Palo Alto set to raise water rates tonight

City plans to increase rates by an average of 12.5 percent

It's been a pleasantly wet year for the Hetch Hetchy system and the dozens of cities it serves, but the wealth of water will not stop Palo Alto's water bills from going up this summer.

The Palo Alto City is scheduled to discuss tonight (Monday) a proposal from the Utilities Department to raise water rates by an average of 12.5 percent. The main reason, according to a staff report, is the rising cost of water supply, which is projected to increase by 37 percent next year.

The rising costs are driven by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's $4.6 billion effort to repair and upgrade the aging infrastructure that makes up the Hetch Hetchy system. The rate increases are expected to add $3.4 million in revenues to the Utilities Department and help offset a projected $6.2 million shortfall in fiscal year 2012 (the balance would be taken from reserves).

Utilities officials have also indicated that further rate increases would be necessary in the coming years to meet the rising cost of water. These include a 17 percent increase in fiscal year 2013 and increases of 16 percent and 8 percent in years 2014 and 2015, respectively.

The proposed rate change that the council is scheduled to vote on tonight would add about $3 to the monthly bill of the smallest residential customers and about $27 to the largest, according to the report from the Utilities Department. The city's Utilities Advisory Commission and the City Council Finance Committee have already voted to support the 12.5 percent increase, though there was some debate about how the new rates would be structured.

The average customer in Palo Alto currently pays $72 a month for water. The city's water bills for the average customer are already about 24 percent higher than in surrounding cities (Menlo Park, which has slightly higher bills, is an exception).

While utilities officials maintain that the rate increases are necessary, many customers aren't buying this explanation. Dozens of residents have sent letters to the council in recent weeks protesting the rate hikes.

"Can there be any justification for ripping off the proletariat?" wrote resident Sanjay Patel, a self-described "disgruntled, and fed-up with being nickel-and-dimed taxpayer."

"The City Council should realize that in Palo Alto while there are many well-to-do residents, many in our city are struggling to survive in a time of great economic depression," wrote resident Raymond V. Dunn.

The City Council meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. tonight, or as soon as possible after a the council's closed session on labor negotiations.

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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2011 at 10:50 am

I am sick and tired of being asked to pay more money to the City of Palo Alto for garbage, utilities, compost, recycling, etc. This city is getting too expensive to live in during these economic times. There has to be cuts within the city if the city if going to survive. Start at the top!

Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 13, 2011 at 11:07 am

I too am sick of the constant and absurdly high rate increases from PA utilities.

By the way, I noticed on my latest Verizon Wireless bill a $2 monthly charge for some type of Palo Alto Usage Utility fee.

Does it NEVER end??!!

Like this comment
Posted by Dad
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 13, 2011 at 11:09 am

Before I can agree to this, I need to understand why -- as the article says -- Palo Alto residents pay on average 24% more for water than neighboring cities? Do we use 24% more water, on average? If no, then why are we paying so much more now, and even more after the rate hike?

Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 13, 2011 at 11:21 am

The State tied our hands when it comes to protesting these utility increases. The protest theory is just so much civic 'scam'. Fifty percent plus one of the USER accounts must protest in writing - and that would mean about 13,000 letters would have to be mailed in.
Impossible, and the state knew that and the city knows that. Senator Simitian, are you listening about this 'civic involvement' rip off? And yes, between this and the utility taxes on everything including phones, cell phones - you-name-it, bad streets, nanny state........ we've had enough. Enough to move.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

Ongoing upkeep and maintenance costs should be included in all utility charges from the start. If this had been done there would be a fund for upgrading and very little extra money should be needed.

Sounds like bad money management from the beginning. I think we know that though.

Like this comment
Posted by Emerson St resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2011 at 11:50 am

Why do we pay ever higher rates for water, while the Larry Page construction site on Bryant St in Palo Alto pumps thousands of gallons of water into the storm drain at California St?

Why not charge for that water "use" at the same rate the residents of Palo Alto pay?

Like this comment
Posted by Conserve!
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

We need to be WISE about our water uses!!We certailyl all can help in this endeavor....stop leaks, shorter baths/showers/ use more mulch to use less water on plants, NO washing cars at home (the automatic machines use less water). Conserve please and try to keep it limited just to keep the plants alive.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2011 at 2:21 pm

The link below points to a twenty-year projection of water/gas prices here in Palo Alto, based on the 2011 price increases--

Web Link

The costs for basic utilities will become ghastly, unless something is done about cost controls, and better management. The 2011 City Council doesn't "get it" at all.

Like this comment
Posted by John Galt
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Tax and spend, the motto of the true Liberal.

Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2011 at 3:29 pm

The Utilities Department has been gouging residents for years. The city has found their golden goose which allows them to legally bypass Prop 13 and raise revenues - charge more for utilities. The rest of City Hall is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Utilities Dept. The City now leases trucks from Utilities. The temptation to use Utilities as a way to raise revenues is just too much. And the city just keeps doling out benefits - pension after 10 years, health care for part time employees - it's a looong list of perks on our dime.

We should just fire everyone who works on water and outsource it to Mountain View. They somehow know to do it for less.

Like this comment
Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm

re "Tax and spend, the motto of the true Liberal."

Party politics have nothing to do with this situation. It's anti-helpful to throw the ideology spanner into the works.

Like this comment
Posted by DeAngelo
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 13, 2011 at 9:03 pm

It's intolerable to be asked to pay more when we are bankrolling an overpaid, overstaffed government bureaucracy.

Why not switch our public "servants" to 401K style retirement benefits instead of having taxpayers (and our kids and grandkids) write out-of-market pension checks.

Why not privatize our fire services and save millions. The firefighter's union has run rampant over our city leaders for years and secured out of market benefits and ridiculous, inefficient minimum staffing requirements. At least let us vote on removing binding arbitration.

The private sector's answer to hard times is "learn to do more with less or don't survive." The public sector's answer is to look past its own bloat and look for ways to nickel and dime the taxpaying public.

Like this comment
Posted by not a tax and spend liberal
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm

we cut home water use in PA and the city no longer has enough income - so they raise utility prices. makes perfect sense. another palo alto on-line post describes all the city employees that are now represented by unions. unions line the pockets of politicians that they want elected. politicians are now be-holden to the unions. until voters figure it out and seek candidates that can privatise public services this non sense will continue. doesn't anyone see the connection? keep voting for tax and spend liberals and this is the type of governance you deserve.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2011 at 6:33 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Hetch Hetchy has been a cash cow for Frisco for years. Time for getting more customer input to Hetch Hetchy expenditures. As for Palo Alto utilities, time to contract out their operation to some private utility.

Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 14, 2011 at 11:16 am

As the article says, we're using LESS water and paying more. Ridiculous.

I'm also getting tired of getting costly and frequent mailings telling me how my usage compares to my neighbors when the city has no clue about whether my property is even the same size as my neighbors.

And stores continue to close and properties continue to remain vacant so the city continues to supplement its declining sales tax revenues with higher utility rates.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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