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Letter to the Editor: City Council Should Keep Rates the Same

A San Bruno resident says the city's proposed utility rate increases would be unaffordable to most residents and that the City Council should come up with another solution.

Editor's Note: This letter to the editor originally ran as an op-ed in the San Mateo Daily Journal on May 1. It has been re-published in part here.

I thought Belmont’s 19 percent sewer rate increase (9.5 percent per year for two years) was high until learning about San Bruno’s proposal to raise the entire utility bill (water, garbage and sewer) 22.4 percent, each year compounded for five years. Currently, my bimonthly utility bill is around $200—lower than most San Bruno residents. If the increase gets approved, next year it will be more than $250; year two, more than $300; year three, about $366; year four, approximately $450; and year five will be more than $500.

San Bruno’s proposed utility rate increase would be the highest in the area and is unaffordable to residents, especially in this fragile economy. And larger families will suffer because a third, higher-cost rate tier will be added. Cities should be emulating good business practices by slashing rates, not raising them. And they should focus on enhancing the general fund through spending cuts; aggressive economic development by attracting new businesses with incentives, as opposed to overregulation and overtaxation; and by reining in unsustainable pensions, salaries and benefits. (Unfortunately, San Bruno has been known to “borrow” money from the water/sewer fund to deposit into the general fund using creative financing methods. Yet, the water/sewer fund is supposed to be a “stand-alone” fund.) The idea of raising rates on the “99 percent,” while giving millions of dollars of free, underground infrastructure to the developers of the former Navy base property is troubling.

This rate increase could have dire consequences. We will be seeing an increase in brown lawns, more foreclosures and a decline in property values. Renters will be adversely affected as well. An elderly landlord couple I know of has a current utility bill of $600 for a rental duplex. With the rate increase, it will be a whopping $1,400 by year five. Most assuredly, San Bruno renters will receive rent increases so landlords can cover escalating utility costs. And condominium complexes are in jeopardy if this increase passes. There is a already a record number of foreclosures and non-payment of homeowners dues as it is. Additionally, when people have less money to spend in their city due to rising fees, taxes, etc., the city’s income is diminished from less sales tax, and it all becomes a vicious cycle.

There are things that can be done in San Bruno to significantly lower water and wastewater costs. Since we have many natural underground springs, it would be prudent to depend more on our own water delivery system. When all our wells are up and running, residents get 65 percent of their water from wellwater, and the rest from Hetch Hetchy. One-hundred percent independence could be a goal. Another idea, which to its credit San Bruno did once in 2008, is to eliminate more of our costly sewer pump stations by re-routing pipes to flow downhill. I understand this saves a huge amount of money in operating costs and has the potential to keep sewer rates low.

According to state law, city councils must allow citizens to protest utility rate increases either in writing and/or by speaking at the (May 8 for San Bruno). We must wake up to the fact that water is the new gold, and in some countries there will be water wars. Let’s not have any revenue battles in our local cities. Hopefully, the City Council will understand the financial stress of a utility bill increase for residents and do the right thing by keeping the rates the same or even offering financial incentives for lower water use.

—Barbara LaRaia 

To contact Barbara LaRaia about the rate increases, you can reach her at barbaralaraia2004@yahoo.com or 650-615-9384. She has forms that residents can sign if they oppose the proposed rate hikes.

cjtrailer May 07, 2012 at 02:14 PM
It strikes me as ironic that at a time when there has been stinging criticism aimed at P.G.&E. regarding the lack of inspection and maintainance of their gas transmission pipeline as well as misappropriation of rate payer generated revenue earmarked for that purpose, that our city seems to be in the same position. Were not our water fees going for inspection, maintainance and system improvements all along? Has someone been asleep at the switch? While I've felt that the $70M received from P.G.&E. should go to the Crestmoor Canyon residents, wouldn't it be poetic justice that one organization that was "asleep at the switch" reimburse another for a similar misstep? First we were screwed as P.G.&E. rate payers, now it's happening again as tax payers; when will we be seen by public utilities and government as something other than "cash cows"?!...And all we're trying to do is survive difficult economic times, hoping against hope that those entrusted with rate payer/tax payer wellfare are doing their jobs responsibily. We're not talking about luxury items, but things as essential to the quality of life as heating our homes, cooking our food and having life-sustaining water at safe and decent rates. I think our city officials, just like P.G.&E., have some explaining to do!
Velda Chin May 07, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Yes, I agree with Barbara - I live on a very fixed income and can not afford a bill over $1,000; I can't afford the bill I get now, and neither can my neighbors who are elderly also. Please council rethink this issue. Velda Chin
Jonathan Koolpe May 07, 2012 at 03:39 PM
As a new resident to San Bruno having bought a single family home about a year ago, I, too, was shocked at how much higher my utility bill was from San Bruno Utility when I got my first bill. It was about double what I was paying in my previous city of residence (nearby Daly City), and now they want to raise it 22% more? Are they insane? Rhetorical question, I know... :( I agree with this op-ed/letter. Find other ways to lower costs and bring in more businesses to the city rather than just blindly increasing rates again and again. Such increases have now reached that point of diminishing returns I should say, just like the proposed tax increases that our "esteemed" state and federal politicians keep selling us that ultimately do not solve the overspending problem that they are supposed to fix. Hint: Do not vote for Jerry Brown's tax increases either...they will not work and are akin to simply throwing gasoline on the fire. We have a spending problem in this state, not a revenue problem! San Bruno City Council: Find another way.
linda D May 07, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Why can't we have the option to take away our own garbage to lower our bill why are forced to have it. It's you have to have water/garbage or shut both out. And why don't they have a senior discount. And I agree with cjtrailer Yes what about that inspection for our water.....They take our money thank you very much and we are going to increase for that too I am tired of these yearly increases. Linda D
Diane Isola May 07, 2012 at 04:31 PM
I find it absolutely appalling that the City of San Bruno, in all its wisdom, can only resolve to put the burden of the city's budgetary issues of overspending on the citizens of San Bruno! Sadly, the only way for citizens to influence real change is at the voting booth. That is why the mayoral election is critical. We can't blame the city council, we voted for them. But that can change! Diane M.
Martin Ricard (Editor) May 07, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Thanks for all your comments so far. Seems like there are a lot of people who feel this way (perhaps more than the city expected). Let's see how this affects the final decision.
Heidi Beck May 07, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I understand that aging infrastructure needs repair, as we have experienced sewer backups and water main leaks over the years at our address, but these are steep increases over an extended period! And as for garbage, I also understand that gas, salaries/benefits and dump fees go up, but I'm doing my best to recycle and produce less garbage. I don't even fill up my small garbage can each week, and I thought recycling efforts were supposed to help keep out costs down. We make an effort to conserve water and produce less garbage, yet our costs go up and up! I hope that some of the money from the PG&E settlement can go to water/sewer infrastructure repair and upgrade for the city of San Bruno.
Heidi Beck May 07, 2012 at 06:47 PM
On March 21, 2012, the City of San Bruno had published and notified property owners of the proposed rate changes. Property owners have 45 days, May 8, 2012, to protest the rate changes by submitting written protests. The written protest must be signed by one of the property owners and must include the Assessor Property Number or property address. On the 45th day, May 8, 2012, the City Council will hold a public meeting to consider and tally the protests. If more than 50% of the property owners protest the rate changes, the current rates will remain in effect. Otherwise, the new rates will be effective on all bills generated on or after July 1, 2012. So, folks, if you haven't already (I sent my letter March 26), get busy, write the city, and deliver your message TODAY!
L May 07, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I was just reading the Notice of Propsed Increases to The City of San Bruno's Water & Wastewater Rates. It states that "At the hearing, the City Council will consider public comments, as well as any written protests concerning the proposed water and wastewater ratate increases that have have been received prior to or at the meeting.
Bill Baker May 08, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Unless more than 50% of the property owners in San Bruno file a protest, there will be no binding effect on the Council & rates will be increased: http://davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4198:clarifying-how-a-prop-218-process-would-work-to-avoid-tripling-water-rates&catid=58:budgetfiscal&Itemid=79 You control rates & fees on City services by electing the type of people to the City Council who don't support these outrageous rate & fee increases. Unless you do that or can convince more than 1/2 of the property owners in San Bruno to protest these increases you will pay higher rates every year. If these never ending rate increases continue, at some point; monthly water, sewer & garbage rates in San Bruno will be the largest single monthly household budget item for San Bruno residents. These never ending rate increases have been going on for 10 years or more & as long as this Council knows they can get away with it & not suffer any political consequences they will continue raising rates. San Bruno's residents are being taxed to death, paying taxes on just about everything they use or touch. When you take into consideration all of the taxes you pay coupled with skyrocketing food & gas pump prices, your huge PG&E bill & these types of outrageous water & sewer rate increases, you have to ask yourself how much of this off the charts price inflation you are willing to take before demanding change?
Joe Capote May 08, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Wasn't some part of the rate increase supposed to go towards a composting effort?
Heidi Beck May 08, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Joe, the composting program would be an ADDITIONAL 9.37% because Recology would be hiring new drivers, adding trucks, and picking up green waste weekly. As much as I like being green, I hope the city council says NO. I think very few people in San Bruno would take part in that program, and for everyone to have to pay an additional 9.37% for a program that would serve only a few would be a real waste of money and resources (trucks driving around for nothing!). It would only serve to enrich Recology.
Steve B May 08, 2012 at 04:06 AM
What makes San Bruno's utilitys so much more expensive than any other city's? I dont believe it is any better! It seems other places can get by without raising rates? Maybe the repair work we have done is poor? I cant remember a time in san bruno when a street wasnt tore up for one reason or another.....always issues! I have lived here most of my life of 53 years and this is the worst I have ever seen.I cant afford any MORE, I AM AGAINST THIS RATE INCREASE.
Alan Lubke May 08, 2012 at 06:33 AM
Agenda Item 8b.for the May 8 City Council Meeting reads: “Hold Public Hearing, Waive First Reading, and Introduce Ordinances Adjusting Water and Wastewater Rates as Presented in the Notice of Proposed Increase Mailed to All Property Owners.” If I were able to make the meeting, I would object as usual to waiving the First Reading. Waiving the reading of the proposed Ordinance puts the voices for passage well ahead of those favoring non-enactment because the ears of the latter aren’t allowed to be reminded orally of the verbiage to which they have objection. Will someone in attendance please object to the waiving of the reading of the Ordinance?
Bill Baker May 08, 2012 at 07:44 AM
The rate increases are a done deal. This is a lock step, political machine controlled City Council that votes 5-0 on almost everything that comes before it or in a situation like this might go to a 4-1 vote or if they can get away with it a 3-2 vote to give the most vulnerable Member(s) of their machine, who are running for re-election next year, cover from a possible voter backlash. This Council and the City Staff have already rehearsed the show they are going to put on for everybody, including the lip service they are going to pay to the people who show up at the meeting. The best you could possibly hope for is that they high-balled the proposed rates and built in a cushion to give themselves some wiggle room so that if too many people objected to the outrageously high rates, they can make you think that they are giving you a break by approving slightly smaller outrageously high rates. This Council is also approving multiple year rate increases in the expectation that residents will forget about these increases that will automatically kick in each year between now and 2016. This Council certainly hopes San Bruno's residents will forget about these huge rate increases when the next City election takes place in November 2013.
Carol May 08, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I sent my letter of protest in. Too bad there is little chance that 50% of San Bruno homeowners did the same. Who can afford these rate increases? San Bruno will be a ghost town if these rates really happen.
Gus Sinks May 08, 2012 at 04:53 PM
I think the initial communication on this proposal was missed by most, I know I didn't see it. What we need is for everyone reading this to pass the link to every San Bruno Resident in their email address book and request that everyone shows up tonite to protest. We need an extension on this proposal's deadline to get the word out to all residents, we need to organize, and we need to make sure this does not stand. My $263 bill just paid will be over $700 in 5 years? I can't handle that and I have a job, what about all those on fixed incomes. ENOUGH!
L May 08, 2012 at 10:25 PM
I agree with Mr. Baker. I am on my way down to submit my letter of protest. In preparing this letter, I took the time to go through my check registers for the past 30 years (yes I still had them) and I was amazed by the amount of increase. In 1983 our Water & Garbage bill for two months was $38.08. Now it is $218.81. That is an increase of 474.61% The years with the most increase from the previous year were 1986 (18.82%), 1993 (18.99%,and 2010 (20.94%)
Martin Ricard (Editor) May 08, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Even if 50% of the property owners in San Bruno don't file a protest against the rate increases, I wonder if the city has been paying attention to this conversation (on and off the site). Tonight's public hearing should be interesting.
noelle quilici May 08, 2012 at 11:32 PM
I heard that there was a fund that we were paying into for maybe 30 years or so in preparation of the work that was needed and someone has misappropriated those funds because they are no longer available. Anyone have any info on that?
M Z May 08, 2012 at 11:52 PM
I mailed in my protest since I can not make the meeting. I hope more people drop off their protests to city hall or at the meeting. I am with everyone else on the costs, my family can not afford this steep multi-year rate increase.
Bill Baker May 09, 2012 at 12:14 AM
I hear that as of this morning 325 protests, including mine, had been received at City Hall.
M Z May 09, 2012 at 02:17 AM
They have a smaller "size" option than the 32 gallon. It is the 32 gallon with a black insert. It is slightly cheaper per month. The only issue is that you have to call about this size. It currently does not show as a option on www.sanbrunogarbage.com
M Z May 09, 2012 at 02:19 AM
My house composts, so the composting program is something we would not use. We only put our garbage and recycling out once or twice a month (we never fill either container even then). The garbage company drive saves time by not stopping at my house. This is also the case for several of my neighbors.
M Z May 09, 2012 at 02:22 AM
I am with L, I looked up my bill when we moved here in 2000, my water and garbage was $100 every two months. Now it is between $225 and $250 every two months.
Russell Stines May 09, 2012 at 07:11 AM
As I watched three of the city council members raise our rates drasticlly and the other two tell them there was a much better alternatives but they seemed to have there own agenda. I fought for all of san bruno but the three elected officials just shoved a 50% increase in all of sanbruno residents their names Jim Ruane, Ken Ibarra and Irene O'Connell Thanks for looking out for us. May you not be relected.
M Z May 09, 2012 at 03:43 PM
I know who I am not voting for when they come up for re-election. There was other options and these three went for the most expensive. I can not afford their agenda. They can pay my water bill.
L May 09, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I am really sorry that, yet again, the City Council failed to listen. It has always surprised me that down in Bakersfield (where it is mostly in the high 90's to 100's all summer long) that everyone has really green lawns and no problem filling their swimming pools. Most homes are not even metered. Now the are starting to put meters on new construction. Their water & sewer is on their Real Estate Taxes.
Barbara Abitsch May 10, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Silly us - thinking that the city council cares about us - look at how they are tearing up the medians on El Camino - a total waste of money - it's all for show - I myself don't look at the medians - I'm too busy watching the traffic - and not to worry - they already know how they are going to spend all of that PGE money - not on us citizens, baby! - Barbara Abitsch
Marty Medina September 15, 2013 at 06:00 PM
Please see my blog here on patch or visit my website... martymedinaforsanbrunocitycouncil2013.com. Marty Medina With your votes I will propose to suspend the rates increases.

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