Thursday, Dec 2 (Hanukkah) at the Los Osos Middle School. Doors open at 6 p.m. so people can speak with various staff members and at 7 p.m. the (likely) last Dog & Pony Sewer Show will commence on the Rates and Charges ordinance that will be showing up in your mailbox soon, along with a nifty brochure ‘splaining it all.
That’s one brochure I’m looking forward to since there’s a “protest vote” connected with this all and if you’re familiar with “protest votes,” you’ll know they’re impossible to “win,” which makes them handy vehicles when you’re stuck with a tricky situation but still want to claim you offered people a chance to “vote” in the matter. Much slicker than an actual, “real” up-or-down vote, which can be pretty unpredictable.
At any rate, the rates and charges are costs needed to fill in the shortfall needed to build a sewer system designed for build-out when build-out may not be possible, certainly not in the reasonable short-term. Since you can’t assess somebody for a benefit they don’t receive (no sewage being collected from a vacant lot), but you need the full amount of money to build a system designed to include their vacant lot in the future, what can you do but stick the needed money into the rates and charges and hope homeowners won’t notice that they’re going to be paying for a place holder for somebody’s vacant lot.
And if you’re a homeowner and are anxious for this sewer to get built, you’ll be praying that vacant lot owners don’t say, “Hey, why in hell am I being dinged a bunch of money for something I may never get any benefit from since nobody can guaranteed there’s gonna be enough water so I can ever build my dream house on this vacant lot?” Then mount a successful 50% plus 1 “protest vote” campaign. Or hope a lot of people with developed properties don’t say, “Hey, I assessed myself $25,000 for a sewer, so why am I being forced to pay for my neighbor’s vacant lot,” and file a successful “protest vote,” after which the whole thing implodes and we’re stuck back at ground zero.
Which is exactly why I’m looking forward to reading the glossy brochure that will be coming with the “ballot.” Spinning this puppy is gonna take a master. Although, realistically, protest votes, unlike “real” votes, are nearly impossible to pull off. Which makes them handy when government needs to do things quietly that likely would cause an uproar if done in the usual fashion – i.e. a straight-forward assessment vote.
To date, the monthly sewer bills will be about $105 for the original capital costs on the $25,000 assessment, plus about $95 (more or less) for the Rates and Charges. The ordinance would use a flat amount for the fixed capital costs associated with the “missing” portion of the system that covers proposed build-out. That amount would diminish as the principal gets paid off. And if water becomes available and lots get developed, that amount would be retired sooner and either credits or rebates given to the ratepayers.
The variable part of the R&C would be based on actual (water meter readings) of water usage during January-February, with 12 units being the minimum. This should reflect your indoor water use since most people don’t heavily irrigate during winter, thereby giving a pretty accurate number of gallons going down the drain to the treatment plant. In either case, the 12 units of water will be used as the base, unless you can prove you’re really water thrifty and use much less than that. Greywater systems will also be considered in lowering your rate. And if you can prove that your higher consumption isn’t all indoor use (you’re an urban farmer growing rutabagas and use X gallons year round outside the home) you can appeal those charges as well.
--Water meters will be required when people connect to the system (for folks who don’t have water meters now)
--Rules and Regulations in the form of another ordinance will be written later and will cover what will be legal and illegal as to what you can stuff down your toilet and drain.
--The present ordinance, as written, caused some confusion over the requirement that homeowners have 90 days to hook up – an impossibility for all 4,500+ homes. So that language was modified to clarify that the hook ups will be phased-in and the 90 day window can be extended to 180 in case of unforeseen problems, i.e. bad weather, equipment shortages and delays & etc.
--The protest vote is one vote per parcel. If there are two owners, each can file a protest vote but it will only be counted as 1 vote.
--The R&C charges can be collected yearly on the tax rolls or can be sent to homeowners like a bill. It’s not known yet if the County will set up a system like the CSD has now that will red-flag non-payment by renters, for example, thereby alerting property-owner-landlords early-on so they can fix that issue before gazillions of dollars pile up unbeknownst to them, which happened here in Los Osos a few years ago with renter-paid trash and water bills.
And, being Los Osos, there were some interesting wrinkles brought up during public comment.
-- Steve Paige raised an interesting question: Right now, our septic tanks are fully permitted and legal, so neither the RWQCB nor the county can force us to abandon our tanks. Our DISCHARGE is forbidden, but not our tanks. County counsel Warren Jensen declared he knew nothing about any of that, no, no, never hear of any such thing. In a sane world, folks would re-read 83-13 wherein they’d see the word “discharge,” and scratch their heads and say, Hmmm, well then, I know an affordable fix to this: sealed pipe step system hooked up to in-place septic tanks (replacement of failed tanks only), done and done for a genuinely affordable price and no dug up back-yards. But that’s in a sane world, not our Alice in Wonderland Sewerland.
-- Eric Greening wanted to make sure the phase-in of the hook up would allow time to do it all in one fell swoop – pump tank, decommission tank, lay hook up trench, hook up all at once, versus having to dig up things then come back and dig them up again. Happily, if properly phased in, that will happen.
--Once again, there was the question about the numbers. Water usage numbers seem to be a fungible item, which causes concern since it’s all GIGO. Get your basic numbers wrong and you end up building the wrong sized system at the wrong price. Unless that was your intention in the first place.
--Which raised the usual question: In a basin now in serious overdraft, with no limits to growth for homes being built outside the PZ, all of whom are all allowed to access the water basin (while those inside the PZ are not) just how realistic is it that undeveloped properties in the PZ will EVER get to develop? And if they can’t, the sewer system as designed for build out is scaled too big and too costly, yet that entire cost is being stuck on the present homeowners. And, for undeveloped property owners, they’ll be stuck paying for a future they’ll realistically never see. The answer to that is, as usual, a shrug. Or Supervisor Bruce Gibson using the word “hopeful” a great many times. Then it’s time to . . . Move along.
-- The Dec 2 Town Hall meeting isn’t a “workshop.” It’s informational only. There will be no feed-back and no changes to the ordinance. It’s take-it-or-leave-it. So you’ll likely be able to submit written questions at the event, but don’t expect any changes. There will be 12 days between the Town Hall meeting and the vote count/Ordinance Hearing on Dec 14 at the BOS. (Check agenda for the time). So try not to lose the paperwork in all the holiday bustle. Not that it matters since this is a done deal.
Proposed ordinance with modifications, passed 5-0.
Next meeting on the issue, December 14 for official ballot results and adoption of the Rates & Charges ordinance. (Don’t forget the Dec 2 Town Hall)
While there was some table pounding by Chairman Mecham to shush up some back-of-the-room hollerers, no chairs were hurled. Though a GINORMOUS law officer type suddenly materialized in the back of the room.
Magic? Naw, Los Osos.