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Bob Dunning: Want to protest? It’s no easy thing

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From page A2 | February 05, 2013 | Leave Comment

After much prodding, the last time the city of Davis sent out a Prop. 218 rate notice in the summer of 2011, it included a return postcard for those ratepayers who wished to formally protest the rates. Which was clearly the right thing to do, even if the city didn’t initially plan to do so.

Under Prop. 218, if a majority of ratepayers file a written protest, the rates are not allowed to go into effect. In Davis that means over 8,000 ratepayers would have to protest. Meanwhile, those who favor the rate increase don’t have to do anything, which makes a “majority protest” virtually impossible. If you’ve figured this isn’t a fair fight, you’ve figured right.

But don’t blame the city for this crazy way of “voting.” That’s the language in Prop. 218 and the law is the law.

Now, while Prop. 218 does not require the city to send out a return postcard in case a ratepayer wishes to protest, it doesn’t prohibit the city from doing so either.

The last time around, city officials were prevailed upon to include a protest postcard in an effort to truly ascertain the “will” of the people.

Certainly, if I were an elected representative, even if I favored the new rate structure, I’d want to know as accurately as possible what the citizens I represent think about it before enforcing it on everyone.

By including the protest postcard, the city got an earful from disgruntled citizens. It was not enough in raw numbers to actually halt the rates, but enough for the council to pause and rethink the whole thing.

This time, however, the city apparently doesn’t care who is happy with the rates and who isn’t. With the latest batch of “Rate and Fee Increases” that landed in our mailboxes last week, the City Council opted not to include protest postcards, which tells me the city no longer wishes to make it easy for those who wish to protest. In other words, we’ve already made up our mind and making it easy for folks to protest might throw a monkey wrench into our plans.

To be sure, we will all get to vote on the surface water project itself beginning this week when the ballots arrive in our mailboxes from the Yolo County clerk. However, we will not be voting on the rate structure.

It’s entirely possible that a significant number of Davisites will think the water project is a good thing, but that the rate structure to pay for the project is completely out of whack.

One City Council member told me the postcard wasn’t included this time because the whole city gets to vote anyway, and what could be fairer? He apparently hasn’t looked at the ballot, where the rates are noticeably absent. Leaving rates off the ballot also was a council decision.

So yes, you will be allowed to vote up or down on the project, but if you like the project and don’t like the rates, there will not be a simple protest postcard for you to fill out and let the city know how you feel.

Again, the postcard is not required by Prop. 218, but in a town that prides itself on doing The Right Thing, it certainly seems like the sporting thing to do.

If you think the lack of a postcard is no big deal, let me detail for you the process necessary to file a formal protest.

“Any property owner whose property will be subject to the proposed new rates and fees may submit a written protest to the proposed rate and fee increases and/or come to the hearing and provide oral testimony. Protests must be submitted in writing, not delivered electronically or verbally, in order to be counted.”

If you thought you could tweet this thing, forget it.

“Any written protest must: 1) state that the identified property owner is in opposition to the proposed rate increases; 2) provide the location of the identified parcel (by assessor’s parcel number, street address, or customer account; 3) include the name and signature of the property owner submitting the protest; and 4) if the person protesting was not shown on Yolo County’s last equalized assessment roll as the property owner of record, provide written evidence that the person is the property owner.”

Or, the city could simply have provided a postcard to make the protest process 10 times easier. Clearly, unlike last time, the city wasn’t about to make any part of this process easy for those wishing to protest.

— Reach Bob Dunning at bdunning@davisenterprise.net

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