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.