Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Don’t digest these crazy rates with tap water

By From page A2 | March 03, 2013

Well, we’ve just about come to the end of this wet and occasionally muddy campaign to bring the waters of the sometimes muddy but always mighty Sacramento River to the wash basins and sprinkler systems of the Second Most Educated City in America.

And please, at this late date, don’t tell the ACLU the Sacramento River is named after the Most Holy Sacrament of the Catholic Church or there may be yet another lawsuit filed to halt the project on separation of church and state grounds.

I have only a day or two to make up my mind about the need for this $113 million project with the funny rate structure, and so do you.

That is if you haven’t already voted or plan to vote at all.

Yes, oddly, despite the passion of those in the trenches, voter turnout is likely to be low for this single-issue, all-mail election on which the fate of the free world rests. I had planned to make up for this deficiency by buying several clever disguises at East Davis’ center of commerce, the Dollar Tree, and voting 17 times in 17 different precincts, but that restrictive mail-in ballot doesn’t allow such fraud.

One man, one vote, as the court said some years ago. The court didn’t say anything about women voting, but with three sisters, four daughters and one wise and wonderful wife, I’d better not mention that in this household.

I will say this. My decision would have been a lot easier had the city agreed to put the actual rates on the ballot instead of just an up or down vote on the project itself. The two go hand in hand, and are, in fact, dependent upon each other. To separate one from the other may force some people who are open to the project to vote “no” simply because they don’t agree with or don’t understand the complicated — many would say punitive — rate structure.

Had the city adopted a straightforward rate structure, where everyone pays the same amount per gallon for the water they use, perhaps even with a modest tier to charge a bit more to people who like to water the gutter instead of their lawn, this thing might have sailed past the electorate.

Instead, the city came up with a hybrid two-headed monster, with a relatively traditional rate structure for the first year (beginning this May 1) and a completely bizarre structure for the last four years and eight months (beginning May 1 of 2014). This actually exceeds the five-year rate limit set by Prop. 218, but that’s another story for another day.

The first part of the rates, the so-called Bartle Wells structure, is straightforward and easy to understand. It almost certainly complies with Prop. 218’s “proportionality” rule, where everyone pays their fair share and no one is required to pay more than what it costs the city to actually deliver the water to their property.

Conversely, the four-year and eight-month reign of the onerous consumption-based fixed rate, which charges nearly six times more for “summer” (May 1 through Oct. 31) water use than for “winter” (Nov. 1 through April 30) water use, fails the proportionality test unless the city can prove it truly costs six times as much to deliver water in the summer as it does in the winter. Put simply, it can’t.

Woodland, by the way, our swimming buddy in all this, has already raised its rates to pay for the project and charges the exact same rate to its water customers year-round. Bless me Father, I never thought I’d say this, but Woodland is on the right track here and we aren’t.

Under the CBFR, you will be charged 13 times for every drop of water you use during the six-month Endless Summer. Once when you actually use it, and once a month in every single month of the entire next year. Twelve plus one equals 13.

Put simply — and you may wish to sit down with a tall drink of something other than Davis tap water to digest this — the water you use on May 1 of 2014 will still be showing up on your bill in December of 2015, a full 20 months later. If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.

Our own state senator, Lois Wolk, who is well-known for her dedicated efforts in regard to water quality, water conservation and fair pricing, authored AB 2882, which became law in September 2008. It deals primarily with the admirable goal of water conservation.

In part, it requires that “A basic use allocation is established for each customer account that provides a reasonable amount of water for the customer’s needs and property characteristics. Factors used to determine the basic use allocation may include, but are not limited to, the number of occupants, the type of classification of use, the size of lot or irrigated area, and the local climate data for the billing period.”

Although it is only strongly suggested and not mandated by AB 2882, the city nevertheless chose to ignore both the number of occupants and the size of one’s lot in setting its rate structure.

AB 2882 further notes that “Revenues derived from allocation-based conservation water pricing shall not exceed the proportional cost of service attributable to the customer’s parcel.”

In other words, you can’t charge the customer more than it actually costs to deliver the water to his or her residence. Charging this town’s green gardeners and landscape lovers six times more for “summer” water than winter water does just that.

Lois claims otherwise. I disagree.

But I’ll still vote for her when she finally takes my advice and runs for governor after Mr. Brown decides he’s had enough of California politics.

Unless, of course, Danny Boy beats mom to the punch and does it first, in which case I’ll vote for him instead.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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