In a typographical nightmare, the Cambria services district has had to delay the final hearing and decisions about its proposed rate increases for water and wastewater-treatment services — incorrect ZIP codes were included on the 4,577 notices sent Nov. 13 to ratepayers and property owners in the district.
That final hearing now is to be held Feb. 12, providing 45 more days in which people can protest rate hikes designed to fill the fiscal gap between income and costs, a gap that was exacerbated by ratepayers’ stellar water-conservation efforts during the drought. Cambrians saved a significant amount of water, setting state records, but doing so cut the district’s utility income substantially.
A Dec. 29 hearing was initially scheduled to be the conclusion of the period during which ratepayers could protest the proposal. According to a clarification posted Tuesday, Dec. 15, at www.cambriacsd.org, the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors still will hold that hearing, but no count will be done then and no decisions made.
A copy of the district’s original Proposition 218 notice about the rate proposal, complete with incorrect ZIP codes in two places, also was posted on the website Dec. 15. That notice had been included in the board’s agenda packet for a Nov. 12 meeting.
And, in an O Henry twist, while one of two incorrect ZIP codes on that notice was an obvious mistype (93248 instead of 93428), the other was 94002, the ZIP code for Belmont, Calif. — where former CCSD general manager Tammy Rudock now serves as GM for the Mid-Peninsula Water District.
The first error was included in the mailing address for protests. The second error was included in the Veterans Memorial Building address, where the hearings are to be held.
CCSD’s online clarification says, “The correct address and ZIP code to submit mailed written protests is: CCSD, Attention: District Clerk, P.O. Box 65, Cambria, CA 93428.”
Director Amanda Rice said of the ZIP code glitch, “Yes, it’s a mistake, but we’re fixing it.” And the delay does give ratepayers more time after the busy holiday season to consider whether they want to support or protest the higher rates.
Proposition 218 triggered the state law requiring utilities to allow ratepayers to protest rate increases, and if enough of them do so (50 percent plus one), those rates cannot take effect.
Under the law, a majority protest is based on the number of parcels, not the gross number of notices mailed. That number for the CCSD proposal is 3,937 parcels for water and 3,828 parcels for sewage-treatment. The difference is because some Cambria properties in the district still have septic systems.
CCSD’s plan now is to open the Dec. 29 hearing, consider comments, receive written protests, and then continue the proceedings to 9 a.m. Feb. 12. That’s when protests are to be counted and validated, and the count certified.
If there aren’t enough valid protests to stop the rate hikes, directors could then vote to start charging the new rates designed to put the water and wastewater departments on firmer financial footing.
CCSD General Manager Jerry Gruber said in an email response to questions Dec. 11 that any valid protests “received thus far will count. We are also in the process of incorporating that language into the revised notice.”
However, that clarification notice language is confusing some people.
Among other things, it states, “If you mailed a protest using the incorrect address, you should submit a new protest.” That’s presumably because a protest sent to the wrong ZIP code could go astray and not be rerouted to CCSD.
With the original notice posted at the same time, still with the erroneous ZIP code for mailing, someone not reading the clarification might use the wrong zip code.
Since the district’s verification process includes elimination of duplicate protests, ratepayers who are in doubt about the ZIP code they used when they sent in their protests probably should submit another one.
According to financial consultant Alex Handler of Bartle Wells, one protest is counted per parcel. So, for instance, if a property’s renter and owner both protest, or several tenants in a multifamily housing unit on one meter all protest, or if several owners of one parcel protest, each of those situations still would only be counted as one protest.
The rate-increase proposal and the ZIP code glitches are not on the agenda for CCSD’s Board of Directors meeting today (12:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.), but those topics could come up for casual discussion during public comment or another section of the meeting.