Thursday, April 24, 2014

Initiative could put water rates up for vote

From page A1 | July 25, 2013 | 10 Comments

BigStock photo

Even more pressure has been applied to the city this week and the water utility rates it approved earlier this year to pay for the surface water project.

Not only was the city’s legal team denied a chance Wednesday to speed up the ruling on the lawsuit that’s been lodged against the rates — important for city officials because they want to approach lenders without litigation tied to the rates in order to pick up the best possible financing for Davis’ $111 million share of the surface water project — but it also learned Tuesday that an initiative was filed by community members to repeal the rates altogether.

The initiative was drafted by Davis residents Pam Nieberg and Ernie Head, both of whom were proponents of the referendum campaign that overturned the first water rate hike the council adopted in 2011. Those rates also were approved by the council to pay for the now scaled-down and cheaper Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project.

If Head and Nieberg collect more than 1,161 valid signatures — or 5 percent of those in Davis who voted in the last gubernatorial election — the rates likely would be placed on the next general election ballot for a public vote.

Once the city releases a title and summary in the next few weeks, Head and Nieberg will have six months to collect the signatures.

The two Davis residents say they want to suspend the rates because they charge ratepayers unfairly, specifically pointing to the consumption-based fixed rate model the council approved, and because they believe the drastic rise in water rates will have adverse financial impacts on the community, among other reasons.

Head told The Enterprise Wednesday, meanwhile, that he also hopes the initiative stops the city from moving forward with the surface water project.

“I hope it kills the surface water project,” Head said. “That’s been a mess since Day One. I don’t think we need it and I think it’s too expensive. … (The initiative) takes the money away from (the city), so how are they going to (build the project) if they don’t have the money?”

The City Council adopted a five-year rate hike in March that will triple water bills during the next half-decade. The first increase kicked in May 1 with subsequent increases on the way over the next five years.

Davis voters approved the water project, which the rates were raised to pay for, in March by a 54.1 to 45.9 percent margin, but project opponents have criticized the election because the ballot didn’t include the rates.

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk said Wednesday that rehashing this issue would not be in the best interest of the community.

“This is just the latest in a long string of attempts to block our community’s access to clean surface water,” Wolk said in a statement. “These concerns about rates were thoroughly vetted by our Water Advisory Committee and exhaustively debated during the Measure I election. The community voted in favor of the project despite these objections.”

Davis City Attorney Harriet Steiner said Wednesday that even if the initiative collects enough valid signatures and successfully repeals the rates through the public vote, the council could simply restart the Proposition 218 process at any time and raise the rates necessary to continue paying for the water project.

City denied

Complicating the issue even further, Yolo Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire ruled against Steiner’s motion Wednesday to bifurcate the proceedings of the lawsuit that claims the city’s water utility rates are illegal under state law.

Maguire said that the bifurcation would not result in a more efficient judicial process, as the city had argued in its motion.

Steiner had hoped that by pushing up the ruling on the water rates, the city would be clear of the litigation and able to reap the best possible financing terms on the bonds it needs to pay for the water project as soon as possible.

Instead, the court ruled that the entire suit will be heard in December after several initial hearings to work out other procedural details.

Steiner said that the city is pleased to have a hearing date scheduled, but if the city takes out loans to pay for the project before then, creditors likely won’t offer up their best interest rates.

“The good part is we’ll get a ruling on everything all at once,” Steiner said. “The reason we wanted to bifurcate was to get a ruling as early as possible … (but) it may not quite jibe with the best schedule we’d love to have.”

City officials also say that with litigation hovering over the rates — aside from receiving less than optimal interest terms — it also could preclude the city from making a public offering, which, compared to a private offering, could save the city more in the end.

Pinkerton said last week that if the city can’t shake the lawsuit, the city may only bond out for the first year of the project’s costs this year, potentially leaving the city and its ratepayers vulnerable to cost increases, as interest rates could rise over the next year or so.

“This could cost the ratepayers millions and millions of dollars,” Pinkerton said.

Michael Harrington, the attorney representing the Yolo Ratepayers for Affordable Public Utility Services — the group suing the city — maintains that the city put itself in the position to incur more costs by moving forward with the rates despite the pending lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the water rates the city adopted in March are illegal under Proposition 218, as they disproportionately charge ratepayers for the water they consume. The suit also alleges the city unlawfully fails to pay for the water it uses, among other charges.

Harrington also said Wednesday that he’s requested to have settlement discussions with the city that could resolve the suit before December.

“The plaintiffs want a global settlement,” Harrington said. “We want the rates to be fixed and we want them on the ballot.”

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

Tom Sakash

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

Discussion | 10 comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Will ArnoldJuly 25, 2013 - 2:33 am

    Here we go again... These same folks argued to the WAC that the project costs too much and that CBFR is unfair. They lost. They argued to Council that the project costs too much and that CBFR is unfair. They lost. They argued to the voters that the project costs too much and that CBFR is unfair. They lost. They are now arguing in court. They've had their opportunity to get their message out and have it considered by every relevant public entity, including a city-wide vote. At every turn they have not been successful. Now they want yet another bite at the apple hoping the fifth (or sixth) time is a charm. It is an insult to our democratic process and to our intelligence as voters. I sincerely hope my fellow community members will see it for what it is, an attempt to subvert the will of the majority by a small minority bent on killing this project.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • GrantJuly 25, 2013 - 8:23 am

    You are not entirely fair in your criticism, Will. There are people in this town who did like the idea of securing a more permanent water supply, but were not in agreement with the funky rate system. Unfortunately, we were not given a choice on that, and some folks no doubt voted for the project in hopes that the rate system would be addressed and possibly changed. I remember discussing this with you at a Farmer's Market rally, and you agreed with me. How about a vote on JUST the rate system - CBFR or flat usage rate. I suspect you would not get a majority in favor of CBFR.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • AmenJuly 25, 2013 - 2:13 pm

    Amen, William. Democracy has spoken. It is time to move on. Grant, after the additional vote on the rate system, why don't we have an additional vote on the design of the water treatment plant, then we could have a vote on the pipelines from the plant, and then we could have another vote on the type of paper we use for the water bills. That way, everyone who ever had any opinion on the water treatment plant could be fully heard.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • GrantJuly 25, 2013 - 3:34 pm

    Amen - I'm not talking about tiny details here. You have to admit, the CBFR model was and still is very controversial. Many people voiced their concerns about it, even folks on the 'yes' side of Measure I, but there was so much pressure and threats that we were going to run out of water if the project wasn't passed, I think many folks voted 'yes' despite their dislike of the CBFR model, and wound up feeling disenfranchised as voters. 54% is hardly a landslide victory. If even 5% of the 'yes' voters wanted the project but not the CBFR, then the MAJORITY of voters are not in favor of the CBFR model. It may be the latest trendy rate model, but you cannot tell me it is fair. What's fair is a set rate that I can count on everyday of the year. While I don't necessarily agree with the litigators' hopes of destroying the whole project, I applaud their effort to change the rate structure.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Stephen SouzaJuly 25, 2013 - 6:43 am

    For the Love of God, Really?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • ScottJuly 25, 2013 - 12:02 pm

    There's a reason that you were not re-elected.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • And...July 25, 2013 - 2:16 pm

    ...and replaced by city council members in FAVOR of the water treatment plant....(No, wait a second, that logic doesn't quite work...)

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • M. KilleenJuly 25, 2013 - 11:14 am

    Just out of curiosity: when the vote was taken, the figure of $113 million was used. Within the past month, the Council was talking about $151.5 million. Now we are hearing $111. Where are all the differing figures coming from? The escalating rates will be based at least in part on the cost of the project (and the few people who cannot opt out of it to pay for it). It does matter greatly to those who are fiscally conservative and who also want our city to survive financially.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Tom SakashJuly 25, 2013 - 11:33 am

    That's a good question and I should be more clear about it in the future. As I understand it, when the vote was taken in March, the cost to Davis was $113 million (not including the operational costs the city will be on the hook for once the project is finished, which will run about $9.5 million per year I believe split between Davis and Woodland). But then, the water agency board altered the request for proposal documents, requiring bidders -- or now just CH2M hill -- to submit proposals under a certain dollar amount. At the time of that change, the agency claimed it would reduce overall construction costs by 10 percent. The math apparently doesn't translate to 10 percent off that $113 million, however. If that were true, the costs to Davis would be roughly $100 million rather than $111 million. But in any case, the costs that the agency general manager has presented recently are $110.9 million to Davis and $237 million total for construction.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Katie BlackJuly 25, 2013 - 8:18 pm

    I'm with Souza...and Will Arnold, this is ridiculous...

    Reply | Report abusive comment


4-H members get ready for Spring Show

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Will city move forward on public power review?

By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

Obama to Russia: More sanctions are ‘teed up’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2, 1 Comment

2 pursuits, 2 arrests keep Woodland officers busy

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

Youth sports in focus on radio program

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Rummage sale will benefit preschool

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Concert benefits South Korea exchange

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Conference puts focus on Arab studies

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Davis honors ‘green’ citizens

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Water rate assistance bill advances

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Program explores STEM careers for girls

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5, 3 Comments

Embroiderers plan a hands-on project

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Central Park Gardens to host Volunteer Orientation Day

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Volkssporting Club plans North Davis walks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Hotel/conference center info meeting set

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

MOMS Club plans open house

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

Cycle de Mayo benefits Center for Families

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

Author to read ‘The Cat Who Chose to Dream’

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A12



Things are turning sour

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

The high cost of employment

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

High-five to Union Bank

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Broken sprinklers waste water

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Three more administrators?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Neustadt has experience for the job

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Here’s a plan to save big on employee costs

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6, 3 Comments

Davis is fair, thoughtful

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Ortiz is the right choice for Yolo

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6



DHS tracksters sweep another DVC meet

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Another DVC blowout for DHS girls soccer

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1, 2 Comments | Gallery

Young reinvents his game to help Aggies improve on the diamond

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

DHS boys shuffle the deck to beat Cards

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

DHS/Franklin II is a close loss for Devil softballers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Baseball roundup: Giants slam Rockies in the 11th

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

UCD roundup: Aggies lose a softball game at Pacific

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

Jahn jumps to Sacramento Republic FC

By Evan Ream | From Page: B8





Congressional art competition open to high school students

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

Emerson, Da Vinci to present ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

Winters Plein Air Festival begins Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

Bach Soloists wrap up season on April 28

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A11







Comics: Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6