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Council In Favor of Rate Increases

The City Council voted 3-2 at its Tuesday meeting to raise the garbage, water and sewer rates for residents. Did the public's outcry fall on deaf ears?

Despite a huge amount of public opposition, the City Council on Tuesday voted in favor of increasing the garbage, water and sewer rates for residents.

The council unanimously agreed that residents' garbage rates would increase by 2.34 percent next year. requested the change to accommodate cost-of-living adjustments for its workers and disposal fee increases.

However, not every council member agreed that increasing the water and sewer rates was the best solution for the city, piggybacking on many residents' concerns that the burden placed on the taxpayer was unfair. The council voted 3-2 in favor of increasing the water and sewer rates by 9.8 percent and 10.3 percent respectively, with council members Rico Medina and Michael Salazar casting the dissenting votes.

The three council members who voted for the water and sewer increases all cited the fact that it took the city 84 years to develop a master plan for its infrastructure and that it was either now or never to fix it.

"What it comes down to is pay me now or pay me later," Mayor Jim Ruane said. "What's going to happen later? I don't know. But I do know what we have to do now."

Vice Mayor Ken Ibarra said he couldn't sympathize with people who claimed the rate increases would put a dent in their pocketbooks because, just like everyone else, he struggles every month to pay his bills. And he was willing to pay more for improving the city's infrastructure, even it meant his household had to struggle some more, he said. The reality that residents had to understand, he said, was that everyone's costs have gone up because of the economy.

"What hasn't gone higher every single year?" Ibarra said.

Leading up to Tuesday's meeting, the city received 350 protests to the rate hikes.

Residents continued to voice their opposition during the public hearing.

Small business owner Russell Stines said his utility rates have continued to go up for as long as he's been in San Bruno. Yet, revenue for his business has continued to drop since the recent recession hit.

"I've been getting nickeled and dimed by San Bruno since I moved here," Stines said. "You guys keep jacking things up. But somebody has to step up and say, 'What about the ordinary people here?'"

Rina Ranahan said she didn't think the city was handling the process for increasing rates democratically because the council has continually approved the hikes without putting anything up for a vote.

"This is demagoguery, and it should change," Ranahan said. "There is a rising objection to your method of forcing rate increases on this city. There is not one reason why we have to follow this master plan. We can make changes and many of the changes should be approved by the citizens of our city."

In the end, the majority of the council members sided with city staff's recommendations.

According to the city, there is no way to avoid raising residents' rates, even though it could potentially place a burden on a number of residents.

The city's costs to purchase water from Hetch Hetchy, which is supplied by San Francisco and comprises 43 percent of San Bruno's water supply, is expected to increase by 54 percent over the next four years.

The average age of both the city's water and sewer infrastructure system is more than 60 years old. In some parts of the city, pipes are more than 100 years old. Because of the , the city is now legally required to improve the infrastructure system or face more fines.

City staff also said that failing to increase rates now to pay for infrastructure improvements would lead to revenue shortfalls in the coming years, and it would likely lead to more significant rate increases and additional infrastructure problems.

The council will hold a second public hearing on the rate increases and take a final vote on May 22.

If the water and sewer rate increases are approved, the utility rates would be increased over five years.

The council did agree to look into how residents at pay for their garbage after several residents at the condominium complex complained that they were being overcharged.

Seniors and those on a fixed income will also have an opportunity to get a discount, the city said.

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Carol May 09, 2012 at 07:09 PM
I imagine that the protests will fall on deaf ears but they will receive the message clearly when they aren't reelected by the citizens of San Bruno.
Bill Baker May 09, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Council positions duly noted.
Alan Lubke May 10, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Mayor Ruane: Two ordinances were passed on May 8, 2012. The agenda called for the following for each ordinance: “Hold Public Hearing, Waive First Reading, and Introduce Ordinance(s).........etc......” 1. Could the boilerplate with the words “First Reading”, please be destroyed? There obviously were to be no “Second Reading” or “Third Reading” and use of the word “First” probably created uncertainty about the future in the minds of some citizens. 2. Could the agenda for all such future ordinances be separated so that “Waive Reading” is a prelude to all discussions at the Public Hearing? One would hope that the staff presentation at the start of the discussion would be adequate to define reasonable details of the proposal. However, if it were not, the time to have the ordinance read would be at the beginning of the discussion process and not as part of “Introduction of the Ordinance” for approval. Note that the approval process for the Water/ Waste Water Ordinance separated “Waive Reading” from the ordinance itself at the request of Councilmember Salazar. The precedent has been set. Now please move the “Waive Reading” segment to the beginning of the process instead of an afterthought. Could I please have a public affirmation of approval of the recommendations in para. 1 and 2 above before the publication of an agenda which includes a proposed ordinance? Sincerely, Alan Lubke Fleetwood Drive May 9, 2012
Carol J Swindell May 10, 2012 at 10:01 PM
"What hasn't gone higher every single year?" Ibarra said. Well, my retirement for one. You even raised rates when the government said no Social Security increase because there was no increase in the cost of living.
N Young May 10, 2012 at 10:12 PM
The Council's action is disappointing. It strains credibility that such large water/sewer rate increases are needed for the next five years. My understanding from the discussion at the Council meeting was that a large portion of the work would be accomplished over the next 20 years. So why can't the funding for the work be spread over a longer period of time to make it a little more affordable for San Bruno residents and businesses? Why can't a reduced increase be done to get the city through the next year or two while the $70M fund (payment due from PG&E) is established and considered for use on water/sewer repairs? It is unreasonable for the Council to proceed with approval of these onerous rate increases at this time. If the Council continues on this path, I too will be forced to express my displeasure in the voting booth.
MS May 11, 2012 at 02:42 PM
I attended the City Council Meeting and was not at all surprised at the voice of the citizens of San Bruno....my take on it is that listening to the public was just a formality for this Council....they probably all decided beforehand to vote the way they did and it really didn't matter what the public said. There was mention of accountability of the funds from previous rate hikes, but of course, no response to that question. Accountability, responsibility to this city does not exist for this City Council and I too, agree that when it comes time to vote, citizens of San Bruno should make it known how dissatisfied we are with this current City Council. On top of all these utility rate hikes, the SBPSD wants more money via parcel tax....when will it stop? Officials seem to think that anytime they run out of money, they just need to vote to get more money from the taxpayers; they need to be held accountable and taxpayers need transparency into how they are handling the finances of taxpayers money. The City Manager even stated one thing they did not do well was plan maintenance on the pipes. Why not? You are our elected officials, isn't your job to be taking care of the city like taxpayers take care of their homes? This City Council and the SBPSD board members are a joke.
Alan Lubke May 11, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Martin, With some urgency, could you please clarify what the purpose of the "second public hearing and 'final vote' " is as stated in your article. What CA Code governs such a process? The ordinances were introduced and seemingly adopted May 8, yet the drafted ordinances say that they were introduced on May 8 and adopted on May 22d. I can find no language regarding "final vote","second public hearing" , or separation of an introduction meeting and an adoption meeting, or a "first vote" or "draft vote" or any other preliminary vote regarding adoption of an ordinance in any of the California Codes. Alan May 11, 2012
Jonathan Koolpe May 11, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Certainly not surprising that our "representatives" again don't listen to us. Has there ever been a hearing discussing a proposed rate increase for anything, anywhere in this entire country that hasn't ultimately been passed? I bet we could save a lot of money by not bothering with these "hearings" since the outcome is always the same... Which begs the question: Why do we keep re-electing these folks? I myself do not, but every time they still win :( . I guess the old adage goes: We get the government we deserve...
Alan Lubke May 17, 2012 at 02:01 PM
I dislike the use of the word “patronize” with the meaning “to talk down to” because of the open-ended negativity with which the use of the word may be interpreted upon its hearing or reading. Nonetheless, even though disdained by myself, I find it fitting to apply it to those Councilmembers who “sucked up” to San Bruno citizenry at the 8 May, 2012 City Council meeting by mentioning that they had voted against the Recology supplemental “Organics” program which carried a 9.30% garbage fee increase versus the 2.34% garbage fee increase provided for in the contract between the City and Recology. What really happened was that Recology withdrew the proposal for the “Organics” program after the proposal had been placed on the agenda!!. Recology’s reason for withdrawal was that they could not meet the equipment requirements for their own timetable for implementation. Thus the City Council vote was nothing more than an acknowledgement of Recology withdrawing its proposal. It was not the defeat of a proposed 9.30 % fee increase compared to a 2.34% fee increase!!
John Hanson August 16, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Why the city council wants the public opinion is a waste of time. The council will screw us again when it comes to using the P.G.&E money. Let's use our money to build Hotels. There sad reason is that we need a place for meetings and wedding, oh boy i am excited. Well they can't overturn our votes next time they run.

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