.

      Delete
  13. Okay, so how many people that make comments here have taken the time to join Preserve Sierra Madre? There's no fee, just a communal spirit of ideas to keep this city going. If you haven't joined, go to the website now and join.

    ReplyDelete
  14. 4:42 post
    WELL THE MAN IN THE BLACK HAS RULED!

    1) TIERED WATER RATES ARE ILLEGAL -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.”
    2) City Hall is making a profit from the water enterprise income monies and paying unrelated expenses with said monies.
    2) Attorneys who sue cities, file "CLASS ACTION SUITS" will be working overtime on this one! Our city will be sued and city hall will be Ordered to return all Tiered #2 and higher tiers rate money to all city residents$$$

    UUT
    3) FACT - the residents voted down city hall proposal in years 2012 & 2014,
    FACT - Residents were never given the opportunity to "remove all UTT taxes", the time has come to allow the residents the right to vote and decide!
    FACT - city hall needs to "cut the fat" and reduce employees and spending$$$

    Attorney Highsmith
    has lied again - She forgot to tell you that the city of Sierra Madre has not paid for the water delivered by MWD, therefor that water has continued to be used and paid for by Sierra Madre residents and the city has continued to make a profit. Therefor her statement is incorrect!

    ReplyDelete