Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sacramento Bee: Cities of Woodland, Davis hike water rates for clean water

Woodland to consider water rake hike after Davis OKs plan

Published: Thursday, Sep. 8, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
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Woodland City Council members will decide early next year whether to raise water rates again to pay for a $325 million project to bring Sacramento River water to the neighboring cities of Woodland and Davis.

But Woodland City Manager Mark Deven says he doesn't expect anything like the fight that consumed Davis in recent weeks. The battle led to a marathon hearing by the Davis City Council and a vote at 3:20 a.m. Wednesday to raise rates by 70 percent over the next five years. Homeowners' water rates would increase from $35 per month to about $60 per month.

Both cities must approve similar rate hikes.

Woodland is halfway through a series of rate hikes that by next year will have increased water bills by 80 percent, Deven said later Wednesday. Yet the rate increases, approved in 2009, provoked about 400 written protests under provisions of Proposition 218, compared with the approximately 4,700 protests received in Davis, he said.

"Our City Council has done a more effective job of working with the community and staying together on this process," Deven said.

He predicted some residents would express concerns about future rate increases but said, "There will not be contention among our council members."

That wasn't the case in Davis.

After a six-hour hearing that started about 9:15 p.m. Tuesday and stretched more than six hours, Davis City Council members voted 4-1 to raise water rates in the university town by 14 percent annually over the next five years. It was a scaled-back plan compared with the proposed near-tripling of water rates that had prompted written protests from about 30 percent of the city's roughly 16,000 ratepayers.

The increases are meant to pay for a new water-treatment plant and pipeline to bring in Sacramento River water from an intake on the 17,300-acre Conaway Ranch, which is controlled by developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos.

Tsakopoulos sold the cities rights to 10,000 acre-feet of water per year, starting in 2016, for about $79 million. The state granted additional rights to river water.

The cities now rely on well water with high levels of salts and minerals. Proponents of river water say the well water could eventually fail to meet state discharge standards and lead to hefty fines.

At the Tuesday-into-Wednesday Davis hearing, union representatives encouraged council members to approve the rate increase, saying the project would create hundreds of construction jobs.

Retired pediatrician Rick Baker said river water would provide a healthier supply that would be easier on plumbing fixtures and appliances.

Resident Julie Gallelo said, "I can either pay now and get clean, safe drinking water," or pay fines later.
Others weren't convinced.

Former Davis Mayors Ken Wagstaff and William Kopper said it wasn't a good idea to increase water rates during an economic slowdown.

Mike Bartolic handed in his protest form at the hearing and said the rate increases would hurt retirees on fixed incomes.

"It's going to burden us with a $300 million gorilla," he told the council.

Ernie Head, 91, encouraged council members to let voters decide the issue.

"If you don't do it, I think it's going to be done anyhow," he said, referring to a vow by opponents to seek a ballot measure to overturn the increases.

Council members were initially split.

Mayor Joe Krovoza and Councilman Steven Souza favored adopting the rate increases. Council members Rochelle Swanson and Dan Wolk said they wanted to wait and build community support.

Councilwoman Sue Greenwald was opposed to taking on the burden of bond repayments, which she estimated at $10 million annually.

Four council members eventually reached agreement on an alternative plan with reduced yearly rate increases.

"I don't want to kill the project," Wolk said, as he changed his stance.

Greenwald cast the dissenting vote, saying the project costs would hurt the city.

"I hope I'm wrong," she said

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