Water & Drought

Residents tell Arden-Arcade water board to rethink big rate increases

Del Paso Manor Water District General Manager Debra Sedwick addresses a crowd of rate-payers at a public workshop on rate increases in the district on Monday.
Del Paso Manor Water District General Manager Debra Sedwick addresses a crowd of rate-payers at a public workshop on rate increases in the district on Monday. egarrison@sacbee.com

It was standing room only Monday night for the Del Paso Manor Water District’s public workshop on five years of rate increases that could nearly double what consumers pay.

More than 100 residents from the 1,800-customer district packed into St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Arden-Arcade to demand answers from the district’s board and staff. The rate increases would see the average bill go from $43.65 to $80 a month over five years – an 83 percent increase.

The board will make the final decision on the rate increases May 5.

General Manager Debra Sedwick said the money is needed to repair aging infrastructure in the 1-square-mile district roughly bounded by Watt and Eastern Avenues, and Maryal Drive and Marconi Avenue.

“Old pipes will affect the water quality and that’s ultimately what we want to do, is make sure we have good water quality,” Sedwick said. “Emergency repairs are very costly. If you have planned maintenance, and we can replace these mains, we’re not having a blow up and a leak that is destroying your yard that we need to clean up and replace.”

Improvements outlined in the district’s 2009 master plan call for moving water mains from backyards to the street, bringing hydrants up to code and installing new service taps and lines.

Field Manager Rich Bolton presented a series of photos of the repairs the district has completed over the years, showing backyard repairs made difficult by pools and sheds that weren’t there when the pipes were laid. Several residents who asked questions also thanked Sedwick, Bolton and their staff for their work in fixing problems.

Some residents asked detailed questions, and some gave lengthy statements against the rate increases.

When Marissa Burt took the podium and introduced herself, the room erupted in applause. Burt has been leading the neighborhood effort against the proposal, and she made clear that she had yet to be convinced of its necessity.

“Let’s look at a bunch of other options,” Burt told the board. “I’m not saying we don’t need to do work; I’m asking (the board) to go back to the actual drawing board and think of other options. That’s all I’m asking for.”

She has distributed letters for residents to sign saying they are opposed to the rate hikes and has collected more than half of the approximately 900 letters she needs to force the district to reject the proposal under state law.

Greg Schneider, 65, said when he moved in 2002, he was told he would soon be getting new pipes.

“If you go from when I moved in to 2021, my rates will increase by 740 percent,” he said. “And I understand, you know, things go up. But I’m just not confident – I can’t picture a date when I’m going to have new pipes.”

Schneider said he came to the meeting without signing a petition and with an open mind.

“There’s just not enough of us to fund what needs to be done in this neighborhood,” he told the board. “That’s the bottom line.”

The district last increased rates in 2010, which paid for an initial series of infrastructure projects, including closing two wells and opening two new ones. There are three phases of work outlined in the general plan, one of which was paid for by the earlier increases.

Sedwick said the goal is for the current set of rate increases to put enough money in the bank to get financing for the third phase of improvements without having to raise rates.

Bee staff writer Brad Branan contributed to this report.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison