BY DONNA WESTFALL
Over 2,200 protests were submitted to the City Council on November 4th protesting the water rate increase. 926 were disqualified by City Clerk, Robin Patch. Many should have been valid. Like one woman who owns 3 separate parcels, gets 1 water bill, submitted protests for each parcel, and not one was counted as valid. Or the woman whose son is on the water department records even though she’s been living there and paying the bill for the past 15 years. Her protest was disqualified. And then there are all the owners of parcels who are not considered the rate payer and thus were disqualified.
The rule is one protest per parcel. That one protest can be either the owner or the tenant. How is it even possible that our elected city clerk does not know that an owner can protest without being the ratepayer?
Meanwhile, while volunteers are still going through each and every protest by going back and talking to or calling owners and/or ratepayers, one county resident brought up another issue about late fees on water bills. He believes they are too high and illegal.
This county resident points out that the average bill outside the city limit is or was $10 to $13 per month. The late fee charged by the Crescent City water department is $5 per month, or 39% to 50% of the actual fee. A question that the public has been wondering about for years is whether or not our city government is intentionally trying to drive out the poor and create a new class of poor. And then there’s Councilwoman Kathryn Murray who stated during a council meeting that if you’re unhappy with the water service and rates you can move. When our city council voted to approve 150% water rate increase, our public started asking why these councilmembers are not behind bars.
In comparing our late fees to Sacramento‘s, a phone call to their billing department confirmed they only charge 10% of the billed amount.
It’s time to have someone put in a request via a California public records request and find out how many rate payers paid a late fee over the last five years. If the number is substantial then they could threaten a class action for refunds since the rate charged is excessive, and may be illegal.
Proponents of the water rate protest requested a one week delay from January 15th to January 22nd for implementing the water rate increase in order to finish analyzing the 926 disqualified protests. The city was asked if this one week delay would result in any harm to the city. Like so many other times when questions have been asked of the City, the City has not bothered to get back to the proponents on that question.
Perhaps if it pans out that the city has committed usury through excessive late fees, as a compromise or settlement to refunding the money to those overcharged, the city could delay implementing the rate increase.