Sustained applause from a standing-room-only crowd filled the Cambria Vets Hall on Nov. 2, after directors of the Cambria Community Services District unanimously certified a successful community protest vote against a hefty water and sewer rate hike.
With 2,271 official protest letters filed by home-owners, renters, and business owners, Cambria became one of the first communities in California to turn down a proposed rate increase under Proposition 218, known as the right to vote on taxes act.
Many residents had questioned the need for the large increase proposed by the district, which they said would create financial hardships for people with low or fixed incomes, and for local business owners.
"I've witnessed an incredible process, which I admire and respect," district president Ilan Funke-Bilu told the audience. "I'm a '60s kid. I love protest."
Director Greg Sanders, an environmental attorney who opposed the rate hike, called on his fellow directors to "take a step back" and have "a thorough discussion" with residents over the next few months to determine a more appropriate rate structure. Many audience members yelled out, "Yes!"
"The [Cambria Community Services District] board needs to figure out how to present a true financial picture of the district. There are concepts we need to wrestle with to make sure the financial statements we're presenting are truly reflective of the financial position of the district," Sanders said.
Funke-Bilu responded, "They've done the democratic thing. They deserve this victory. In the words of Spike Lee, 'Do the right thing.' The community wants us to work harder on finances, so we're just going to have to work harder."
In a related matter, Funke-Bilu, who said he had personally sent a letter of complaint to the district attorney's office last month after a citizens group sent out an unsigned mailer to Cambria residents with the Cambria Chamber of Commerce's return address, said that issue is now "over."
In an interview after the meeting, Cambria restaurant owner John MacKinnon of the Citizens for a Fiscally Responsible CCSD, the group responsible for the mailer, alleged that the district board raised citizen ire by miscalculating what residents would pay.
The district's biggest water customer, the Cambria Pines Lodge, would have seen its water bill increase by nearly $300,000 a year, according to the inn's food and beverage director, John Raethke.