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Waters churning as rate vote nears

San Diegans may be just days away from the City Council raising their water rates. A public hearing on whether the rate hike will take effect in the coming months is scheduled for Jan. 24.

That’s too soon for Clairemont resident Leonard Krouner, who said he received a notice of public hearing around mid-December. Krouner thinks more time should be allowed for the public to understand or even find out about the proposed rate increases.

The release of the notice of public hearing was approved 7-1 at the City Council’s Nov. 29 meeting. The four-page document contains information about the rate increases, including projections for ratepayers on pages two and three and provides a protest form on page four that must be cut out and submitted by the Jan. 24 hearing.

For Krouner, two problems exist. First, he believes most people receiving the notice won’t understand it and will simply throw it away. Second, the roughly six-week period between the mailing of the notices and the hearing doesn’t allow enough time for the required number of protest forms to be sent back for the public to kill the rate change. To do so, more than 50 percent of those receiving the notices must submit a protest.

This isn’t the first time Krouner has received such a notice. The form is similar to one distributed in spring of 2010, when another council vote on water rates was held. Krouner recalled his experience with it then.

“When I took this form around to my neighbors, one out of 40 got it and sent it in,” Krouner said. “The other 39 didn’t know that they got it, and when I told them what it was, they signed it and I delivered it.”

A printable version of the notice of public hearing is available on the city of San Diego’s website at sandiego.gov/water.

Councilmember Carl DeMaio was the only opposing vote Nov. 29. He is planning a public event this Sunday specifically targeting the rate increase and to raise awareness of the protest form, but said the most likely way the rate increase won’t go forward is if the Council votes it down.

The proposed rate increase comes after the San Diego County Water Authority increased its charges to the city, which stemmed from an increase in charges from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

DeMaio asserts the increased costs could be absorbed by the city’s water fund without passing rate hikes onto consumers -- if the city implemented reform in other areas, such as pension reform and managed competition. He added that tens of millions of dollars in cost-saving measures identified in the water and wastewater departments further negate the need to raise rates.

Even if savings were incurred through such reform, Councilmember Marti Emerald, disagreed, saying they would come too late, leaving the city in defict-spending mode until the effects of other reforms were felt in the budget.

“Any of the reforms that (DeMaio) has continuously discussed will take years to take effect,” Emerald said. “In the meantime, Metropolitan is raising the cost of the commodity, basically, today -- not today literally, but in the very near future. So none of these proposed fixes would really be relevant to us right now.”

Emerald added that she wishes the rate increase wasn’t necessary, but she supports it because she feels the city simply doesn’t have the funds to not act.

“We’ve got higher prices coming from Metropolitan Water and the County Water Authority, and we’ve got to pass those higher prices onto consumers or the city will have to find money that really doesn’t exist,” Emerald said.

Meanwhile, the San Diego County Water Authority filed a lawsuit last June against the Metropolitan Water District, alleging that MWD’s formula for calculating water transportation charges leaves SDCWA at a disadvantage. MWD, the water authority claims, overcalculates water transportation charges, while undercalculating supply charges.

The Water Authority relies on transporting water to the region using MWD facilities more than many other water agencies in Southern California. In a formal response, MWD denied SDCWA’s claims, even stating that the water authority was a part of the process that set into motion the current rate structure.

According to Daniel Hentschke, general counsel for the water authority, the case could make it to trial by this summer. The pending litigation leaves the possibility that the Water Authority may be charged less by MWD in the future, which could translate to lower rates charged to the city. If that happens, Emerald said she would welcome revisiting the issue.

So would DeMaio. But according to him, even if the city is charged less down the road, it is unlikely a challenge to the increased rates would ever make it back to the council floor for a vote.

“Once these people get your money, they’re not giving it back,” DeMaio said. “That’s how this place operates. And that’s why I think we need to commit to reform up front.”

The hearing will be held next Monday at 2 p.m. in the San Diego City Council Chambers on the 12th floor of the City Administration Building, 202 C St. If approved by the City Council following the hearing, the rate increases would take effect March 1.

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City of San Diego

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San Diego, CA 92101

City of San Diego Executive(s):

Sherri Lightner

  • Council President Pro Tem

Kevin Faulconer

  • Mayor

Todd Gloria

  • Council President

Myrtle Cole

  • City Council Member

Mark Kersey

  • City Council Member

Lorie Zapf

  • City Council Member

Scott Sherman

  • City Council Member

David Alvarez

  • City Council Member

Marti Emerald

  • City Council Member

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