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Council: March vote on water project will be binding

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From page A1 | November 14, 2012 | Leave Comment

Davis residents will have the final word on the surface water project.

On Tuesday, the City Council packaged up ballot language to ship off to Yolo County to prepare a March 5 vote on the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency project.

After considering an advisory measure last meeting that would not have tied the council to the outcome of the vote, the City Council unanimously agreed that a binding measure is the appropriate way to ask the electorate for its approval of the project.

“If people vote no, they want to be certain we don’t move forward with the project,” Councilman Brett Lee said. “I don’t get the sense from the community that they’re worried that if they vote yes, that we have to specifically do the specified project before us.

“So if we can find a better deal that’s less expensive in terms of the sizing, in terms of the amounts, they’re not so worried about that. … I’m getting more feedback from the people who want to feel like their no vote will actually make a difference.”

If the council had not finalized language Tuesday during its meeting, it could not have put the project to a vote in March. According to WDCWA general manager Dennis Diemer, that would have delayed the city’s participation in the project for an entire year.

That scenario potentially could have had substantial cost implications for Davis as the city of Woodland plans to move forward with the project alone. Joining up later with Woodland could mean an increase of $15 million to $50 million for Davis’ share, city staff projects.

City Attorney Harriet Steiner had recommended an advisory measure in previous meetings because she worried that locking the city into a project with a binding vote could put Davis in a precarious position regarding the project details and costs.

Steiner, however, accepted the binding language the council approved Tuesday.

The council drafted the following wording to appear on the mail-in ballot that will determine the fate of the project:

“Shall ordinance No. XXXX be adopted, which grants permission to the city of Davis to proceed with Davis Woodland Water Supply Project, to provide surface water to Davis water customers, subject to the adoption of water rates in accordance with the California Constitution (Proposition 218)?”

If the majority of Davis voters answer yes to that question, because the council chose a binding measure rather than advisory, the city will have no choice but to go forward with the $116 million project.

Should voters turn down the proposal, that would be the end of the joint Woodland-Davis surface water project for Davis.

“This is heady stuff,” said Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson. “If we don’t get this right, we could potentially be affecting generations going forward. So I think we’re all taking some faith here that we’re going to have a good vote in March and that’s why I want to go binding because I think the community is going to get it right.”

The project will pump water from the Sacramento River, treat it and pipe it to Davis and Woodland, to supplement each city’s ground supply of drinking water.

Some in the community had pushed to have the council put the actual water rates on the ballot,  especially since residents will be asked to front the cash to pay for the project through their utility bills. But city staff believe the only way to ask for approval of water rates is through the state’s Proposition 218 process.

Council members agreed Tuesday, however, that residents will have all of the information they need on the rates before they receive their mail-in ballots.

The city will mail Prop. 218 notices to residents on Jan. 22, meaning that residents will know roughly what they will pay over the next five years before they vote on the project in March. According to the city’s water rate consultant, rates likely would double or even triple by 2018 if the city approves the project.

But before the council approved the ballot language and the subsequent resolutions to conduct the March election, several members said they’re uncomfortable that Davis and Woodland haven’t yet reached accord on the final cost-sharing for the project.

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk and Swanson have been negotiating the project’s cost allocations with Woodland for the past two months after the Davis Water Advisory Committee determined the project should be smaller. That resulted in a change in the two cities’ share of the water.

Of the overall capacity of 30 million gallons per day, Davis will receive 12 mgd, or 40 percent; Woodland will receive 18 mgd, or 60 percent. Davis officials believe the infrastructure costs should be divided accordingly.

“Where the official cost-sharing is right now does not reflect many of the changes (to the project) that have been made,” Lee said. ”If the current cost-sharing arrangement exists as it is today (46 percent to Davis and 54 percent to Woodland), I think there are some serious concerns.”

Steiner told council members that if they are not happy with the outcome of the negotiations, the city could pull the item from the Yolo County Board of Supervisors agenda, and effectively delay the vote.

Wolk did say Tuesday, however, that negotiations with Woodland have been going well.

“I would definitely characterize those discussions as very productive,” he said. “I think we have made significant progress both at the council level and at the staff level. We don’t have a deal to announce but I can tell you we’re close.”

City Manager Steve Pinkerton said negotiations will be completed by the council’s next meeting on Tuesday.

City staff projects the election will cost Davis between $90,000 and $150,000.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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