It may not have been exactly what the Rancho Yolo mobile home community was looking for, but the City Council found a way Tuesday to help the park and its residents begin to handle their escalating water costs.
Rather than granting the request to carve out a special water rate class for mobile home parks, the council instead unanimously approved an extension of the city’s Lifeline Water Utility Rate Assistance Program to mobile home park residents to provide discounts on future water bills.
Those who qualify for the program can receive up to $10 off of their water bills each month. Eligibility is based on the PG&E CARE (California Alternate Rates for Energy) program’s income level scale.
The program, which at first only extended to property owners, was created in March after the council approved five years of steep water rate increases citywide to begin generating revenue to pay for its $110 million share of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project.
But Rancho Yolo residents only own their homes, not their properties.
“We’d love anything that would help, there’s no question about it,” said Jerry Hallee, president of the Rancho Yolo Community Association during the meeting.
“We’ll work with the city to make it happen if it can happen, after all that’s what we want. We want those with limited income to meet these obligations.”
Council members Tuesday didn’t appear to have any problems with lending a hand to the community, a 40-acre mobile home park in East Davis with 262 individual homeowners. According to Hallee, a significant percentage of the residents are seniors, largely living off fixed incomes or social security.
But reclassifying the mobile home community into the single-family rate class, or into its own rate class, would have been rife with problems.
First, if the council wanted to reclassify Rancho Yolo, the city or the mobile home community would have to install meters for each one of the 262 homes on the property.
The council then would have to amend a city ordinance to be able to charge non-property owners for water use.
Further, even if the city made the change, each resident would likely pay more for water than they would under the current configuration, according to Doug Dove, president of the city’s water rate consultant, Bartle Wells Associates.
“I’m not getting it here,” Dove said Tuesday. “If we converted all of the mobile home units to single-family, my analysis shows that they’d pay 56 percent higher rates.”
Noting the various obstacles in addition to the fact that the residents were mostly concerned about the tiered water rate structure, which will expire in about 16 months when the city switches to the consumption-based fixed rate structure, Councilman Brett Lee said that the lifeline program was the best route to take.
“There are far fewer restrictions on how we do the affordability component,” Lee said. “The idea is to make it affordable for the residents of Rancho Yolo, especially for the ones with slightly lower incomes. So I view that as a fairly straightforward fix.”
But Lee wondered whether the community might still consider moving to individual meters in the near future anyway, as separate meters would allow each homeowner to pay their fair share of the amount of water they consume.
Without individual meters, despite any efforts to conserve, residents at Rancho Yolo pay the same amount because the property owner, who passes along utility costs through rent, has no way to determine how much water each home uses.
“You have someone who uses three times as much water next to the person who uses a third of that amount of water paying the same bill, and those bills are likely to be substantial,” Lee said. “How you allow for a more fair method of billing in terms of that scenario is by having individual meters.”
Hallee said the mobile home park discussed the idea of moving toward individual meters several years ago, but that the costs were prohibitively high.
But more affordable meters used by other mobile home parks in the region are available, according to one Rancho Yolo resident who spoke Tuesday.
Councilman Lucas Frerichs urged the community members to reopen the discussion with the park owner to gauge whether he would be amenable to allowing individual meters to be installed.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash