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Smart Voter
Sonoma County, CA November 2, 2010 Election
Measure U
Reduce Wastewater Service Rates
City of Petaluma

Majority Approval Required

Fail: 9,123 / 44.0% Yes votes ...... 11,616 / 56.0% No votes

See Also: Index of all Measures

Results as of Jan 6 3:01pm, 100.0% of Precincts Reporting (20/20)
Information shown below: Impartial Analysis | Arguments |

Shall an ordinance be adopted to reduce City of Petaluma wastewater service rates to rates in effect on January 1, 2006?

Impartial Analysis from City Attorney
Measure U would reduce Petaluma wastewater service rates updated effective January 1, 2007, and January 1, 2008, January 1, 2009, and January 1, 2010, to rates in effect on January 1, 2006. Measure U provides that if any provision or application of the measure is held invalid, that invalidity is not intended to affect any other provision or application of the measure. Measure U further provides that it cannot be amended except by voter approval.

If approved by a majority of voters, Measure U would be effective 10 days after the vote is declared, or approximately December 23, 2010.

State law authorizes cities to provide wastewater services and to fix rates for such services. The Petaluma Municipal Code includes provisions intended to provide for wastewater rates that fund wastewater debt service, improvement, and maintenance and operation costs. Under current law, the voters may by initiative reduce or repeal utility service charges, such as wastewater charges, that are imposed as an incident of property ownership.

Measure U would reduce current City wastewater service rates to rates in effect approximately four years ago. Although the courts have ruled that voters may reduce or repeal by initiative certain utility charges, such as wastewater rates, certain legal questions exist concerning Measure U.

A legal question exists regarding whether the rate reductions under Measure U would violate rate covenants in City wastewater bond and credit agreements, including the State Revolving Fund loan agreement, and impair the rights of City creditors in violation of the U.S. and California Constitutions.

A legal question exists regarding whether Measure U imposes a voter approval requirement on future rate adjustments in violation of the California Constitution.

A legal question exists regarding whether Measure U must satisfy the Petaluma City Charter requirement that amendments of City ordinances contain the sections to be amended or added, and whether failure to satisfy City charter requirements may affect the measure's validity.

A legal question exists regarding whether provisions in the Petaluma Municipal Code intended to provide for wastewater rates that fund wastewater system costs limit the authority of voters to reduce rates under Measure U.

A "yes" vote on Measure U would approve of the proposed wastewater service rate reduction. If approved by a majority of Petaluma voters, Measure U would reduce currentCity of Petaluma wastewater service rates to rates in effect January 1, 2006.

A "no" vote on Measure U would disapprove of the proposed wastewater service rate reduction. If a majority of Petaluma voters reject Measure U, the City's current wastewater service rates would remain unchanged.

s/ Eric W. Danly Petaluma City Attorney

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Arguments For Measure U Arguments Against Measure U
State taxes increased, higher income taxes, car registration up 50%, more fees, less service; when does it stop? It stops with you; by voting to prevent the never ending raids on your pocketbook. Measure U is our first step forward. Vote Yes.

The city has been raising sewer revenues an average of 15% per year over a 5 year period during the worst recession in 70 years. Wastewater charges are doubling from $12 million per year in 2006 to $24 million per year in 2011. Is your ARGUMENT IN FAVOR OF MEASURE U, CONT. water twice as good as it was in 2006? Now they are planning to raise your rates even further.

Our City Council has failed to control spending + sleeping as the cost of the new sewer plant totaled $160 million. And while other departments are cut back, theWater Resources Department is adding new employees and raising salaries. There have been huge increases in compensation and operating costs in this department.

The city has taken millions of ratepayer's dollars to cover the general fund shortfall and now wants to borrow another $10 million to spend on unnecessary projects. This includes a pipeline to distribute wastewater which is contaminated with dangerous Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) which will be used on our children's parks and playing fields.

These capital improvement projects are designed to increase the capacity of our system to allow for new development. Now that little development is occurring, the city is making the existing ratepayers shoulder the cost of these unnecessary improvements. We don't need them and we can't afford them. We just can't afford a gold-plated sewer system.

Please view our website, for more information and join Petalumans For Fair Utility Rates in voting "Yes" on Measure U.

s/ James W. Fitzgerald, Chairman
s/ Bryant R. Moynihan Petaluma Fiscal Watchdog
s/ Terence M. Garvey Civil Engineer, Retired
s/ Pierre Miremont Business Owner, Petaluma Employer
s/ Barbara J. Lind Business owner, retired

Rebuttal to Arguments For
Measure U's proponents engage in arm waving (car registration fees?) to distract from the central truth of this flawed proposal: If Measure U passes, Petaluma's wastewater utility won't be able to both operate and repay its loans.

The new sewer plant is completed, replacing the worn-out 70 year old plant. The time to argue about its design has passed. Petaluma's new sewer plant underwent rigorous value engineering to reduce costs.

New development is required to pay its fair share. The new Target center alone will pay $767,000 in sewer hookup fees.

Even if the City cancels the recycled water pipelines that Measure U's proponents criticize, Measure U could bankrupt the City of Petaluma.

Petaluma is legally obligated to set wastewater rates at levels sufficient to both operate the sewer utility and repay its loans. Strong legal arguments could cause a judge to overturn Measure U because it impairs creditors' rights in violation of the United States and California constitutions. Alternatively, the City retains authority to impose new rates to comply with legal obligations. Thus, if Measure U passes, Petaluma could incur substantial attorney's fees just to restore the current rates.

Measure U and Measure K two years ago + both sponsored by Bryant Moynihan + have collectively cost the City of Petaluma $454,000 in ballot and financing costs and attorney and professional fees. It's time to tell Moynihan to stop wasting ratepayer dollars and pampering his ego with expensive, redundant initiatives.

Even the Sonoma County Taxpayers' Association urges a "no" vote on Measure U because it's too extreme.

s/ Paul Gilman, President

s/ Bill Phillips, Treasurer

s/ Chlele Gummer + VP of Advocacy
s/ Judith H. Hillery RetiredEastsideResident
s/ Richard W. Sharke Retired Eastside Resident

Here we go again. Two years ago, Petaluma voters defeated misguided Measure K by a vote of 55% "No" to 45% "Yes." Measure U is far more extreme than Measure K because it rolls back sewer rates by over 45% and doesn't even provide for annual increases for inflation.

In its first full fiscal year, Measure U would reduce wastewater revenues from $23.9 million to $12.7 million. Even if needed capital improvements are cancelled, this doesn't come close to paying both debt payments ($10.6 million) and normal operating costs ($10.1 million).

Measure U would almost certainly force Petaluma to default on $128,000,000 in loans for the new sewer plant. There is no plausible argument that the wastewater utility can pay its bills under the reduced revenues that Measure U would produce. Indeed, one of Measure U's supporters, Bryant Moynihan, is advocating that the City of Petaluma file for bankruptcy. Measure U could force the City to do just that.

The money to build the new wastewater plant has been spent. The only issue now is whether Petaluma will repay the loans. Measure U's proponents imply that Petaluma can just stiff the State of California and banks on the $128,000,000 borrowed for the plant. That isn't true, and the City's General Fund will have to repay the funds if the sewer utility cannot. Three-quarters of Petaluma's General Fund budget supports police, fire and parks, so these would face further harmful cuts if Measure U passes.

Petaluma's sewer rates are near the average for this region. The idea that voters can reduce sewer rates by over 45% without causing major mayhem is pure wishful thinking. In fact, Measure U's passage would probably trigger an expensive court battle to sort out the mess. Please vote no on irresponsible Measure U.

s/ Bill Kortum, President Emeritus

s/ Martin Learn, President

s/ Monica Soiland, President
s/ John L. Scharer Retired Petaluma City Manager
s/ Michael A. Bierman Retired Petaluma City Manager

Rebuttal to Arguments Against
This citizen's initiative is essentially what the voters approved in the cities of Rohnert Park and Dixon California which have successfully lowered their rates.

Facts? The actual wastewater revenues in 2005/2006 were $13.5 million not $12.7 million. The new plant was supposed to lower operating costs which were $7.1 million in 2006 not $10.1 million. As of July 1, 2010 the outstanding balance of the State Revolving Fund Loan (SRFL) is $113.3 million not $128,000,000 and the debt service is $7.5 million/year.

New development, parks, and general government which have benefited should contribute their fair share of developer in-lieu fees, special revenue funds and general funds.

The city now intends to raise rates again and force the current rate payers to debt service an additional $10,000,000 in revenue bonds to support future development. Avoid this debt, vote yes.

Over the last eight years they've illegally used $5 million dollars of wastewater fund monies to pay for the general fund expenditure of storm drain maintenance. Over the last six years the city has charged the ratepayers an estimated $7.4 million in prohibited utility taxes which their own consultant told them could not be justified. Unless you vote yes and limit their ability to jack up your rates you will continue to be ripped-off.

Vote yes and hold the city accountable, make them reform, control costs and give the voters the power to control sewer rates in the future.

s/ Bryant R. Moynihan, Coordinator
s/ Anita Shields Single Mother, Frustrated Rate-Payer
s/ Thomas J. Wilson, Retired Director Water Utility Operations
s/ James W. Fitzgerald ChristmasCheer Community Volunteer

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