By almost 8 full points, Measure I and the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project were approved by Davis voters Tuesday, allowing the City Council to proceed with its plan to deliver a new source of drinking water to town by 2016.
When the final tally for the all-mail election flashed up on the Yolo County Elections Office website just before midnight, Measure I had received 8,014 “yes” votes, or 54.1 percent of the 14,832 total votes cast, while 6,802 residents, or 45.9 percent, had voted no.
Almost 40 percent of those registered to vote in Davis participated in the election.
The $113 million project will import treated Sacramento River water to Davis and Woodland, replacing each city’s ground well drinking water supply entirely except during peak consumption periods in the summer. If the project remains on schedule, construction would begin later this year.
“When you couple the percentage (of yes votes) with the cost, you realize that people realize that we have to move forward,” Mayor Joe Krovoza said after the majority of the votes had been counted late Tuesday night. “I think this shows the community is willing to make the investment to finally have a clean water system and I’m gratified by that.”
Krovoza and the rest of his City Council colleagues joined the Yes on Measure I committee Election Night party — following their meeting — at Our House restaurant downtown, which had launched into a full celebration by the time they arrived.
At about 8:15, the Yolo County Elections Office posted results from about 13,000 votes on the Measure I election page, excluding only those votes cast Tuesday. When the first numbers popped up, showing about a 1,200-vote advantage with only about 10 percent of the votes left to count, Yes on Measure I committee members knew they had sewn up the victory.
“I’m really proud of our community,” Yes on Measure I campaign manager Will Arnold said. “This was a very complex decision that the community made and it was a long time coming. I’m impressed with the city of Davis that they made the decision to move forward with this type of an investment.”
Also attending the Yes on Measure I celebration Tuesday were state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis; Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor; former Davis City Councilman Stephen Souza; Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kemble Pope; Water Advisory Committee chairwoman Elaine Roberts Musser; and Woodland City Manager Paul Navazio, among others.
“A community only makes a major decision like this maybe once every two or three generations and I’m very proud of the community for choosing this path,” Sen. Wolk said.
The Yes on Measure I committee received more than $71,000 to finance its campaign promoting the surface water project, including $20,000 from Davis resident and Natural Resources Commissioner Alan Pryor and $20,000 from Sacramento-based labor unions.
Arnold and the Yes on Measure I committee campaigned to the very end with a text message blast Tuesday to about 2,600 residents, urging them to vote and to vote “yes” on Measure I.
‘A lot of hard work’
The No on Measure I committee, meanwhile, held their Election Night party — with about 30 Measure I opponents in attendance — at Water Advisory Committee member Walter Sadler’s house in Central Davis.
While the results of the election left that group visibly disappointed, there was still a palpable sense of pride among the group over the effort that went into putting up a fight. Several of the No on Measure I supporters did not consider the final vote to be a mandate in favor of the water project.
“It was a lot of hard work,” No on Measure I committee leader Michael Harrington said after learning that his cause had been defeated. “A lot of Davis residents worked hard to bring it to people’s attention that this project was far from perfect.
“We would have liked to have won tonight, but at the least (those of us who worked on the referendum) still cut the project costs by over $30 million.”
No on Measure I raised $23,990 for its campaign against the surface water project.
The conclusion of the Measure I election also did not diffuse lingering concerns over the project’s costs and the effect they could have on the community.
“This is going to be bad for the town,” said No on Measure I supporter John Munn, former president of the Yolo County Taxpayers Association. “Will the city be able to pay for future parcel taxes, like the parks tax and school parcel taxes?”
Munn also took issue with the all-mail election process, specifically about the fact that residents received ballots in some cases more than a week before the ballot pamphlets that include measure arguments and rebuttals arrived. He wondered how that may have affected the vote.
Rate increases loom
In any case, while the water project has earned a majority endorsement from the voting public through Measure I, the city and the City Council still have several obstacles they must hurdle before the project can come to fruition.
In order to pay for the project, the council must adopt water rate increases, which likely will triple or almost quadruple the average water bill over the next five years. On March 19, the City Council will conduct a public hearing to adopt those rate increases — and the corresponding rate models that determine how the costs are spread out among all the ratepayers in the city — unless enough ratepayers protest.
More than half of the city’s approximately 16,000 ratepayers would have to protest the rate increases to block the council from adopting them.
Harrington, who has filed — though not yet served — a lawsuit against the city alleging that the proposed rates are not legal under Proposition 218, made it clear Tuesday that the council still has work to do on the rates.
“The city still has to provide for fair, lawful, affordable rates to the ratepayers and that remains to be seen,” Harrington said.
Krovoza did not shy away from addressing those concerns Tuesday. The mayor also laid out the council’s other important task, now that the project has been approved.
“Going forward, the council now will double down on reducing costs and making sure the implementation of the rates is as fair as possible to everybody,” Krovoza said. “Now that the vote is cast, this council is going to keep working to lower costs all the way through.”
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash