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Santa Monica property owners are up in arms and in a lather.

It seems that in addition to a mandatory 20-percent cutback in water usage triggered by the drought which has brought on water shortages, City Hall policy makers are proposing an inflationary increase in water rates over the next five years — and beyond.

City Council will soon decide whether to approve a dramatic water rate increase. 22,000 water customers will see the cost of water jump by nine percent the first year (2015) and 13 percent for each of the next four years through 2019 if it’s approved. Keep in mind that the increase compounds each year ‚Äì in other words there’ll be percentage increases on top of the previous percentage increases.

According to the city’s Water Resources Manager, Gil Borboa, it equates to a 78 percent increase over five years.

The reasons for jacking up water rates is to pay for a projected $33-million upgrade of the city’s water supply system. According to an official notice sent to water customers, “The city is implementing a comprehensive long range water system improvement program with a goal of having a reliable infrastructure and sustainable water supply by eliminating dependence of imported water sources… by 2020.” The notice also notes that the mandatory water conservation programs will result in “an immediate 20 percent reduction in water sales” and revenue losses.

A rate increase, “will provide funding for local and imported water operations and maintenance, capital infrastructure costs, appropriate reserve levels and water self-sufficiency goals.” Revenues will not exceed funds required to provide water services” and “will not be used for any other purposes other than to finance the costs of providing water services.”

In some communities, infrastructure needs are paid for by basic taxes collected on property, retail sales, utility user fees and other sources. But, in Santa Monica, where ideology rules, revenue goes to affordable housing projects, then traffic circles, bike lanes and other wretched excesses.

Our politicians will do anything to protect funding of their own agenda-driven pet projects even if they don’t benefit the citizenry. Example: Special initiatives, such as 2006’s “Clean Beaches and Oceans” ballot measure created a new add-on parcel tax. Although Redevelopment Agency funds at the time would have covered beach and ocean remediation efforts, our city council proposed the new tax so existing revenue sources (that was earmarked for uses such as oceanfront anti-pollution measures) could be diverted to more public housing. This is exactly what’s happening with the proposed water increase.

Clearly, city priorities are totally screwed up. An article in the Jan. 31/Feb. 1 Daily Press, “Council cobbles together affordable housing funds,” details City Hall’s efforts to “help build and support affordable housing.” It’s City Hall’s No. 1 priority — even over meeting critical citizen needs.

Two city owned properties were sold for about $13-million. Proceeds went toward the Housing Trust Fund. Another settlement agreement brought in $5-million more. There were residual monies left over from redevelopment funds. The total revenues being made available for more public housing is expected to be $20 to $30 million over the next two years. Hummm … Isn’t that what’s needed for water system upgrades?

Unfortunately, there’s no indication that city leaders will cease pursuing their obsessive public housing policies and screwing us in the process. Affordable housing is fine but only after basic services are provided. Our politicians would rather we pay again and again while they take revenues that should go to vital infrastructure improvements and resident services and spend it for their own self-serving, ideologically-driven projects.

There may be a way to beat back the increase and that’s if 51 percent or more of the property owners/water customers protest. The increase can’t be implemented if 51 percent of property owners oppose it.

City Hall doesn’t make it easy. Property owners must submit a written protest opposing the increases for each property they own. Include the property owner of record’s name, street address, parcel number or water account number and state: “I am opposed to the proposed increase in water rates.” The name of the property owner and signature are required. If a new owner is not yet registered as the current owner of record, include a copy of the water bill.

Apartment renters with a master water service are ineligible to file a protest however owners/landlords can. Encouraging them to protest would be in every renter’s best interest. Keep in mind, that if the rate increase is granted, renters in rent-controlled apartment buildings with centralized water service could see costs passed on directly or added on to the annual rent adjustment.

Time is short! Your written protest must be at City Hall (City Clerk’s office, 1685 Main Street, Room 102, Santa Monica, CA 90401) before Tuesday, Feb. 24. The public hearing on the increase is Feb. 24 at 5:45 p.m. in council chambers.

Do we need a water rate increase? No! Not if council members stop prioritizing frills, non-essential public housing and ego-gratifying projects over real needs benefiting their constituency.

Get those protests in. In addition to saving on your water bill, you’ll be sending a message to our sanctimonious political leadership: “Resident come first!”

Bill Bauer can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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