Paso Robles has been pursuing Nacimiento water since 1991. The city first committed to bring Nacimiento water to town in 1992.\Through the ’90s project feasibility, pipeline route and environmental studies were completed. Between 2000 and 2004 Paso Robles worked with sister agencies to develop a partnership to construct, operate and fund the project.
In July 2004, a contract was executed and water user fees approved to help pay for it. Initially, the rate plan called for $6 per month increasing by $6 per month every year until we reached $36 per month.
In early 2007, project cost estimates were refined indicating a need to increase the maximum monthly charge from the planned $36 to $60.
Pursuant to a July 2006 California Supreme Court ruling, this rate modification was introduced through the Proposition 218 protest ballot process. Only 109 protests were received (out of 10,000+). However, a referendum petition containing 1,445 signatures (just 10 percent of voters) was received. The city honored the petitioners’ request to consider a different rate structure — one that was based entirely on consumption (i.e., no fixed monthly amount).
A consumption-based rate was presented October 2007. Only 1,270 protest ballots were filed. However, opponents urged the city to commission a third-party professional rate study. So, Kennedy Jenks Consultants was engaged in January 2008. Once the rate study was completed, rates were again proposed — this time a combined fixed/consumption based formula — in July 2008.
And again, responding to citizen concerns, the city suspended consideration just a few months later to develop a more modest plan. The “pay-as-you-go” plan — an eight-year phased rate built around smaller staged improvements with cash only (no loans) — was introduced September 2008. Another protest ballot yielded less than 1,800 protests. But a change in the law limiting rate plans to five years was implemented in January 2009, and another referendum petition (signed by just 11 percent of registered voters) was filed.
After two years presenting four different rate proposals, the city, noting that the question is not whether to pay but how, and facing the prospect of developing yet another plan only to be opposed again by a small minority, decided it was time to call an election.
The election drew only 37 percent (5,371) of 14,563 registered voters. The rate plan was not approved by a margin of 471 votes.
So, the 18-year journey to improve Paso Robles water continues. Clearly, additional steps are needed to develop understanding, and understanding is the beginning of approving. We begin in December.
Jim App is city manager of Paso Robles.