Davis voters reject complex Measure P water rate plan

Davis voters on Tuesday repealed a complex series of water rate increases designed to pay for a major project tapping into the Sacramento River.

Voters by a 51-49 percentage passed Measure P, the grass-roots effort to roll back water rate increases that would pay for Davis’ $107 million share of its joint Surface Water Project with Woodland. The result had city leaders on the phone Wednesday to their Woodland counterparts, reassuring them that Tuesday’s repeal would not derail the massive project.

Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza said he spoke with Woodland councilman Tom Stallard on Wednesday to assure leaders there that Davis “remains supportive of the project and that we will be moving forward.” Davis is counting on the new surface water source to supplement the city’s aging network of groundwater wells.

“There is no reason for Woodland to think we’ve jumped ship. The partnership is still strong,” Krovoza said Wednesday, adding that the city will “come up with a rate structure that is more acceptable to the public.”

Under the repeal measure, Davis will return water rates to their pre-May 2013 levels.

Krovoza said the city’s utility rate advisory committee is slated to meet as early as Thursday to discuss new rate schedule proposals it will bring back this fall for vetting by ratepayers.

Davis City Council had touted the rate structure it passed in March 2013, with its multi-tiered formula accounting for meter size, monthly use and peak use, as the fairest way to charge residents and pay for the multimillion-dollar project to draw water from the Sacramento River.

City officials had warned during the campaign that Measure P’s passage could endanger financing of the city’s share of the water project and its obligations to its Woodland partners.

But proponents rejected that argument and maintained their fight was about fairer rates, not derailing the project.

They said the increases – a series of rate hikes over five years that would have more than doubled the average Davis user’s water bill by 2018 – were unfair, hitting residents in single-family homes the hardest with its emphasis on summer water use.

“They didn’t address the fairness issue,” said measure proponent and former Davis Mayor Sue Greenwald, calling the project’s costs “a very big burden on a city of 65,000. It’s important that the rates be equitably distributed. It shouldn’t fall disproportionately on any one group.”

The Measure P outcome was not seen as a fiscal conservative turn for a city that routinely passes tax measures. In the very same election Tuesday, Davis voters approved a Measure O extension and increase of its sales tax through 2020.

By the City Council’s last meeting, leaders saw the writing on the wall.

“Even if P had failed, there was the sense for the Council that people weren’t comfortable with the rate structure,” Krovoza said. “There was a sense that a (yes) vote could happen and there was an interest in getting this right instead of continuing this 50-50 argument in the city.”

On Tuesday, voters confirmed it, with much of the support for the repeal concentrated in neighborhoods where single-family homes predominate, according to Yolo County elections data.

“We’re grateful (Measure) P has passed and hopeful that this will lead to a fairer rate system and that there will be no bumps in the road,” said Measure P proponent John Munn on Wednesday. The vote was redemption for Munn, who last year led an unsuccessful court challenge of the new rates.

Munn said he wants to see a new rate recommendations sooner than City Hall’s fall timeline and said the city’s cash reserves and its ability to borrow against its lines of credit could cover any project shortfalls in the near term.

“We think the city will be able to easily bridge this period,” he said.