Over the Hill

A stream of support for water rate

I kept score Tuesday night at the Paso Robles water rate protest hearing. The first score was 19-3-1. Nineteen of the speakers favored the new rates, three opposed, and one just asked a question.

The second score was 609-9,691. Paso Robles has 10,300 water customers, of whom 609 submitted written protests to the new water rates; 9,691 didn’t.

The third score was 5-0. The City Council voted 5-0 to adopt the new higher rates.

But the water rate contest is far from over.

The City Council is expected to give the new rates final approval April 20. Opponents then have 30 days to circulate referendum petitions.

If 10 percent of the city’s registered voters sign the petitions, the council must either kill the rate increase or put it to a citywide vote.

That happened last year to an earlier water rate increase. The opponents got 11.3 percent of the voters to sign the petitions. The rate went to a special election last November and lost by 55 percent to 45 percent.

But this latest water rate plan may survive.

For one thing, it no longer includes the present $18 per month base rate, which every water customer — large or small — must pay. It just has one simple uniform rate for every customer. Starting Jan. 1, the rate would be $2.50 per billing unit (748 gallons). That would climb yearly to $4.40 per unit in 2015.

Another reason the new rate may survive is a group of Paso Robles residents have joined together to champion it.

They call themselves Water4Paso. Maybe half the speakers Tuesday night were wearing Water4Paso badges.

Also, several speakers at the hearing Tuesday forthrightly criticized the tactics and claims of the opponents, who call themselves the Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles. One speaker who criticized the CCPR was one of its early activists.

And more Roblans are learning that the CCPR leader, John Borst, and three others filed a class-action lawsuit against the city. It is based on an $8 million claim for alleged illegal water and sewer charges. Their lawyer also recently wrote to city officials talking of further legal action if the city doesn’t cease its present efforts to raise water rates.

I think the council’s latest water rate increase is fair and needed. On hot summer days here in Paso Robles, our wells can’t keep up with our demand. Also, we are obligated to pay for our share of Nacimiento water. And old equipment needs replacement. Anyone who asks me to sign a referendum petition will get only “no thanks.”

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.