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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Local lawyer submits referendum against water rate hikes

On Monday, City Clerk Zoe S. Mirabile acknowledged that Davis lawyer Michael Harrington submitted to her office petitions for a referendum against Ordinance No. 2381, a motion that would have increased the base and metered water rates in the City of Davis.

Five thousand one hundred twenty four signatures were obtained, stated the petition receipt. Three thousand seven hundred were needed to overturn the ordinance.

Ordinance No. 2381 decreed that the City of Davis could increase water rates up to 14 percent per year for the next five years, stated the City of Davis website.

“Simply by qualifying, the referendum halts the council’s decision to raise water fees until an election month,” said Davis City Councilmember Dan Wolk.

The city’s website stated rate increases were purported to “(1) fund current and projected increases in the costs of operations and maintenance of the water and sanitary sewer infrastructure; (2) fund utility repair, replacement, and upgrade costs; (3) enable the City to comply with state and federal regulatory requirements; (4) assure a reliable long-term supply of drinking water; and (5) manage groundwater supplies to avoid land subsidence.”

The website also stated the rate hikes would help fund the surface water project, which would “provide surface water from the Sacramento River to use in conjunction with groundwater supplies, currently the City’s only source of water.”

At the Davis Water Forum on Sept. 21, Diana Jensen, principal civil engineer for the city, said Davis is currently in compliance with regulations, but regulations change.

“We found that surface water is the least costly solution to meet future regulations,” Jensen said.

The rate hikes could potentially increase expenses for UC Davis students. In response to a question at the water forum by a UC Davis student, Robert Clarke, interim public works director for the city, said, “We’re not unaware that price increases will affect a lot of people. It makes for some tough choices. Eventually we need to make some significant investments in our infrastructure and we recognize that this may be a challenge. We still think it’s the right choice for the community at this time.”

“As a City Council, our fiduciary duty is to find the lowest rates over time to provide quality water into perpetuity to our constituents. The referendum works on the assumption that we can maintain the status quo which is not accurate,” said Councilmember Stephen Souza in an e-mail. “As a city we are required to meet state and federal environmental standards by 2017. In order to meet these standards we must begin the development of new water sources and infrastructure now. Any delay will increase our costs.”

Now that the referendum has been submitted, for it to progress further it will have to be certified by the county.

“Then it will come back to the council. The council will have to make a decision to either put the issue on a ballot or do something else,” Wolk said.

“I appreciate every person who signed the referendum in concern and public engagement,” Souza said in an e-mail. “We now have a tremendous opportunity to come together and find that responsible solution and move this important surface water project forward as a community.”

Harrington, the petition’s author, could not be reached for comment.

Einat Gilboa can be reached city@theaggie.org.


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