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Rohnert Park council poised to raise sewer rates

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rohnert Park residents would see their average sewer bills rise 50 percent by January under a proposal the City Council is close to approving.

Under the plan, the average monthly bill for a single-family household would climb from $38 to $57 in a two-step increase process starting in July.

That would leave residents paying the third-lowest rates in the county, above Petaluma and Sebastopol.

Businesses’ rates would climb too. For example, a restaurant with a high-strength discharge would see its average bill go from $3,176 to $5,227 a month, a 65 percent increase.

A final decision on the proposal is set for March 8. The council is expected to approve it.

The city is proceeding with a campaign to convince ratepayers of the need for an increase. It will include at least one mailer and a persistent effort to get out the word through presentations to community and business groups, said Interim Assistant City Manager John Dunn.

Residents who led a successful 2008 effort to lower the rates have vowed to oppose that effort, although their strategy isn’t yet fixed.

“We have to see exactly what they’re doing, what rates they’re going to raise and how they’re going to do it,” said John Hudson.

Hudson was a leader of the Measure L campaign, which rolled back rates to 2006 levels and won at the polls by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin. He and others argued that ratepayers were unfairly subsidizing future development.

The city says that Measure L caused the system to run at an annual deficit of more than $3 million.

Without a rate hike it will have to tap its general fund next year to make up the difference between revenue and expenses, according to city officials who call that fiscally untenable.

“The general fund has no money, it’s in a deficit situation,” said Dunn. “It would mean even further cuts than have already been made, and we have cut $6 million in the past two years.”

Measure L supporters argue that to reverse its results, the city must go back to the voters. City officials, however, say that all they need to do is mail notice of the proposed increase to all ratepayers.

If more than 50 percent of ratepayers do not mail in protests to the city within 45 days, the proposed rate hike goes through, City Attorney Michelle Kenyon has said.

That would subvert the democratic process, Hudson said.

“The onus is on the city to obey the will of the people,” he said. “They don’t get to just put it out there and say ‘You didn’t object.’ If they want to change it they have to go to the polls.”





16 Responses to “Rohnert Park council poised to raise sewer rates”

  1. John Hudson says:

    I’m not the real John Hudson? Now THAT is a conspiracy theory!

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  2. Misanthrope says:

    The 2006 surplus was what was reported in the Community Voice in 2010. What did you base the Measure L rates on?

    You know everything, so tell us all. What does it cost Rohnert Park to operate and maintain the sewer system and why can’t they charge to pay for it?

    What exactly is the legal impediment to this? Forget the conspiracy theories. I’m talking about books open everything open and above board – complete and total public inspection of every expense and every cost. Why the free lunch?

    Now what? And how do we know this is “John Hudson?” It could be a shill typing for him or maybe he doesn’t even know about it. The real John Hudson would post the proof not repeat and swear to the inflammability of the data published in a local newspaper. If the thing in the Community Voice is in error, the whole conspiracy collapses. The real John Hudson would not put all his eggs in that basket.

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  3. John Hudson says:

    Missy’s quotation from Gaffney’s letter about a surplus in 2006 has nothing to do with a financial statement for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010. Actually, the Measure L rates were chosen on the basis of projections in the prospectus for the 2005 sewer certificates of participation. Gaffney never had any idea what we based the Measure L rates on. He never asked. Neither did you. Is this the best you can do sweetie? By the way, why don’t you post under your real name like I do? Are you afraid to take responsibility for the nonsense you post here?

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  4. Misanthrope says:

    Huddy apparently can’t read:

    “In 2006 the fund had a one-time surplus far beyond the regular surplus maintained in the account. This was due to a one-time refund from Santa Rosa for overestimated costs at the Llano Road sewer plant. The proponents for Measure L saw that surplus and declared, “Aha! We are paying too much!” They didn’t look at the history of the fund to see this was a one-time surplus, or at the regular operating costs for the sewer system. As a result of the sewer rate rollback sold to the voters, the fund currently has total costs around $12 million, but total revenue of only $9 million.”

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  5. John Hudson says:

    Missy is suffering from hallucinations. Gaffney’s letter does not mention at all the financial statement published in the November 12, 2010 edition of The Community Voice where the city reported \excess revenues\ of $2,017,432 from public utilities. I would invite everyone to read Gaffney’s letter and quote here what he says about that financial statement.

    One thing that I shouold have mentioned here is that Daren Jenkens tried to get Lynn Woolsey to put the east side sewer line on her list of stimulus projects. The east side sewer line is intended to serve the developments of Codding, Brookfield Homes, and 101 Holdings. (All of them were opposed to Measure L.) Jenkens has demonstrated his willingness to subsidize developers in this manner with federal money. Woolsey, to her credit, refused to put the eastside sewer line on her list of stimulus projects. Now the city council is trying to force existing residents to pay for it.

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  6. Misanthrope says:

    If you just read the letter, he specifically and directly explains it. Why don’t you read the link before it expires? I know a message is coming eventually that the link is no good and you never got a chance to read it. Too bad. Typical obfuscation and avoidance. This kind of tactic will not work this time around.

    Imagine there are two groups: a group with five people and a group with ninety-five people. The five people are paying for everything, but all one-hundred people get one vote each. So the five people who are paying for everything get five votes and the ninety-five who aren’t paying for anything get ninety-five votes. If I asked, “Who thinks the five percent should be paying more?” of course the group of ninety-five will raise their hands and say, “Hell yeah, they should pay more.” And because everyone gets one vote, the group of five would have to pay more. That sounds like democracy, but it’s not.

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  7. John Hudson says:

    Really? What DOES Gaffney have to say about the financial statement published in the November 12, 2010 Community Voice that says that the City of Rohnert Park had “excess revenues” of $2,017,432 from public utilities?

    So developers financed the campaign against Measure L because they were afraid the city would go bankrupt? Apparently none of the people who actually live here were. They didn’t contribute. Only people who did not live in Rohnert Park contributed to the No on L campaign.

    If developers are worried about the city going bankrupt, they should pay for their sewer infrastructure BEFORE it is constructed. They don’t want to pay for their own sewer infrastructure. It’s cheaper to finance a political campaign that, if successful, would result in the people of Rohnert Park financing their sewer infrastructure for them. Of course, they weren’t successful. So now they are having the city council they control try to raise sewer rates without voter approval in violation of section 9217 of the Elections Code. (Legal citations are “legalese” to those who are not interested in obeying the law.) Why not? The city council recently voted to make a gift of $880,000 in public funds to Codding, the chief opponent of Measure L.

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  8. Misanthrope says:

    Gaffney’s letter specifically addresses what you say it does not. You didn’t even read it. How many other misrepresentations have you made? No one wants to read the legalese — just explain why it is Rohnert Park can’t collect what it costs them to operate the sewer system. Books open, figures not in dispute – Why? You seem to be determined to confrontation and lawsuits. What have you done to mitigate the damages? Why is it you can’t come up with a solution? If you had the books in hand and you were writing the checks yourself… what exactly would you do?

    Everyone is glazing over the conspiracy theories and standard accusations. Developers backed the no on L stuff probably because they don’t want Rohnert Park to go bankrupt. It’s clear that you do.

    This time, I think you’re going to be called on the standard line of BS you repeat over and over. You don’t listen to anyone and just label any opposing view as a co-conspirator in league with evil developers.

    If you have no solution to offer first, then you won’t get any support this time. There is no reason that Rohnert Park can’t recover its costs for operating and maintaining the sewer system. Your claim that they are making a profit and paying for future development before it happens is not true.

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  9. John Hudson says:

    Gaffney conveniently avoids discussion of the financial statement published in the November 12, 2010 edition of The Community Voice. Gaffney’s letter says that Daren Jenkens, the city engineer, has done a beautiful job of dividing the costs between existing residents and new development. Isn’t that a job for an accountant, not an engineer? Why is the city having an engineer do an accountant’s job? Could it be because the city’s accountants are on record as saying that the city is making money from public utilities instead of getting wiped out by the Measure L sewer rates?

    Even if the “public facilities fee (also called an impact fee) is adequate, developers pay nothing until a building permit is issued.(See California Government Code section 66007 and Rohnert Park Municipal Code section 3.28.060) Before a building permit is issued the sewer and water infrastructure must be in place. Somebody has to finance the construction of the sewer and water infrastructure before any fees are collected from developers. That “somebody” is the existing residents of Rohnert Park. No city has ever refunded money collected from existing residents collected from impact fees on developers. Moreover, the impact fees will be collected over the 20 year period during which these projects will be built. However, the sewer and water infrastructure will have to constructed before the first house is built.

    Just as importantly, developers never pay anything for the infrastructure provided by the state in the form of freeways, water projects, state colleges and universities, parks, and all the other services the rest of us have to provide developers with. Developers are accustomed to having existing residents finance their capital improvements for them. That’s why the campaign against Measure L was funded entirely by developers.

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  10. Misanthrope says:

    Letter from Joe Gaffney in the Community Voice on this subject. The link will probably only be good for a week

    http://www.thecommunityvoice.com/letters.php

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  11. John Hudson says:

    The present sewer rates DO cover the cost of sewer service, but not what you call “building for the future”. That’s why the City of Rohnert Park published a financial statement in the November 12, 2010 edition of The Community Voice reporting that the City of Rohnert Park had “excess revenues” from public utilities of $2,017,432! If, indeed the City of Rohnert Park is not covering the cost of the sewer system with sewer rates, it is charging enough for water and garbage to cover the costs of operating the sewer system plus a tidy profit! The city simply assumed that nobody would read that financial statement. We will do our best to see that people actually DO read that financial statement by distributing leaflets all over town with a copy of this financial statement on them. It will be fun and educational.

    By the way, if sewer rates prior to the passage of Measure L did not subsidize developers, why did developers spend good money in an economic downturn to oppose Measure L? In fact, weren’t developers and others who make money when more houses are built the only ones to spend money to oppose Measure L? Did even one dime come from an ordinary resident of Rohnert Park?

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  12. Misanthrope says:

    Well Huddy, I was giving you credit for something I thought was a solution. Since the problem is the municipal code stating that sewer service rates will be set high enough to pay for expansion of the sewer system as well as cover operation and maintenance… what if they amended it to cross out the part about paying for expansion of the sewer system and the new version states that rates shall be set to cover just operation and maintenance.

    You are very quick to shoot down solutions and name people as being part of the developer conspiracy. You’ve put a lot of weight in the infallibility of the data published in the Community Voice. What if it really was in error? What if the books are open for public inspection and it turns out you are wrong about how much money they have and how much it costs?

    With the municipal code amended to remove the objectionable language, what is the legal impediment to Rohnert Park charging a rate that covers their costs?

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  13. John Hudson says:

    First, Missy is deliberately misquoting me. I did not say that the Rohnert Park Municipal Code is the poroblem. I cited two sections, 13.42.030 and 13.42.035, where the city states that sewer service rates will be set high enough to pay for expansion of the sewer system as well as cover operation and maintenance. Missy supports forcing ordinary residents to provide free sewer infrastructure to developers as “building for the future”. The fact that the city set sewer rates high enough to subsidize developers is demonstrated by the fact that all of the funding for the campaign against Measure L came from the building industry and its PACS, such as Codding who just bought the RP election.

    Secondly, the city is violating Elections Code section 9217 which prohibits the city from enacting an ordinance that conflicts with an initiative without a “vote of the people”. The California Supreme Court was quite clear that an initiative cannot be changed without a vote of the people. (See Bighorn Desert View Water Agency v Verjil (2006) 39 Cal 4th 205, 192-220)

    Finally, the City of Rohnert Park is making false statements about its financial situation. The City of Rohnert Park published a financial statement in the November 12, 2010 edition of The Community Voice in which it said that the city had “excess revenues” of $2,017,432 from public utilities. Obviously if Measure L is causing the city to undercharge for sewer, the city overcharges enough for water and garbage to cover the undercharge for sewer plus a handsome profit.

    We are reconstituting the group that sponsored Measure L, The Rohnert Park Utility Consumers Coalition. We are in the process of putting our website back up, http://www.rpucc.org. We will have copies of all the relevant documents on our website including all the documents I have mentioned in this forum. This fight is just beginning. The RPUCC is a proven winner and will win again!

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  14. 0 Representation says:

    I totally agree with the Hammer. Here’s a suggestion..only a little common sense.. How about Rohnert Park save money by only paying ONE Assistant City Manager?!! There’s $18k per month.

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  15. Misanthrope says:

    John Hudson pretty much has the solution. He said that the municipal code wording is the problem. Apparently all the city has to do is amend their municipal code so that they are only authorized to charge for present costs and not charge in advance for future development. If the rate hikes reflect actual costs in the here and now, measure L doesn’t matter. Thanks to John Hudson for lighting the way to a practical solution.

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  16. The Hammer says:

    Here we go again. The voters vote for something and someone in the government decides that the government doesn’t have to obey. Then they tell everyone to vote because your vote counts. B.S.!

    I hope that the people behind Measure L fight them to the end. It’s the only way to make your vote count on this issue.

    The City of RP thinks there is some wording in Prop. 218 that allows them to increase sewer fees simply by sending out a notification and hoping that no one will respond.

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