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Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Don’t overthink our new water rates

By From page A2 | June 18, 2014

As the city of Davis rushes to come up with a rate structure that it can sell to the skeptical residents of Davis, it seems to be ignoring the lessons of Measure P.

Before our most recent election, the supporters of Measure P were called “obstructionists” whose real purpose was to kill the already voter-approved surface water project. That charge continues to be made today, even after a majority of voters rejected the new water rates after months of intense debate.

In the Official Sample Ballot’s “Argument Against Measure P,” authored by all five members of the Davis City Council, we were told that it is time to “end the delay tactics.”

In other words, this isn’t about unfair or confusing rates, it’s about delay.

In the same Sample Ballot’s “Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure P,” five prominent Davisites, including two members of the Water Advisory Committee and a former Davis mayor, made the charge that “Measure P is a last gasp by die-hard opponents of our new water project.”

Those arguments continue to be made today, which is both unfair and unproductive. All I can say is that 51 percent of the electorate is an awfully large group to be labeled as “die-hard opponents.”

What the folks making these charges don’t realize is that while a handful of people do indeed wish to put a halt to the water project, the vast majority of those who voted “yes” on Measure P were concerned about a rate structure they either didn’t understand or felt was unfair. Many of them voted in favor of the water project itself.

Most everyone accepts that the water project was approved by a majority of Davis voters 15 months ago and that issue is now moot. For them, it’s about the rates, not the project, despite what officialdom may say.

We ended up with this fatally flawed rate structure because no one in authority was willing to listen to the voices of dissent, dismissing them as the tactics of obstructionists. As long as that attitude persists, the rate problem will never be satisfactorily solved.

The argument also has been made over and over again that Yolo County Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire ruled that the rates were “fair.”

In short, Maguire did no such thing. He did rule that the rates complied with Proposition 218 and with the California Constitution, but it wasn’t his charge to decide whether they were fair, just that they were legal.

Wrote Maguire: “The court’s duty is to determine whether the rates are constitutional, and it is for the city’s elected policymakers to determine if they are fair and promote good public policy.”

It’s been odd and even a bit amusing to see city officials claim they’ll have to seek “legal advice” before they completely understand what the results of Measure P mean.

Whether they realize it or not, they don’t need legal advice, just common sense.

The ballot language is just one sentence long, utilizing 29 easy-to-understand words.

“Shall an initiative ordinance repealing Ordinance No. 2405, which adopted increased water rates, and putting water rates in effect prior to May 1, 2013, back into effect, be adopted.”

The voters said “yes.” The margin of victory is irrelevant.

Therefore, Ordinance No. 2405 is repealed and water rates in effect prior to May 1, 2013, are to be put back into effect. Pronto. Period. End of discussion. No legal interpretation needed. Even a non-GATE fourth-grader can understand those 29 simple words.

The last time around, the council relied much too heavily on the advice of the Water Advisory Committee and a panel of so-called “experts.” What they came up with was so confusing that it led to a bare-bones initiative campaign that eventually overturned their handiwork and sent us back to square one.

Now we have Son of WAC, baptized as URAC, utilizing some of the same members and experts that brought us the CBFR and other vertigo-inducing calculations.

It’s time that members of the Davis City Council realize that the citizens of Davis didn’t elect the members of the WAC or the URAC or any other “advisory” body. And we certainly didn’t elect any of the “experts” handing out advice right and left.

Already we’re hearing of seven or eight or nine different rate structures being considered. Again, we’re way overthinking this thing.

Charge a low but fair “fixed rate” for access to the water system, then charge us all a straightforward gallon-by-gallon rate for the water we use at the time we use it. If water truly costs more to deliver in summer, then charge us more in summer. We’ll understand.

Trust me on this.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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