After a last-minute attempt to stop them failed, the SLO City Council voted 4-1 June 19 in favor of sewer and water rate hikes for city ratepayers. The changes include a sewer rate hike of about 20 percent over the next two years and water rate hikes to the tune of 26 percent over the next two years. Few in attendance were surprised at the vote, or shocked at public threats to overturn the decision with a ballot initiative.
Talks began with city officials commenting on the sizable public presence clearly a relative comparison, because many of the green-padded wood seats remained empty. Public comment consisted of several senior citizens, who implored the council to reconsider the water rate hikes scheduled to plateau around 2012 and particularly their impact on people on fixed incomes. The business community, including several Chamber of Commerce members, took the stage in strong support of the budget and rate increases. Local delivery driver, part-time activist, and one-time City Council candidate Terry Mohan also had strong words for the council and vowed to take the decision to a public vote as an initiative in November.
About a month ago Mohan began a campaign to stop the hikes using Prop. 218, which guarantees utility customers the right to protest rate increases. He single-handedly sent out over 11,000 postcards to city dwellers, and personally delivered 500 more. The postcards referred to a "failure of the City Council to hold adequate public discussion on this massive taxpayer subsidy of future large development." Mohan hoped to summon 7,200 written appeals, or half of the utility customers. At the start of the meeting, however, there were less than 2,000, and of those, only 1,500 were valid meaning the attempt failed.
The rate increase will largely be used to pay for the Nacimiento pipeline. Proponents of the project say that it will safeguard against drought and ensure that quality of life and lush lawns are protected. Opponents believe that it will serve new development rather than existing residents and should therefore be paid through development fees.
Mohan needs just 2,800 signatures to put the rate increase on the ballot it would be up to the city to call a special election, or wait until a regularly scheduled election. An initiative would allow voters to decide if utility rates should go up, but even then it's unknown if it would stop the city's involvement in the countywide Nacimiento project.