As a City Council committee today prepares to consider a policy change that promises to affect the way every San Diegan consumes water, they’ll have in front of them a five-page report about the city’s water cuts plan from the Independent Budget Analyst.

It’s worth looking at what’s in the report — and what’s missing.

The IBA defines its mission on policy changes as this:

The purpose of the review of these items by the IBA is to determine and analyze policy and fiscal impacts of the proposed legislative actions, often through comparisons with other jurisdictions, or through the consultation of best practices or recommendations adopted by government oversight and professional organizations.

On one of the biggest policy proposals of the year, the IBA didn’t follow much of that mission statement.

It didn’t compare the city’s proposed water cuts plan with other jurisdictions. It didn’t analyze the plan’s fiscal impacts. It didn’t cite any recommendations from government oversight or professional organizations.

The report did detail some potential policy impacts. And it did conclude that there are different ways to get people to conserve water — and that each of them has positives and negatives. But it didn’t go in depth on the three options: Modifying behaviors by requiring people to use water in certain ways (such as only watering on specified days), creating a rate structure to price out inefficient use and setting maximum water consumption limits for each customer.

The report concluded:

Put simply, many water customers will have to change the way that they use water in order to meet the demand reduction targets. We encourage the Council to consider the pros and cons of each option in determining the most effective and appropriate means of achieving such changes in water use behavior.

Tom Haynes, the analyst who prepared the report, said the IBA had just received the Water Department’s proposal on Friday and hadn’t yet had time to compile a full analysis. He said:

We just didn’t have time to do a full workup of our analysis for this specific proposal. We thought it might be helpful to provide policy-level perspective on what the options are. The next step is to get more into the specifics of any proposal that moves forward. It wasn’t the intent to cast a lifeboat out there and say it’s up to you to decide.

But the Water Department’s proposal and preferred methodology has been discussed publicly for about two months. I asked Haynes whether research could’ve been done in advance of the proposal’s formal unveiling on Friday, given that a City Council committee would begin discussing the specifics at 2 p.m. today.

“It would’ve been probably beneficial to have more of this discussion in advance of today,” Haynes said.

A more in-depth report will be released “pretty quickly,” he said.


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