City government

Council to decide between advisory and binding measures for water project vote

By From page A1 | November 11, 2012

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What: Davis City Council

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Community Chambers, Davis City Hall

Watch it: Live on City Government Channel 16 on Comcast and on AT&T U-Verse Channel 99

It appears the City Council is primed and ready to put the surface water project to a public vote at its meeting Tuesday for a March 5 mail-in election.

But the question still remains whether the council should use an advisory or binding measure when asking its citizens for their approval of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency project.

The project — which the council approved moving forward with as its preferred alternative to bring a new drinking supply to Davis in October — would pump water from the Sacramento River, treat it and pipe it over to both Davis and Woodland.

The City Council must finalize the ballot language at its meeting Tuesday in order to give Yolo County enough time to approve the language and prepare the mail-in ballot for the spring.

An advisory measure would ask voting members of the public a yes or no question regarding whether they approve of the city moving forward with that project.

It could read similar to how staff has proposed it in its report for the meeting: “Should Davis proceed with participation in the Davis Woodland Water Supply Project, to provide 12 million gallons per day of surface water to Davis water customers and use groundwater as necessary, at an estimated construction cost to Davis of approximately $120,000,000 and subject to approval of increased water rates by the water customers of Davis following a full Proposition 218 process?”

But an advisory measure, which staff plans to recommend Tuesday, would not handcuff the council to the outcome of the vote.

As attorney Iris Yang of Best, Best and Krieger told the council on Oct. 23, an advisory vote simply “takes the pulse of the electorate.”

A binding measure, on the other hand, would tie the City Council to whatever came of the vote in March.

The City Council likely would have to pass an ordinance pledging that they would follow the will of the people, and the fate of the project would be determined by the result of the vote.

But there are some concerns with locking the city into a binding measure, staff argue.

Essentially, the city would be stripped of the ability to make changes to the project that could be advantageous or extremely disadvantageous in terms of cost or design.

“If the project is too tightly defined, important and beneficial changes might be precluded,” the staff report reads. “If the mandate is too firm, project proposers may decide to bid higher thinking that the city must go forward even if the project costs are dramatically increased.”

City engineers currently estimate the cost of the project at $116 million, which is projected to double or even triple ratepayer water bills throughout Davis in the next five years.

If the council chose to go with the advisory measure, however, according to staff the council could easily surf through the many issues that might bubble up as the project unfolds over the next few years. And without having to consider the legal ramifications of the binding measure the public approved.

Council members have said in the past that they would abide by the public’s decision, regardless of the type of measure they used.

If the council does decide Tuesday that it wants to go with the binding measure, however, city staff has prepared language that they could use to move forward with the resolution.

It reads almost identically to the advisory measure, except for replacing the words “should” with “shall.”

The staff report also lays out the consequences should residents decide that the city “shall not” pursue the surface water project.

“Should the measure not pass the mail-in election, the city of Davis will forego this opportunity to secure a surface water supply from the WDCWA, and will rely upon groundwater and demand side management conservation goals to supply water to its residents,” the report said.

“Davis should remain a member of the JPA to preserve its right to any of the surface water rights held by the WDCWA.”

— Tom Sakash at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash. Follow all Davis water news using #daviswater.

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected], (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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