Tonight, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to do the right thing, or possibly in an 11th-hour attempt to derail Measure P, the Davis City Council will once again take up the issue of the contentious structure it uses to charge Davis ratepayers for the water they use.
Given that this is the council’s last scheduled meeting before next Tuesday’s election, an election in which Measure P threatens to rescind those new and confusing rates, skepticism abounds over the council’s intentions.
Is the council sincerely interested in instituting a new, fairer and less confusing rate structure, or is it simply going to kick the can down the road and give lip service to “revisiting” the rates at a later date?
On the flip side of this is a small but dedicated band of concerned citizens who have spent most of the past month trying to convince the council the time to revise these rates is now. If you talk to these folks, who are brimming with sensible solutions, optimism runs high that meaningful change is in the offing when the council meets tonight.
As The Enterprise noted in a recent editorial, “We ask the City Council to take definitive legal action — not just make promises — instituting the following changes, which have been drafted by a group of dedicated citizens who want to see fairness rule the day.”
The key word here is “definitive.” Not some watered-down council resolution to punt the rates to the Utility Rate Advisory Committee to study for the next six months.
If the council does nothing definitive tonight, you’ll know this whole thing was nothing more than a ruse, a sham, a con job or any other words you can come up with that indicate deception.
If the council doesn’t take action, my advice is to vote “yes” on P if that’s what you were already planning to do or to vote “no” on P if that’s what you were already planning to do.
In other words, if the council is all talk and no action, I see no reason for voters on either side of the issue to change their already well-formed positions.
A month or so ago, when I used this space to point out that it is flat-out immoral to charge a newcomer to town for the water that a previous tenant or homeowner used, a misinformed resident wrote to say the city already had a “solution” to this problem.
Curious to learn just what that solution was, I emailed my concerns to all five City Council members and two city staffers who should know about these things, only to learn that there is no solution.
Three council members apparently were so perplexed by the question that they failed to respond at all, while a fourth tried to answer but wandered off into talking about sewer rates. A fifth merely forwarded me an inadequate response from a city staffer.
When I asked Herb Niederberger, the city’s general manager for utilities, development and operations, what the city’s plan was for these new residents who have yet to use a drop of our precious Davis water, but under the rate structure would nonetheless be responsible for a previous tenant’s expensive summer water use, he responded simply, “Good questions.”
He then added, “We will address them in the revision to the draft policy. Pending the outcome of Measure P, CBFR billing doesn’t actually start until Jan. 1. We have from now until then to make any corrections to the policy and implement the billing system.”
Given that the new water rates began nearly 13 months ago, it’s stunning that the city still doesn’t have an answer to this “look back” problem embedded in the consumption-based fixed rate.
As The Enterprise editorial demands: “Effective immediately, revert to a pay-as-you-go billing model. This will ensure that people who buy a home or move into an apartment are not paying for the prior owner’s or tenant’s water use history, but are paying for their own.”
Sounds elementary, doesn’t it? Imagine, you move here from Iowa only to discover that for the next year you will be paying for the previous summer’s water use a Davis resident racked up while you were still in Iowa. In any other context, that would be called “theft.”
Also, The Enterprise notes, “Base the supply charge on a 12-month basis, not six-month.”
If the city is serious about encouraging conservation, it doesn’t make sense to bill folks for the water they used up to 20 months prior.
Under CBFR, if you get a shocking bill in January, there will be absolutely nothing you can do about it until the next January. Except maybe move back to Iowa.
Under pay-as-you-go, you can make your conservation adjustments immediately and see a dramatic reduction on your next month’s bill.
Like justice, conservation delayed is conservation denied.
It is up to the council to scrap this contentious, divisive and confusing rate structure and replace it with one that is fair and understandable for all Davis residents.
It’s not that hard to get this one right.
— Reach Bob Dunning at email@example.com