Water rate opponents who have been gathering signatures for an initiative on the June 3 ballot turned their final lot of signatures in to the city clerk on Thursday.
The move launches a series of events in motion, and if enough signatures are verified — 1,161, according to state law — it will place a campaign before voters to decide the fate of the city’s proposed water rates to pay for construction and operation of the surface water project.
The project would siphon water from the Sacramento River, treat it and pipe it to Davis and Woodland, alleviating both cities’ reliance on well water only. The down side is that Davis’ water rates are expected to triple.
Michael Harrington, a Davis lawyer affiliated with the signature-gatherers — and counsel in a legal challenge to the water rates — said he is a great believer in direct democracy.
“We started this water referendum together as a team in August 2011,” he said, adding that while the group wanted the rates placed on the ballot with the project, the City Council decided not to. “We want the people of Davis to vote as to whether they think these rates are fair or appropriate.”
City Clerk Zoe Mirabile said previously the initiative will be certified if enough signatures are valid. The required number is 5 percent of the number of votes cast in Davis for all gubernatorial candidates in the last election of its kind.
She also said the city of Davis must act by early to mid-February to place the initiative on the June ballot. Every action related to the petition — counting the signatures and verifying them at county offices — must be complete by mid-February to make election deadlines.
Ernie Head, one of the leaders of the signature-gathering effort, said the group had turned in more than 2,200 signatures.
Nancy Price, another member of the group, said her reasons for joining the fight were to work against the “privatization” of water, which she defined as operating a public utility for private profit.
“So I think it’s very important that we join with our colleagues across this country and the world,” she said. “We’re really fighting for safe, affordable, sufficient water provided by a public utility.”
If the measure qualifies for the ballot and voters reject the rates, the initiative will throw out the city’s rates set in 2013 after the passage of Measure I, which put the surface water project up for a vote.
The city then engaged in a Proposition 218 process to establish new water rates, but as opponents point out, only property owners were allowed to protest the rates.
Still, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire issued a tentative ruling this week upholding the city’s water rates, saying Davis followed state law and made the rates both legal and proportional, a legal word meaning fair.
The city has maintained all long it followed the law and was fair to all ratepayers.
— Reach Dave Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews