Local News

Water rates to go to the ballot, but when?

By From page A1 | February 07, 2014

Government officials verified enough signatures to place a bid to repeal the city’s newest water rates on the ballot, but it could be 2016 before voters have their say.

When that say happens all depends on the Davis City Council and when it decides to place the initiative on the ballot pursuant to state election law.

City Clerk Zoe Mirabile said the law gives the City Council wide discretion in what to do, including hustling to place it on the June 3 ballot, calling for a special election sometime or waiting until a general election in 2016.

The June ballot is likely to be crowded with the City Council race, county campaigns, Assembly and congressional primaries and an all-but-certain local tax measure for the city. Another crowded ballot is in November, with races for California governor, Assembly, Congress and the Davis Board of Education.

The city was notified Thursday by county elections officials that enough signatures were verified. Tuesday’s council meeting is the last chance for the body to place issues on the June ballot.

A significant discussion at the last City Council meeting centered on how to manage all the issues coming to the council on Tuesday: a must-have appeal of a Planning Commission decision; discussion of joint city-UC Davis planning for the Nishi property and UCD’s adjacent “East Village”; discussion of much-needed economic development; and tax measures facing a deadline to be placed on the ballot.

There are only so many hours in a City Council meeting, but now the water initiative is a possible addition to that muscular agenda, and it may not be a must-have item.

Mirabile said earlier Thursday that the item would go to the council on Tuesday, but Deputy City Manager Kelly Stachowicz, who rides herd on the bi-weekly stampede of issues the council faces, said later that the initiative has a “tentative” placement on Tuesday’s agenda. The council also could ask for a report on the effect of the initiative, Mirabile said, that could take 30 days.

Initiative proponents, knowing the fluidity of the situation, sent the media an “open letter to city leaders”:

“Although some might think it would be problematical to have it on the same ballot as other political and tax measures, we believe that putting it to an immediate citywide vote is by far the best option for the city,” local attorney Michael Harrington wrote. “It would give all of us an up or down vote rather than continuing the uncertainty any longer than necessary.

“An early win for the city would put the rubber stamp of the voters on the rates, and would assist with obtaining the lowest financing costs for the construction bonds. If the city loses the political vote, it can immediately use the Proposition 218 process to come up with more acceptable rates, based on voter input.”

But the initiative is controversial. Harrington said last month it would give the voters of Davis a chance to weigh in on the new consumption-based water rates, called CBFR, passed to finance the $228 million surface water project that takes water from the Sacramento River.

When the rates were passed, only property owners could weigh in. The initiative would give renters the chance to say yes or no.

City Councilman Brett Lee said 2013’s Measure I, which OK’d the surface water project, also was a referendum on the rates because voters understood that water rates would have to go up to pay for the project.

“Is this (initiative) really about the rates or is this really about ‘we don’t like the project’?” he said, adding that if the initiative succeeds, any new rates still would be higher than the old rates because they have to pay for the water project.

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

Dave Ryan

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