Local News

Water rates initiative signature-gathering in final stages

By From page A1 | January 08, 2014

A group of opponents of the city’s proposed water rates is nearing the final stages of gathering initiative petition signatures, two group members say.

Attorney Michael Harrington and city water rates opponent John Munn said the group is nearly ready to turn in signatures to the city clerk without worry that the number will fall short. Longtime residents Ernie Head and Pam Nieberg are also leading the initiative process.

“I think they’re close but I don’t have the exact number,” Harrington said. “I’m very confident (the initiative) will qualify.”

City clerk Zoe Mirabile said in an email that the number of signatures the initiative backers need to qualify the measure for the ballot is 5 percent of the number of votes cast for all gubernatorial candidates by Davis voters in the last such election. That figure is 1,161.

Mirabile said the city of Davis must act by early to mid-February to put the initiative on the June ballot. All activities related to the petition — counting signatures and verifying them — must be complete by that date in order for the measure to be submitted to voters.

In the meantime, water rate opponents are still collecting signatures, making sure they have enough to overcome some inevitable errors, Harrington said, and verifying the signatures on their own to be confident of success when county elections officials verify them.

The initiative would throw out water rates the city set in 2013 after the passage of Measure I, on the consumption-based fixed rate model. While very complex to explain, the city uses that model to charge more for bigger water hookups and higher water usage.

Opponents argued last month in a case before Yolo Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire that users of smaller-width hookups are actually using more water in some instances and that the city essentially is planning to charge low-end users more than their fair share for the water, subsidizing higher-end users.

The price of the average water bill is expected to triple, but money will go toward covering the operating cost of a new surface water project in conjunction with the city of Woodland.

City representatives have maintained that the water rates are in accordance with California’s Proposition 218, which governs the setting of utility rates. Maguire is likely to decide that case this month.

If the city survives the court battle, opponents have the potential to sink the rates through the initiative.

Munn said although he doesn’t support the surface water project — which already has been approved by voters — he said people likely will confuse support of the project with support of the proposed rates.

“Personally I don’t support the project, but the initiative is about the rates,” he said. He added later that the initiative is about the rates, but the project is not separate from the rates.

“People will have their own opinions,” he said.

— Reach Dave Ryan at 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews

Dave Ryan

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