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Protest rate increases

A 'no' vote on the proposed Los Osos Water Recycling Facility Proposition 218 is a 'yes' vote for Los Osos sustainability

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As homeowners and Los Osos Sustainability Group members, we oppose the Proposition 218 sewer rate increase and we encourage other homeowners in the sewer service area to send in a protest ("no" vote) to San Luis Obispo County before April 21, 2020. You can also drop it off at the County Government Center anytime before the end of the Board of Supervisors' meeting on April 21.

The increases of about $32 to about $95 per month (about 19 percent to 95 percent) for single-family homeowners, and about $254 per month for businesses (about 93 percent), over the next five years are exorbitant and destructive to a community that will also be very hard hit by the economic crisis that is sure to have lasting effects. The added financial burden will force more businesses in Los Osos to close, it will force many more families to choose between essential items and monthly sewer costs, and it will likely force some families to lose their homes.

The county attributes the need for the rate increases to lower-than-expected flows to the treatment plant causing lower-than-planned revenues. The county also says there's a need to cover inflation costs at 3 percent per year, and that "reserves" are needed " ... to show financial stability and qualify for low- or no-cost funding opportunities when major infrastructure projects are needed in the future."

The new inflation factor is clearly out of line with actual inflation; the "reserves" should not have been exhausted this early in the life of the project; and the low flows, which result from greater than expected conservation by property owners in the project area, are something the county should have planned for, knowing the Los Osos Water Recycling Facility included an aggressive conservation program to address the basin's severe seawater intrusion problem.

All of the reasons for the increases point to poor planning (e.g., foreseeable, underestimated costs), which home and business owners should not have to cover.

We suspect that the increases also result from another poor planning decision—sizing the project for build-out with severe seawater intrusion threatening the basin. During the project review process, county officials presented numbers showing that further development would lower sewer costs by spreading the costs to more properties.

Recognizing that the large and expensive Los Osos Water Recycling Facility could be a very strong incentive for unsustainable development (adding demand that would increase seawater intrusion), the California Coastal Commission conditioned approval of further development inside the service area on "conclusive evidence" of a sustainable water supply to support that development. With a recent basin study showing seawater intrusion continuing, the Coastal Commission is now unlikely to approve the Los Osos Community Plan, which allows up to 30 percent more development in Los Osos, without very significant restrictions on that development.

Rejecting the rate increases will encourage the county to look further for cost savings. Lower flows should mean lower electrical costs, lower pump-station and leach-field maintenance costs, and less related staffing. The county should also eliminate weekly tours and other PR expenses, which provide no benefit to ratepayers.

With the Fed slashing interest rates, the county should also be able to convince agencies that lower-cost funding is justified for the facility and necessary for building the reserves the agencies like to see. These efforts and others should eliminate the need for rate increases.

At some point in the future, the county should pursue a different Proposition 218 and a basinwide ordinance that spreads the cost and responsibility for protecting and restoring the Los Osos Basin equally to all who use it. Currently, about 85 percent of the community, those living in the "prohibition zone," are responsible for all of the nitrate cleanup and about 98 percent of the seawater intrusion mitigation.

We hope that the "we're all in this together" spirit that now inspires the nation and people around the world will translate into a shared stakeholder solution for the Los Osos community and water basin sustainability. A successful Proposition 2018 rate protest and ordinance that spreads the cost and responsibility for saving our sole water source will lower costs for 85 percent of the community, improve basin preservation efforts now being directed by the water suppliers and county, and go a long way toward repairing a rift that divides Los Osos. Δ

Patrick McGibney, Elaine Watson, Larry Raio, and Keith Wimer are members of the Los Osos Sustainability Group. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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