Nevada Irrigation District takes another try at convincing customers of rate hike
How to protest
Protests must include a description of the property, like its address or parcel number; and a signature of the property owner or tenant. Written protests must be mailed or delivered by April 24 to the following:
Nevada Irrigation District
Attn: Customer Service
1036 W. Main St.
Grass Valley, CA 95945
Nevada Irrigation District staff got one last shot at convincing its customers to support the district’s proposed water rate increases, at an informational meeting Wednesday night at the Rood Center.
If approved at the board meeting April 24, the water rate hikes will be rolled out over five years. Treated water customers would see an average increase of $13.07 each month this year, and monthly costs would almost double for many customers by 2023.
The district already had conducted two meetings, in Grass Valley and Auburn. But water board director Ricki Heck organized one last meeting at the much larger venue and arranged for it to be live-streamed by Nevada County Television. After the meeting, Heck said she was happy with the turnout and that more consumers were able to access the information needed to understand the rate increase.
This time, Heck said, she felt the information was presented in a more concise, targeted fashion.
“We explained why the district feels it needs this increase, how it would be implemented, and how it would impact the average customer in their wallet,” she said.
“I was really impressed with the participants,” Heck added. “Many had done their homework and analyzed the numbers. Their questions were good, they really participated at (a higher) level.”
As mandated by state Proposition 218, the district sent out notices of the proposed changes to every property owner and tenant who are customers or on standby accounts in the water district. Customers have until the close of the public hearing on April 24, to submit written protests.. If the district receives protests representing a majority of the affected parcels — 50 percent plus one — the proposed rate increase will not be implemented. The water district has about 19,000 treated water customers and about 6,000 raw water customers.
Can protest succeed?
Water district customers have been mailing in, and dropping off, their written protests in the hopes of derailing the proposed increase. Those letters are being kept in a bankers box and are to be counted during the board meeting on April 24.
But the odds of success are not in their favor.
“There have been very few successful majority protests,” said attorney Michael Colantuono, who currently serves as city attorney for Grass Valley and is considered California’s leading expert on Proposition 218.
Colantuono assisted the state Legislative Analyst’s Office in the impartial analysis of the measure and co-chaired the committee that drafted what became the Proposition 218 Omnibus Implementation Act of 1997. He also chaired the committee that drafted the League of California Cities’ Prop. 218 Implementation Guide.
According to Colantuono, the main reason for that lack of success is the need to actively participate in the protest by writing a protest letter. It’s hard enough to get a majority to vote in a typical ballot election, he said.
“It is rare,” he said, noting that one of the few successful protests happened in Nevada County — by the customers of the wastewater treatment plant in Cascade Shores.
In 2003, Cascade Shores residents banded together to kill an increase from $910 to $1,922 per household. The proposed increase triggered a signature-gathering campaign that collected more than 80 signatures in the community of just over 100 residents. An increase the next year to $1,795 did not face a protest because of the perceived need to meet new federal and state discharge requirements. But a proposed rate hike to $4,500 a year, in 2006, was also defeated.
“When there is a successful protest, it tends to be a small district,” Colantuono said.
A quick review of recent protests seems to bear Colantuono out. Only in instances where the overall numbers were very small have customers succeeded.
In 2003, for example, an increase aimed at Eden Ranch residents in Nevada County was rejected by a majority of residents. In 2008, ratepayers in Higgins Village and residents of DarkHorse effectively protested a sewer rate increase by Nevada County’s Sanitation District. But that same year in Lake of the Pines, a grassroots band of homeowners collected 1,090 signatures, but with only 801 confirmed and verified by county staff, it was not enough to stop the sanitation district from imposing rate increases.
Elsewhere in the state, protests in large districts have gone down to defeat as well. In Dixon last year, the number of written protests to halt water rate increases over the next five years fell short. This year, the Davis City Council only received 227 written protests for a waste management rate hike, far under the threshold of 7,909.
Even when cities take extra steps to facilitate participation, a successful protest remains a seemingly impossible hurdle. In Fresno, postage-paid protest ballots were mailed out in 2015 for a water rate increase. Anyone opposed to the increase had to vote yes and drop the ballot in the mail, but not enough protests were received.
Even a failed protest attempt can be meaningful, however, Colantuono said.
“If they get a substantial number, it is going to get the attention of the district,” he said. “It might cause them to change their course.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at email@example.com.
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