The directors are poised to vote on a proposed 12 percent rate increase immediately following a public hearing on the question Wednesday night.
The district, which serves 2,060 residential customer and 43 institutional customers, is pursuing its second rate increase in three years.
It is the direct result, the district's general manager and engineer said at a April 2 special meeting, of increases in the cost of water it gets from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which went up 38 percent in July 2011.
The district's sole source of water is from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, controlled by the SFPUC. The 70-year-old water delivery system is getting its first retrofit for earthquake readiness and other upgrades since it was built in the early 1920s—and it's a $4.8 billion, 80-project undertaking, financed by a 2002 bond passed by San Francisco voters, and with costs shared by its Peninsula customers.
Other Peninsula water districts using Hetch Hetchy water raised their rates last July, but PHWD waited until 2012, said PHWD engineer Joubin Pakpour. Its March 2010 price hike averaged about 25 percent.
Indeed, up and down the Peninsula hearings over water rate increases have been taking place, from Palo Alto to to San Bruno. Customers have expressed anger that their reward for answering the call for water conservation has been to get charged higher rates.
Los Altos Hills Resident Richard Aurelio has been urging residents to use their rights under Prop. 218. The 1996 law allows residents to reject a fee increase if a majority of the owners of the parcels submit a written opposition. The intent of Proposition 218 is to ensure that all taxes and most charges on property owners are subject to voter approval, and was considered a successor initiative to Prop. 13.
With busy lives, however, written protests are typically low. Last September, when the there were only 52 letters received.
Lucy Xavier, the PHWD secretary said the district has received about 30 letters of protest, a small fraction of the district's 2,060 residential customers. The district can receive written protests, on paper only, via U.S. Postal delivery or delivered in person to the district's office next to Town Hall, up until the close of Wednesday night's public hearing. The district does not accept, for this rate proposal at least, protests via e-mail.
At least one PHWD board member, Gary Kremen, has gone on record as in March asking it to consider some cost-cutting measures, revenue generation, and adopting hardship policies for residents on fixed incomes, similar to what Palo Alto has.
During an April 2 special meeting of the district, Aurelio and two others opposed to the rate hike asked pointedly about what the district had done to trim expenses.
Although some board members said it any future rate increases would be subject to a vote, Aurelio contended that the proposal as written would place future rate increases on autopilot with no public hearings for five years "Result will be a 3X increase in water rates for LAH (using their presentation) over next 5 years," he wrote in an email to Los Altos Patch.
Resident Austin Vanchieri asserted that the district needed to consider consolidating itself with other small water districts to reduce overhead and reducing some of its personnel costs. The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), a consortium of 24 water districts and utilities that buy the Hetch Hetchy water, to related to the huge infrastructural projects.
Water Rate Unit ChargeTier Units of Water Consumed Current Water Rate Proposed Water Rate with Increase 1 1 through 10 $2.70 per unit $3.21 per unit 2 11 through 30 $4.15 per unit $4.66 per unit 3 31 through 60 $5.60 per unit $6.11 per unit 4 61 through 100 $7.05 per unit $7.56 per unit 5 101 through 200 $8.50 per unit $9.01 per unit 6 Over 200 $9.95 per unit $9.95 per unit
Sample BillsBilled units Bill at existing schedule Bill at proposed schedule Amount of Increase 10 units $42 $47.10 $5.10 30 units $125 $140.30 $15.30 60 units $293 $323.60 $30.60 100 units $575 $626 $51 200 units $1425 $1527 $102 300 units $2420 $2522 $102
Aside from Hetch Hetchy-supplied water, rate hikes are rippling across the area. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which supplies , held a public hearing Tuesday about its proposed rate hike that, for the north county customer, will result in up to a 9.3 percent increase.
A Mercury News columnist wrote about the 44 percent proposed increase at San Jose Water, described by one Merc reader as "hard to swallow" even over three years. Like PHWD customers, the prospect of water being more expensive, in part to make up for revenue lost due to lower water usage, confounded people who had done a great job at conserving water. The columnist mentioned he would go to the May 21 meeting, armed, presumably, with a protest letter.
Residents can submit protests or other comments to the district, in writing, on paper, up until the close of Wednesday evening's public hearing at the water district's offices, 26375 Fremont Road, Los Altos Hills.