Will Water Rates Go Up Wednesday Night?

The Purissima Hills Water District's second rate hike proposal in three years—plus an automatic 'pass-through' rate increase provision for five years—is scheduled for a vote right after the evening public hearing April 11.


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 Charge

Tier 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 Bills

Billed 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.

richard aurelio April 13, 2012 at 12:56 AM
1. Implement term limits on PHWD board members. 2. Fire or cut back by 1/2 the use of the consultant (currently 250k/year and lawyer.(50K/year) Patrick, GM (160K), should have made last nights presentation. he seems like a compentent and dedicated manager. 3. Scrub the capital budget...ask for ROI's on all projects and for ROI's on past "leak" reduction programs. Kill the earthquake insurance project not required given tank redundancy. All this adds to the budget shortfall as it is expensed...and not capitalized and depreciated...as it should be if it were actually needed (but isn't). 4. Talk to Cal Water about Gary Kremen's idea of running our back room functions under contract. A great step in the right direction to show they aren't the evil empire portrayed by Ernie, Past Board President and Past Board Member. If it all goes as expected, then consider sale to Cal Water. 5. From Gary Kremen's letter: Los Altos Hills County Fire District should Fund Capital Improvements; Market Idle Resources; Investigate the Santa Clara Water District Tax Levy; and Board Members take the lead on fee waivers to set an example. All great idea's that would have immediate impact. 6. From last nights meeting...independent accounting audit of the budget and balance sheet. any one of these ideas's would have eliminated the need for the rate increase...all of them would result in a reduction in rates for the next 5 years.


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