Original post made
on Mar 23, 2013
This story contains 584 words.
If you are a paid subscriber, check to make sure you have
Otherwise our system cannot recognize you as having full free access to our site.
If you are a paid print subscriber and haven't yet set up an online account,
to get your online account activated.
How much of this increase is due to pension, pay and benefit? It's frustrating.. It seems there's no accountability and oversight on our city worker compensation!
When the City signed onto the Hetch Hetchy reburbishment project, the Utility made it clear that the cost of water was going to double over a ten year period, to pay Palo Alto's share of the roughly $5B project.
Hopefully, the City will identify each of the components of these yearly water price increases. But more importantly--that the Council will reveal its sense of what should happen to the price of water once Palo Alto's share of the Hetch Hetchy project is paid off.
This is such a load of bull. Mountain View gets its water from Hetch Hetchy and charges its residents less than 2/3 as much as PA. Our residents are held hostage by PA Utilities. You can go solar for electricity. But where are you gonna go for H2O? Why can't we outsource our water supply to Mountain View and fire the fat cats who comfortably watch their pensions go up on their screens every day?
Mountain's web site provides information about its source of water--
Approximately 10% of the drinking water that we use in Mountain View is purchased from the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
Image of Old River along the lower San Joaquin River. About half the water sold by SCVWD originates hundreds of miles away and is delivered through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The remaining supply comes from local rainfall, much of which is captured in SCVWD’s ten local reservoirs, and is released into local creeks and percolation ponds to replenish local groundwater aquifers and manage environmental needs, or is piped directly to one of three district water treatment plants.
We put less garbage in the landfills and our refuse rates go up. We use less water and the water rates go up. With the past two years increases, a $100 monthly water bill will go up to $181 in 2016.
I don't see any actual explanation of the reason for the increase other than "fixed costs". Nor does the article give actual water rates. My assumption is that Mountain View's rates are lower as are their fixed costs.
This city is getting out of control. They are completely incapable of getting a hold on things. Their only answer is to raise rates, hire more people and conduct more studies.
Again the citizens of the city have no power and no voice. The elected officials are well in control..
This is a lot of baloney. With all the low-flow toilets and showers, all the HE washers, drought-resistant landscaping, etc, there is NO way PA Utilities needs to increase rates yet again.
I hope they are not going the way of PG&E and raising rates to pay for their foul-ups and excessive pay raises, but I cannot imagine what else is behind this.
Ignoring the hostile and derogatory elements, I would like to address the "facts" in some of the comments above:
1)SALARIES--The portion of the annual water utlity expenditures that goes to employee salaries and benefits is roughly 14% and has not changed much in the last several years. (Don't trust me? Look at the budget yourself...see links below)
2)TRANSPARENCY---The City Utilities, as a community-owned service, considers transparency a top priority and the reasons for the increase and the exact source of costs and expenditures are both spelled out precisely every year.
----Info is always in the budget documents(always available online: Web Link )
----Info is inserted into the utilities bill. (e.g. last July: Web Link )
----By law, water rate change details require a notice to all property owners; by May you will receive such a notice about the water rate increase proposal discussed in the article above.
----You can get more details on all the rates, including water, here: www.cityofpaloalto.org/ratesoverview
----You can get more details on the all the utilities operations and budgets here (Utilities section starts on page 117) Web Link
3)COMPARISON---as one commentor noted, Mountain View does not get all its water from the Hetch-Hetchy system and so comparing PA's rates to them is not "apples to apples." What is also salient to note is that an average total residential bill in Palo Alto (gas, water, electricity, sewer etc.)is still less than all surrounding communities, even with the water rate increases. Owning their municipal utilities is serving Palo Alto well.
4) COST ELEMENTS---In addition to contributing to the Hetch-Hetchy system upgrade, Palo Alto is also aggressively upgrading its water distribution infrastructure--both the regular city water mains as well as the emergency water storage and supply. All these costs have indeed led to several years of rate increases---all planned and publically noticed, no surprises---but they will also lead to decades of safer, more reliable high quality water supplies.
5) CITIZEN POWER & VOICE---The beauty of a municipal utility is that the citizens are the stockholders. The Utilities operate to serve the long term interests of the community, not for profit. Citizens vote for the Council members who should reflect their views. All rates hearings are public and comments are an important part of that process.
Debra Katz, Utilities Communications Manager
City of Palo Alto
> The beauty of a municipal utility is that the
> citizens are the stockholders.
This is simply false. Various people from the Utilty have tried to make this claim, over the years, but there is no basis, by ordinance, or by charter--to back up this premise.
The Utility is a wholly-owned operation of the City Government, which is a municipal corporation. There are no stockholders--as municipal corporations tend to be a power unto their own.
Stockholders are recorded, and provided IRS-1099s--particularly when there are dividends to be paid, based on yearly profits. The Utility does not provide dividends, and probably can not, under the California State Constitution.
Ms. Katz may be correct in some of her comments--but definitely not on this point.
Ms Katz, Please consider paperless billing, and stop sending us the colorful household comparison print letter every month. It's costly and senseless for the stockholders. Thanks for taking the time!
> The City Utilities, as a community-owned service
As pointed out above—the City Utility is NOT community-owned. It is just another function of local government, which is not community-owned.
> COMPARISON--- What is also salient to note is that an average total residential
> bill in Palo Alto (gas, water, electricity, sewer etc.)is still less than all surrounding
> communities, even with the water rate increases.
Rather than simply asserting this claim, one would think that the Utilty’s PR person would keep a spreadsheet on the Utility’s web-site, or the “Open Data” web-site, so people could see what the actual, and recent, utility prices are for surrounding cities.
> COST ELEMENTS---In addition to contributing to the Hetch-Hetchy
> system upgrade, Palo Alto is also aggressively upgrading
> its water distribution infrastructure--both the regular city
> water mains as well as the emergency water storage and supply.
It would seem that a municipal Utility could actually identify all of these major projects, and their costs in a spreadsheet, updated yearly.
> All these costs have indeed led to several years
> of rate increases---all planned and publically noticed,
> no surprises---
This is sort of true—if you have a memory that goes back several years.
Ms. Katz: Why cann't you (the Utility) put a pricing model worksheet on your web-site, so that we (the ratepayers) can see all of the components that go into each year’s water pricing? Such a spreadsheet would have labor costs, benefits, Administrative overhead, bulk water purchases, and bulk water sales that might occur, and a list of the construction projects, designed so that the water pricing for a given year is calculated.
Any reason that the ratepayers of a municipal utility in the middle of the Silicon Valley should not expect this sort of transparency?
Ms. Katz is one of the "higher paid" employees, and she is paid to 'keep us calm' and not revolt. The Utility Department gives money to the Palp Alto General Fund. Call it the slush fund. And we residents actually voted for a utility tax that goes to Cubberly and other
places I can't remember. Just check the phone bill, etc. Just how do we 'revolt'? THIS
council won't take charge or back the residents. And then there is the fall out from ENRON.
Remember this one?
Some quick addendums that I hope will be useful to readers...
1) I used "stockholders" as a concept to indicate the ultimate decision-makers, not a technical label and I apologize if that caused anyone to think I meant literal "stock holders." My understanding of how representative government works makes the concept of "community ownership" valid.
2) Anyone who wants paperless billing can achieve it easily by using the My Utilities Account website. Check it out at www.cityofpaloalto.org/myutilitiesaccount
3) Anyone who does not want their home energy reports sent in hard copy can request that they be emailed. Anyone who does not want the reports sent at all can request that as well. Both request should be sent via email to email@example.com
4) The requested information may not be in spreadsheet form, but it is absolutely provided on the website, per the links I gave in my previous comment.
As to comments about pay or motivation, it is sad to see folks on these forums resort to personal attacks. I shall ignore them as I hope will most readers.
City of Palo Alto Utilities
"stop sending us the colorful household comparison print letter every month. It's costly and senseless for the stockholders"
Actually, many studies have shown that these sorts of community comparisons are surprisingly powerful in changing behavior. In this case, it is likely that the mailings more than pay for themselves in reduced energy consumption.
Ms. Katz wrote -
> 1)SALARIES--The portion of the annual water utlity expenditures that goes to employee salaries and benefits is roughly 14% and has not changed much in the last several years. (Don't trust me? Look at the budget yourself...see links below)
If the portion contributed to employee benefits is a constant ~14%, then as the water utility rate increases, a proportionally increasing amount goes towards employee benefits. So in 3 years including the upcoming year, according to the data in the article the contribution towards employee benefits will have gone up by 20%, 15%, and 7%, for a total of 47.66% in 3 years! (1.2 * 1.15 * 1.07 = 1.4766, or 47.66% increase).
Is that correct?
How much of the money paid in Utilities payments ends up getting transferred to the City's General Fund?
Does the Utility Dept. still pay market rent rates to the city that the city gets from Stanford for essentially $0? Parcels such as 950 Hansen and 3275 Hanover? Also, I believe the Mayfield Reservoir falls under that category.
How do Palo Alto rates compare to Santa Clara, who also owns their utilities?
Can't find anything else to get our money so let's hit utilities. Never ends. Are they going to cvharge us everytime we take a shower.
I hope readers will understand that I don't have enough time in the day to respond to every comment directly here (please note I also gave my email address above for questions or comments that are individual in nature.)
However, I always try to address points if I feel the answers might be of interest to a wide range of readers. To that end, i will respond to:
1) Savings from home energy reports---the commentor is 100% correct in making the point that the home energy reports impact behavior and the savings from them far outweigh the cost to send them out. Indeed, these reports have had a bigger impact on energy usage than any other outreach program we have run.
2) Ratepayer dollars from the water utility, by law, cannot be transferred to the general fund. Transfers from the electric and gas utilities---which help support high quality Palo Alto services including parks, libraries, police, fire and recreation---are made in accordance with a Council-approved formula. For specific numbers, please consult the budget documents referenced previously.
3) Comparisons with other cities are in the documents I listed in my earlier comments. In regard to water in particular, you might want to read the report to the Finance Committee (Web Link) The City of Santa Clara gets water from a different mix of resources than Palo Alto and has different levels of infrstructure improvement and different emergency preparedness, so comparing water rates with them is not, as I said previously in regards to other comparisons, "apples to apples." But if you want to compare anyway, you can look at their rates website: Web Link
City of Palo Alto Utilities
Luckily most of the comments here aren't from those who are having the new test two-cart trash system shoved down their throats, like in my neighborhood! Like I need to put one more "thing" under the sink!
There isn't enough money in the budget to calm this irate Utilities customer . . .
Ms. Katz--thank you for taking time to set the record straight, at least from your point of view--about the (seemingly) yearly increase in our various utility fees.
However, with all due respect--your answers do not seem to be straightforward, nor all that accurate. You also don’t seem to fully appreciate the power of the web, and “open data. Senator Leeland Yee (D) has been promoting the idea of “open data” on government sites:
Your answer that “even though this information may not be in a spreadsheet” seems to suggest that you don’t understand the power of spreadsheets, or databases, for providing convenient ways to collect data, and display, data. Why is that, Ms. Katz? This is, after all, 2013.
> I hope readers will understand that I don't have enough
> time in the day to respond to every comment directly here
Which does beg the question, what does a Municipal Utility PR person do all day long?
Given that it’s very unlikely that the PAU will be involved in any mergers & acquisitions—what can you be doing that precludes your taking a few minutes every month, or so, to answer questions about the Utility when that topic appears on this web-site?
About our water .....
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ... go and Google "CHLORAMINE" and find out what is in our water.
Chloramine is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia that is so persistent you cannot get it out of your water. To reduce chloramine takes filters that cost so much as to be cost prohibitive.
I like to do gardening, and the best water to use for your plants is water which does not contain compounds which will kill the microorganisms that live in your soil. Chlorine you can set out in the sun or bubble or boil away and you have water you can use ... but you cannot get rid of chloramine!
I cannot speak to the health effects of chloramine, but there are a lot of questions and symptoms with it. We know it kills microorganisms, which is fine for drinking water, assuming it does not poison people as well.
If Palo Alto wants to raise costs ... then they damn well should have to justify it by adding value to our water ... no one drinking city water anymore to there should not be fluoride in it, and if they want to help people have a healthy environment they should remove the chloramine as well.
Oh ... but I forgot, this is Palo Alto, if our city cannot find a way to make our quality of life worse, they just raise prices on us!
Why is it that no one actually shows up at the City Council meetings to blast the City Council Members you all voted into their seats?
I guess for all of you, it is just easier to hide behind your emails and send these useless rant and rave messages. If you can do better, stand up and do something about it.
Palo Altans and their higher education seem to be really good at hiding behind the ranting and raving in writing through the internet, but implementation is just not something they know how to do. PHDs, MBAs - Pretty Heavy Drinkers who are Mediocre But Arrogant.
I have wanted to stop that fancy comparison mailing many times. It does not take into account how many people live at the residence.
I tried to access the e-mail given by Ms. Katz and was unsuccessful. I even did the cut and paste method, with out getting on the site.
I took Ms. Katz's advice and I went to the Santa Clara web site to look at their rates as a comparison. Web Link
In Santa Clara, they pay $10.10 for a 3/4" meter. In Palo Alto, it's $18.28 (81% more)
For actual water, in Santa Clara, they pay $3.17 per ccf for all the water you can use. In Palo Alto, it's $4.54 for the first .2ccf/day (6ccf for a 30day month) and then it jumps to $7.06 for any ccf usage over that.
1ccf =748 gallons. EPA says the avg. family of 4 uses 400 gal per day. We like to conserve here in Palo Alto, so let's cut that in half, to 200/day. That's 6000 gallons, or 8ccf. So, the Palo Alto bill for just water would be $41.36. In Santa Clara, the same water would cost $25.36. 63% more expensive in Palo Alto. Adding in the fixed cost of the meter, and Palo Alto is 68% more expensive.
I know Ms. Katz likes to say it's not "Apples to Apples". But, what is apples to apples is the fact that a city owned utility in Santa Clara has customers that can turn their faucet on, water comes out and it costs them approximately 70% less money to do it. To me, that's as "apples to apples" as it gets.
What would be nice is to see a rate comparison given with equivalent rates and then an explanation as to why ours are higher or lower than similar cities/utilities.
Just piping in one last time today to address the comment on chloramine.
We have had information posted on the Utilities website for quite awhle on this very subject:
City of Palo Alto Utilities
> Why is it that no one actually shows up at the City Council meetings to blast the City Council Members you all voted into their seats?
I think we all know we should ... it's a reasonable question.
Who voted them into their seats, someone has to get voted in, and no matter who it is the results always seem to be the same?
Who has time?
Who knows when it is?
For all my reading about the city council, plenty have tried, the results don't change.
Are minutes taken .... published?
What about a virtual town hall on the Internet?
I am really getting sick of this city being run to make life more expensive and unpleasant for all but the multi-millionaires who probably love to see these "fees" dumped on everyone.
Jim H, I concur on the comparison, having just done the same exercise. Nice to see absolute numbers rather than just averages or percentages. But a minor arithmetic quibble on the 70%-lower conclusion -- 1.00 to 1.68 is 68% percent higher, but 1.68 to 1.00 is only 40% lower. Odd, huh?
Debra Katz, thank you for replying. The average reader here is probably impressed that someone with the city is actually paying attention.
> What about a virtual town hall on the Internet?
A long time ago, when Palo Alto installed a video camera in Council Chambers, and in the Study Session room, and have contracted with the local Public TV Center to broadcast these sessions.
When streaming-video came along back in the early 2000s, then Council Member Hillary Freeman tried her best to get the City to buy the necessary software/hardware to stream Council sessions on-line. Staff didn’t want to be involved, so they claimed it would cost about $65,000. which is a drop in the bucket, money-wise.
Eventually, the Mid-peninsular Media Center obtained the necessary hardware/software to stream meetings—although they are using Quicktime, which doesn’t deliver the best user experience. (This could be more related to Media Center decisions as to how to encode these sessions, that Quicktime itself.)
While there is a link on the City’s web-site to the Media Center’s page for realtime/archived City Council/School District meetings—what is needed is the ability for people to download these session. To the best of my understanding—the Media Center has not provided that capability, and the lost-in-the-1950s-City-Clerk has not demanded that they provide that capability.
As to all of the other possibilities for a Virtual Town Hall—with people like Nancy Shepard, Liz Kniss and Gail Price on the Council—don’t hold your breath!
> show up at City Council meetings ..
There are about 37,000 registered voters, and maybe 10,000 non-voting residents. The Council Chamber holds only about 300-400 people.
Not a very realistic suggestion.
ANOTHER ridiculous rate increase from PA Utilities. Gotta pay for their fancy cross-word puzzles and mailings. DUMB DUMB.
Ms. Katz says their value is worth it since it impact behavior. Yea right. Just like the fact that the Bay Area is being forced to absorb another 1,000,000 residents while they assure us there won't be traffic tie-ups because people will ditch their cars.
RIGHT. Want to buy a bridge?
Guess how many lights it's currently backed up from El Camino & Embarcadero right now? 4 lanes of traffic. You can do it.
Thanks "musical". Had too many numbers and working too fast. But, yes not a 1-1 increase/decrease.
Also, just looked at our personal water usage, and we use anywhere from 15-30 ccf. The more water you use over the Tier 1 6ccf/month, the greater the percentage discrepancy with the Santa Clara rates.
Note that City of Paly Alto Utilities (CPAU) contributes to the General Fund. Get it? This is the city's end run around Prop. 13. The City Council LOVES CPAU. CPAU is the ONLY way to circumvent the will of the people (expressed in Prop. 13) and sneak in revenue (aka tax) increases without the limits of Prop. 13. It's their golden goose.
In fact, the City now operates like a wholly owned subsidiary of CPAU. Just follow the money. The City now leases trucks and other equipment from CPAU. The City Council is praying that we don't see this scam for what it is.
Finally, Ms. Katz correctly points out that Mountain View gets 10% of its water from SCVWD. She then argues that we cannot compare the rates of the two cities. In fact, we can, once the difference in price between Hetch Hetchy and SCVWD are accounted for. She fails to explain whether Palo Alto should be paying less than Mountain View or more as a result of this difference. She also fails to explain why CPAU charges so much more for water than other cities that are completely dependent on Hetch Hetchy. Palo Alto's charges for water are among the highest of any city in the 50 states, including Phoenix in the hot season, cities in Texas, etc.
We've been had. Again.
> Note that City of Paly Alto Utilities (CPAU)
> contributes to the General Fund.
In three different ways:
1) A pass-through of "profits" based on a formula that involves a rate-of-return calculation involving the assets of the Utility.
2) Through rent for the Utilities officers.
3) Through the UUT.
The total Utilties contribution to the General Fund is probably around 25% (~$40M/year).
I doubt that we will find these three numbers in the yearly budget, as Ms. Katz implies.
Pensions and benefits contribute significantly to all PA's utility rates exploding year after year. Water, gas, electricity, sewer all continue to increase in cost by double digits every year as Palo Alto residsents save water, garbage, etc. as part of a conservation effort.
Instead of worrying about pastic bags and smoking in public parks the damned useless city council should worry about crime and armed robberies in downtown Palo Alto, abouat the lack of parking in downtonwn Palo Alto, and about the outrageous salaries and pensions of its city employees. And last month the Planning Dept. proposed DOUBLING IT STAFF. So more people could sit around staring out the windows and playing the internet.
Remove the entire City Council. No more rate increases.
Debra ... thanks for the comment on chloramine. Forgive my cynicism over the chloramine issue, but it does kill microorganisms in gardens, aquariums and container gardens, let alone compost piles and compost tea.
Used to be with chlorine you could leave it out in the sun or setting for a day and the chlorine would evaporate away ... chloramine does not do that ... in fact it is for all practical purposes impossible to get rid of with a reasonable cost. So this change which happened when I did not live in Palo Alto took the choice away from city residents, gave them less value.
Saying the water is up to standard does not really prove anything. I'm sure that is what every institution says until a big failure. Nominally I am sure it is and Palo Alto performs procedures as well as anywhere else. It is a big plus, a value for the public to have a way to reverse what we put in the water, and that has been lost with chloramine.
What about the city setting up distribution points for people who want chloramine-free water for gardening or personal use?
There have been 215 views of this page on Palo Alto Online. Some of you have viewed the page more than once. You can all fit in the City Council chambers at the same time.
City Council Meeting: 7pm today, City Hall
The City Council is not meeting this evening.
How can we capture all these positive suggestion without having to go to City Hall in person? Will starting a petition on change.org or similar website work? I don't have the time to do it myself but perhaps some else could?
What none of the other commenters address, and what I only experienced after moving out of PA after 30 years, is that PG&E makes up for all the higher costs that PA charges its water customers. So now, as a Mountain View resident, I pay less for water, but I am totally at the mercy of PG&E gas and electric rates. I would happily pay PA water rates if I could get out from under PG&E energy rates. This even though I understand that PA uses the utilities to subsidize its General Fund.
Where are the published pension and salary information for the public utility employees and management? Thanks..
> So now, as a Mountain View resident, I pay less for water, but I
> am totally at the mercy of PG&E gas and electric rates.
Palo Alto Natural Gas customers generally pay more for PAU gas than PG&E customers. The hype about lower prices for Palo Alto Utilities has ignored the fact that Palo Alto buys small bulk purchaes compared to PG&E--which tends to buy on the spot market, ultimately offering its customers lower prices.
The PAU has admitted this, although trying to find those admissions would be difficult.
There are also other fees that need to be considered in this calculation. For instance, the PAU has added fees for reading your meeting, fees for sweeping the street in front of your house, and fees for waste water removal, fees for storm water removal and hidden fees for street lighting.
Tiered pricing also drives up some people's bills. The price of a KWH in Palo Alto ranges from about 10 cents to about 17 cents. This is a little lower than PG&E, but if you are not a big electricity user--this difference is not going to be significant.
PG&E also offers a hefty subsidy to its customers who convert to some energy saving appliences.
So--a homeowner needs to look at the total cost of services, and not just one, or two.
The simple truth in Palo Alto is that the utilities are used as a tax farm for the general fund.
Your utility rates subsidize a bloated City staff that dreams up grandiose schemes, such as bike paths over freeways, California Avenue lane reduction, road through community garden, traffic calming, and on and on, all supervised by a bunch of Council swells who are overly impressed by themselves and who don't pay enough attention to staff management as they host interminable meetings that ignore the public in favor of the insiders that own their ears.
They are, however, only a small part of the massive institutional failure that the United States has become in recent decades.
Anyone who thinks that Mountain View's rates are higher than Palo Alto's is smoking something.
Ms. Katz has gone silent on us on the specifics. I would really like to see a comparison of Palo Alto's rates vs. Santa Clara's.
Here's a comparison of Palo Alto's rates with Los Altos Hills (served by the Purissima Hills Water District aka PHWD), which also has 100% Hetch Hetchy water, which our esteemed Communications Manager (whose salary we pay) did not deign to communicate to us:
Here are PHWD's rates:
Monthly Service Charge (3/4"): $15.00
1-10 units: $3.21 per unit
11-30 units: $4.66 per unit
Here's a link: Web Link
Palo Alto's Rates (before the increase!):
Monthly Service Charge (3/4"): $18.28
0-6 units: $4.54 per unit
7 + units: $7.06 per unit
Here's that link: Web Link
Note that Palo Alto has around 28,000 households vs. 2800 in Los Altos Hills. Palo Alto has hundreds of businesses that pay commercial rates. Los Altos Hills has 0.
So revenue is not the issue for Palo Alto Water.
One question .... what does a "unit" work out to be ... how many gallons in a unit?
one unit of water = 100 cubic feet = 748 gallons
So, from 0-6 units or under 4448 gallons
- the costs is $4.54 per unit
- or $4.54 per 748 gallons or $0.006 cents per gallon
not bad ... best bargain around, then after that the cost is
- $7.06 per 748 gallons
- or $0.00943
still under a penny a gallon, still not bad.
Don't really understand why we have the two tiered pricing to be honest,
they ought to give everyone a certain amount of free water with the $18.28
service charge and then charge it all the same.
Also ought to get rid of fluoride since few drink tap water and of those that do drinking is a minor use, and also get rid of the chloramine or provide a certain amount of free filtered chloramine-free water since the cost to get rid of chloramine is too high for most to afford.
So why doesn't someone report all of this to the PUC? Surely this is in violation of some regulation.
>> still under a penny a gallon, still not bad.
Sure, not bad if you compare it with milk or gasoline.
But water is much more plentiful than that. The real questions are:
Is CPAU, which is supposedly non-profit, city owned, working with our best interests in mind? Or are we just getting ripped off?
How does their efficiency and level of service compared with other agencies?