Stop the rate increase

April 7, 2011

OPINION By John Borst, Ph.D.

As many CalCoastNews readers may be aware, a Proposition 218 protest period has just ended in Paso Robles with the City Council deciding to go ahead with the water rate increase(s). That decision aside, I was grateful the February 2011 water notice I received prior to their decision had some useful written details explaining why the five-year plan of rate increases is being proposed. However, my reading of the new information provided on the notice raises a red flag and even seems to put City officials into another legal hole.

Attending the April 5 public hearing on the water rates this past Tuesday at Paso Robles City Hall and listening to the councilmen did little to dispel my belief that they aren’t very near a solution to making good on their “debt obligation,” legally or to the community at large. For example, at the meeting councilman John Hamon confirmed ratepayers wouldn’t be able to use Nacimiento water service during any year of the proposed five-year rate schedule.

That kind of unavailability strikes me as a violation of Proposition 218. That is, in the plain language of Article XIIID Sec. 6(b)(4) of the State Constitution, “No fee or charge may be imposed for a service unless that service is actually used by, or immediately available. Fees or charges based on potential or future use of a service are not permitted.”

Second, persons at the hearing learned Council members want to continue the Nacimiento water service charge in the form of what some would call a “hidden tax,” while doubling and even tripling the current water rate for people. Recast and dropped as a separate line item on a customer’s water bill, the $18 charge for Nacimiento water service (according to a City staff consultant present) is to be levied relative to the amount of water consumed.

Acting much like a gasoline tax, it may not be immediately apparent to some. But I cannot overlook or turn a blind eye to the increasingly unaffordable cost of water in its march upward to $4.40 per hcf. Unacceptable, that’s like paying $4.40 “at the pump” — even as ratepayers such as friends and myself are told we will receive no special service benefit for paying more! HF&F Consultants express, “Nacimiento water is assumed to benefit only growth” (July 1, 2008 staff report). And the City’s January 2010 Kennedy/Jenks water rate report provides no evidence that current residents will receive any special benefit from the Nacimiento Water Project.

Third, the Council still wants to shift the Nacimiento water debt payment to citizens – the ratepayers – whom almost all know in Paso Robles are least responsible for the proposed spike in the rates. In the SLO County Financing Authority Nacimiento Water Project document dated Sept. 10, 2007, our City staff expressed connection fees are “expected to increase to provide adequate revenues to meet new infrastructure needs arising from new development and capital construction obligations for its [Nacimiento] pipeline and treatment facility.” It’s only fair those actually creating the cost burden should pay for it. I strongly believe Paso Robles City staff should be held to their word.

Fourth, according to Proposition 218, funds raised or used for a “specific purpose” require voter approval of an assessment or special tax.  With a new rate proposal on the table our Councilmen have another opportunity to do things right for the Citizens in our community. Yet, Council members seem content to provide ratepayers with what I consider to be less than their full rights of citizenship. That is, the Nacimiento pipeline and water treatment plant are just two examples of specific purpose funded projects that permit a ballot vote. Why should our elected representatives settle for any thing less than such a vote in a democracy?

After five previous failed attempts to get a water rate increase passed, and with the current rate proposal and ordinance not yet fully authorized (that takes another second reading on April 19th), our elected leaders again need to be reminded that no public service is performed when a ballot vote by the people is denied. I will respectfully continue to say no to any City Council request for funding that appears to deny me that liberty; appears to unfairly burden citizens or the least of us in our community; or helps to put a brake on excessive spending of taxpayers’ money by Paso Robles City officials. I encourage others to do the same.

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Water, sewer, garbage rates and cell phones are but a few ways that our cities have in raising ‘revenue’ (taxes) and delaying some of the really tough decisions that have to be made for our communities to survive and rebuild.

When organizations ( such as universities) spend stimulus money, for example, to maintain an ‘unsustainable’ bureaucracy with no eye to the future, a larger disaster awaits.

Unfortunately, we see folks who enjoy ‘being in power’ rather than being a force for long term positive good.

If, I may opine, to those people that are so bias with the way our city officials circumvent our political system. Good Grief !! it only took the City’s legal department six attempts to interpret the right procedure in accordance with proposition 218. Did you notice, the city supporter don’t want to talk too much about the poor planning in not building a H2O treatment plant and put a huge financial burden on the citizens of Paso Robles without their approval to spend $176 million on the Nacimiento H2O pipeline. All their emphasis is put on their motto of “you pay for the amount of H2O units you use”. Well, I don’t anybody that would disagree with that premise. Oh! I forgot ” We need the water!” is another clique. The City of San Luis Obispo is receiving their H2O from Nacimiento Lake because they have a H2O treatment plant in operation. The City of Paso Robles is contemplating on building

a H2O treatment plant by 2015/2016? The C

Educational hierarchy

B$ = you know what it is

MS = more of the same

PHD = piled higher and deeper

It’s really amazing how people can overlook the real reasons why Paso Robles will not receive water from Lake Nacimiento for approximately 5 years is due to not having a water treatment plant. By law, Nacimient Lake water can not flow to Paso Robles water customers without first being filted. The real reason the water is not available is because City officials failed to first BUILD a WATER TREATMENT PLANT and now, expect the citizens of Paso Robles to pay for a commodity you are not going to receive for approx. 5 years. Give me a brake!, Yes! you should pay for the amount of water units you use, that is very reasonable. Let me make myself clear, I am not against the pipeline for the availability of water. What infuriate me the most about this most expensive project ($176+ million) in San Luis Obispo County history was financed without voter approval. Our City officials got by not having to seek voter approval was because it was enacted as a “fee” on our water bills. So, let stop bloviating, In my opinion, the City and County of San Luis Obispo are most at fault for this fiasco. The reason, the City of San Luis Obispo is receiving their water from Lake Nacimiento is because they have a WATER TREATMENT PLANT and that is a FACT.

Well the state and counties finance roads and other capital improvement projects every day, that is a FACT. Do you want to vote on every single item the state does? It’s bad enough with all the propositions we have. That is why you have elected bodies to represent the people. If you don’t like then vote them out but COMMON vote on these things?

Under Prop.218, locals have the right to vote on tax increases on local projects. Are you saying that we shouldn’t have that right?

In one way, you are correct. We need to vote out the present City Council and get rid of our present city manager and city attorney. In a town where the average household income is $65,000 and the average salary is $30,000, we are being required to fund wine tourist developments (uptown plan, bike plan) that benefit the rich in the county who are also using up our aquifer water resources. Let the rich county wineries take up a collection and fund our street repairs, bike paths for school kids, afterschool programs for kids, etc. that we need. Why should Paso taxpayers pay for projects helping the rich county wine tourism industry.

Cause it will make more revenue for slo county, They get more water an the poor suckers foot a bill for what they cant even use.

Pasoobserver: You are absolutely right. I don’t know what is wrong with our present water treatment plant, but apparently we cannot use the Nacimiento water until a new water treatment plant is built. The city can’t build the new water treatment plant until they collect the money from the increased water rates. Meanwhile, they spend money from the fund set up for water plant improvements on salaries of water plant employees, including a new water conservation manager who sends out fancy brochures on how to conserve water.

Paso doesn’t have a water treatment plant currently. All of Paso’s water is pumped out of the ground via wells and does not require but minimal treatment by small onsite treatment systems at each well.

Water coming from Lake Nacimiento is not nearly as clean as the groundwater and thus requires real treatment at a water treatment facility before it is considered safe to drink.

With John all I hear is a lot of YAKKITY YAK but no solutions. Johnny we are OVERDRAFTING the ground water in this area. Has nothing to do with residential growth which is at a near standstill.

The vineyards are pulling water at an amazing rate. Paso can do NOTHING to control it or any water from the aquifer as it lays throughout many jurisdictions. The water, from my understanding, coming from Naci is Paso’s, We pay and it is ours. No vineyards other communities etc. We get our share we pay for. I, as a Paso resident, am not crazy about paying more but John lets be realistic. We live in a very dry state and costs for water projects NEVER get cheaper with time. I would rather bite the bullit and move on. Unforunately I and others are being held hostage by your little group that thinks they are doing God’s work. Well I say for my money let’s move on.

This guy has no solutions. He has ended up costing us tons of money by his lawsuit that failed. Ironic that he cites the fact the fact that the water is not available is a reason to not have to pay for the water. The reason the water is not available is because of him! If he had not filed the loser lawsuit we could have the water to use. I personally resent newcomers coming into my town and using LA lawyers to try to make a big name for themselves. Not that the city has done such a great job. I think they have been part of the problem. The solution is to finally pass the water rates and move on. Thank you.


Here is the reality:

-We had visionary people like Frank Mecham who recognized that additional sources of water were important to the current and future citizens of Paso Robles

-We committed to the construction and delivery of the Nacimiento water and to pay for it

-The city did a poor job convincing the community to pay for this very valuable resource

-A very small group-Concerned Citizens of Paso Robles (CCPR) challenged the charges

-The city came back with four different rate structures and finally settled on a rate structure that was based on “what you use, you pay for”

-CCPR filed a lawsuit claiming that the cost of our Nacimiento water should go to a vote based on Proposition 218

-CCPR lost the suit

-The city screwed up on the noticing of the rate adjustment and was forced by the court to go through the rate approval process again

-CCPR was represented by an LA law firm who thought they would make legal precedent by backing Borst and his hijackers

-CCPR and the LA lawyers lost big time

-The Borst LA lawyers sued the City for in excess of $380,000 in legal fees

-The Judge spanked the CCPR and their LA lawyers by awarding them $30k in fees.

-Borst has cost the citizens of Paso Robles millions of dollars in lawyer fees and delayed the construction of the treatment plan necessary for us to use our water

-We have a bill to pay

-Actions of Borst and the CCPR have only added to the costs with no benefit

-The existing citizens of Paso Robles needs this water

-The future citizens of Paso Robles needs this water

-The best interests of the citizens of Paso Robles would be served by accepting the fair rates proposed and to move on to a secure water future.

-Water, they don’t make it anymore

–“The city did a poor job convincing the community to pay for this very valuable resource”.

You can explain it that way, but this is more accurate:

–The city, panicked over the monetary commitment they had made with little to no approval from the community, and knowing that they needed a water treatment plant before they could use the Nacimiento water, made backdoor deals with developers to buy the Nacimiento water for developments not yet approved or built, and put together a joint water treatment plant and water rate increase in a fee form (because they knew that a tax required a vote) to borrow all the money up front and build the water treatment plant immediately. The proposal would have raised Paso citizens water rates to enormous amounts ($300-$400 per month) and tried to pass the fees in a matter of weeks before people knew what was going on.

These enormous housing developments that would buy part of the water from Nacimiento were condemned by CalTrans and the city’s own $100,000 independent study because they would have traffic gridlocked the East Side of the city and Highway 46, but the city approved them anyway because they would have eased the Nacimiento financial water burden. The recession delayed the developments. Borsch challenged the legality of the fee concept, and the carefully orchestrated financing plan for the Nacimiento Water Project collapsed.

Hey fellas. what ya all are missing is that, yes you will pay for what you will also pay if you dont use any. Same storey when you get a sanitation facility.

Dear John (I love that, my first dear john letter)

What is your solution to the water problem, the biggest of which the city (you and me) are on the hook for the contract that was agreed to and signed. How do you propose we pay for that?

What is your solution to the water problem in general, zero growth? I’m OK with that, just say it if that’s what drives you, just be transparent.

Very well said. I agree w/some of Mr. Borst’s argument but disagree with others. I’d like to know, however, what is his proposed ANSWER.

I’d like him to write a lengthy–or not–response stating how he thinks the problem should be fixed, not just go on and on about what he feels is wrong.

Using this blog as an opportunity to brainstorm solutions, I suggest to others and Dr. Borst we need to be reminded that any part of a COMPREHENSIVE solution will entail the political, legal, social and economic. As much as I would like, I for one am not looking for a solution that can be put on a bumper sticker. That is unrealistic. For starters though, one thing that could be done for citizens would be renegotiate the cost burden of the City’s debt obligation. Since Paso Robles officials TERRIBLY misjudged the amount of Nacimiento water needed for the immediate future (say the next 5 years), as part of a comprehensive solution dropping the contracted 4000 afy to maybe 1000 afy would reduce the current Nacimiento debt obligation alone by 3/4.

Not so simple Furious. We can’t just drop the amount, we our already obligated. This isn’t a case of something doesn’t fit or I don’t like it so can I get a refund please. They already installed the project!!

The reality is, is it is done, it is needed so how much more on top of this do you want to pay tying this up in the court for the same outcome?? This reminds me SOOOO much of the Los Osos sewer. Had they just DID IT thirty years ago, it would just about be paid by now. Instead a see a LOT of money spent for nothing yet, for something they will still have to have eventually.

This is worse. We ALL need water like it or not. Like I stated before. We live in a dry state and this crap of water arguing has gone on since the day I was born a native Ca.

The state said recently we need to build more dams etc. If we the end users drink it and survive on it (water) who in the hell do you and others propose we pay for it?? Should we ask the state of Nevada to pay it for us? How about Oregan?

The city obligated us for much more water than we need presently because the extra water was to go to new housing developments, Chandler Ranch, etc. The housing developments have to have an identified source of water to proceed.

We can’t use the Nacimiento water until a new treatment plant is built and the city has not even started on this. We can’t back out as this was a contractual arrangement; the city left its citizens paying for the empty water bottle, so to speak.

If the city had been straightforward, had prepared a tax or bond proposal for Nacimiento Water (standard procedure) and had not tried to sneak the funding through with an legally iffy fee (at the time), and had not tried to initially include water for the unbuilt and unapproved housing developments, we would have had a new water rate plan. And guess what, if we had a tax, instead of a fee, we could all deduct the tax on our income taxes.