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Cambria protest heats up

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Opponents of a controversial water and sewer rate hike proposed in Cambria received some good news and some bad news at the Oct. 25 meeting of the Cambria Community Services District.

Their good news was that 3,321 protest letters were submitted to the district--far more than the 2,002 that CCSD Attorney Art Montandon believes would be required to overturn the rate increase under Proposition 218. Those protests were still being counted and verified as of press time on the afternoon of Oct. 31, as officials from the district and two observers from the League of Women Voters were completing the tally out of the public eye. The results will be certified by the district board at a special meeting on Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Cambria Vets Hall.

Their bad news was that Montandon filed a complaint with the District Attorney and the U.S. Postal Service, alleging that a bulk mailing sent to Cambria residents by opponents of the rate increase was fraudulent because it gave the incorrect impression that it was sponsored by the chamber, by listing the Cambria Chamber of Commerce as its return address.

The chamber's president, Mel McColloch, said that the group wasn't involved in the mailing, although he said that the chamber did agree to be a collection site for completed protest forms.

With no official sponsor listed, it's unclear who actually sent the mailer.

The District Attorney's office confirmed that it received a request from the CCSD to look into the mailer and its origins.

"It's an administrative inquiry. There's no indication at this time of any criminal activity. We hope to conclude this matter within a week or two," said D.A. investigator Scott Odom.

CSD Attorney Montandon also said in an interview that the mailer--which stated, "Don't let your water bill increase 100 percent to 400 percent"--was misleading because most residents would see an increase of around 31 percent. The higher percentages apply to businesses, especially motels and restaurants.

The Cambria Pines Lodge, for example--the district's biggest customer--would see its water and sewer bills increase by nearly $15,000 a year, Montandon said.

The protest vote under Proposition 218, known as the right to vote on taxes act, is a complicated process when it comes to water and sewer bills. A state Supreme Court decision last year clarified that ratepayers have the right to overturn rate hikes if more than 50 percent turn in valid protest forms. If Cambria's protest is successful, the community will be the first sizeable California town to overturn a rate hike.

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