Landowners challenge proposed water rate hike

Gilroy locals Annalyssa Carrillo and Flavio Martinez celebrate their one-year anniversary at the Uvas Reservior, where they visited exactly one-year ago Tuesday. Last year the reservior fairly pretty full with water as they tossed rocks into the water fro

GILROY—In the face of proposed water rate increases for residents, some are seeking to halt the city’s efforts by attempting to gather 6,756 letters from Gilroy property owners who are against it. Property owners can thwart attempts to increase water rates and other property-related expenses if a majority protests—in writing—to elected officials under Proposition 218.
“Of the hundreds of people I’ve met, there were only three who didn’t oppose the increase,” said Susan Mister, an unincorporated Gilroy resident organizing the fight against the water rate increases slated to go into effect in September. “A lot of them think there’s nothing they can do about this, but we can beat City Hall on this.”
Mister said she and her husband have been the “boots on the ground” helping to drum up support for a majority protest at events like the Gilroy Farmer’s Market on Saturday.
When reached for comment on the proposal, Mayor Don Gage remarked, “That’s a lot of signatures.” He said while he welcomes Mister’s desire to use a legal, public process to do what she believes is best, it’s an uphill battle simply because of how many signatures are needed.
According to Gage, the income generated from water and sewer-related fees—slated to be adjusted in September following a game-changing court ruling in southern California—helps fill city coffers to the tune of $19 million a year.
Should the rate adjustment be halted through majority protest, Gage said, he anticipates a revenue shortfall of $7 million, which he called a “significant” chunk of the city’s $48 million annual budget.
“The (rate hikes) are there for a reason,” Gage said, adding that the Santa Clara Valley Water District is seeing increasing costs to pump groundwater, as is the city. “The less water they use, the more expensive it becomes because they don’t get revenue.”
He told the Dispatch he’s “baffled” by the opposition to the rate adjustment, which he said is necessary to accurately charge residents for what it costs to provide water service. He added that Proposition 218 prohibits cities from charging more than at-cost, or from pocketing water service revenue, and that revenue must be spent on sustaining water service—from purchasing the resource to building more wells within city.
“If they got the signatures and stopped it so we wouldn’t be able to move forward, we’d be $7 million in the hole,” he said. “I’m not sure what the goal is here. Does she (Mister) want to shut the city down?”
Water rates are slated to rise by as much as 62 percent for some residential customers, based on a city-commissioned study that set the stage for rate adjustments. But Gilroyans will still pay less than customers in surrounding communities for water and sewer services, according to consultants who prepared the study.
Under the adjusted rates, lower-use tiers “are going to pay more than they were “ and higher-use tiers will pay “a little bit less,” Doug Dove, principal consultant with Berkeley-based Bartle Wells Associates, told the Dispatch.
Locally, Mister has been gathering support in person at events around town and via social media. She said property owners have told her they’re tired of the increasing costs to live or work in South County.
“Whether you like it or not, we’re in a drought,” Gage said. “The water district has to purchase new water to recharge the wells and if they can’t do that, the wells will go dry and we don’t have any water.”
Residents and property owners will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed rate increases at a public hearing Monday at 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at Gilroy City Hall, 7351 Rosanna St.
While the city council will consider verbal comments at the hearing, only written comments from property owners will be factored into whether a majority protest occurs, according to a notice from City Hall. Emailed letters will not be accepted.
“I’m hoping the room will be packed,” Mister said. “If we get 6,756 letters, it cannot go into effect.”
Residents and property owners will have a chance to weigh in at an upcoming public hearing on the proposed rate increases. The hearing will take place at 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at Gilroy City Hall, located at 7351 Rosanna St. While verbal or emailed comments will be considered, only written comments received by the Aug. 17 hearing from landowners will count towards the “majority protest” rule under Proposition 218.

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