Wow…what a day. In reading and interacting with voiceofsandiego.org readers on ways to avoid water and sewer rate hikes today, there have been a lot of great comments shared and ideas generated. I wanted to close by shining a light on some of those comments and ideas:

In a previous post, Erik shared this idea for cutting costs:

Lets not forget to put Project Labor Agreements (and quasi-PLAs) on the table as well. For those that don’t follow that game, these are agreements that all-but-preclude non-unionized contractors from bidding on the capital programs. Rather than shop for the best deal for taxpayers, we get a promise from organized labor that the high “quality” of union contractors will offset increased costs. Hmmmmm…..

Good idea Erik. It’d be interesting to get a cost-saving estimate from the city on this, though it would likely make our capital projects more efficient. Stretch those bond dollars to get more infrastructure.

Speaking of labor mandates, in addition to your idea, how about a one-year “suspension” in the city’s notorious “Mandated Wage” (aka Living Wage) ordinance. How much would that save? According to the Wastewater Department’s FY 2007 budget, $842,855 alone in that department.

In an e-mail to me, John reminds me that:

Donna Frye has championed an idea to save $500,000 annually by switching back to bimonthly billing – a savings that is shared between the Water and Wastewater Departments.

Yes – and would it surprise you that there are even some at City Hall trying to stop that idea from being implemented?

Another reader, Craig, lamented the so-called “rebate” coming to some residents:

The problem with the City water rate hikes is the City purposely overcharged the citizens and undercharged companies for years. That is what the City will be sued over, and the City will have to “refund” monies to the citizens. The Cities remedy for this expense…increase the water and sewer rate/fees so the citizens are effectively paying off the debt the City owes to the citizens! What a scam!

You’re right Craig – what’s worse, the so-called “advocates” that sued over the over-charges (which the media ferreted out and disclosed) are demanding $5 million in legal fees for their “trouble.” Outrageous! If they were true advocates, they’d donate that money to fix the water and sewer pipes.

A former budget analyst with the city named “Larry” asks:

How much altogether does the San Diego Zoological Society reimburse the Utilities Department for using their land in San Pasqual Valley? Why not operate a “city conservation corps” out the utilities department that would hire young people out of school during the summer at minimum wage to get a bunch of facilities maintenance on facilities such as Lake Miramar done? What about the surplus methane from various sewage treatment plants? Is that being sold at market value?

Good questions Larry. But let’s not forget to get a market value on all the “surplus methane” we’ve seen coming from City Hall over the past few years!

Another reader reminds us:

The city has been diverting money from water/sewer funds to the general fund through right-of-way fees for years. Why isn’t the city paying this money (millions) back to where it rightfully belongs?

Good point. See my last post. The General Fund would be hard-pressed to repay it all today, but if the City really wanted to rebuild public trust stemming from this raid, perhaps some long-term payment plan could be worked out?

Finally, Nancy wrote me an email to offer this long-term idea:

Not sure that it solves the immediate problem caused by past deferred maintenance, but what about looking to the future, by having the City invest in gray water recycling systems. They could require it for new construction, and subsidize it on existing construction. I suspect it would be significantly cheaper than constructing new water treatment facilities and more palatable to the community than the sometimes proposed toilet to tap projects.

I’ve heard about this approach, but I’m not up-to-speed on it. Perhaps one of the 2188 water/wastewater city employees could do a report on it.

Wow is right. Here are the three things I’m left with when I search my gut on this proposed water and sewer rate hike:

It’s BIG,

It’s Not Necessary,

It’s Not Trusted.

I believe the mayor is committed to reform and is willing to hear alternatives to the proposal submitted to him by the city bureaucracy. So, it’s up to you San Diego – let’s share concerns – and credible alternatives – so we can help the mayor fix our water and sewer system without passing the burden on to taxpayers.

CARL DeMAIO

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