Court strikes down tiered water rates

Apr 21, 2015

In a blow to the state’s water conservation plans, a state appeals court struck down a tiered rate system in San Juan Capistrano, saying that the tiered system violated Proposition 218.  Gov. Jerry Brown lashed out at the ruling, which could have wide implications – more than two-thirds of the state’s water districts use tiered pricing.  Matt Stevens has the story for LAT:


“The highly anticipated decision comes in the wake of Brown's executive order directing water agencies to develop rate structures that use price signals to force conservation. His order, which also requires a 25% reduction in urban water usage, marked the first mandatory water restrictions in state history and came as the state enters a fourth year of an unrelenting drought.


“A group of San Juan Capistrano residents sued that city, alleging that its tiered rate structure resulted in arbitrarily high fees. The city's 2010 rate schedule charged customers $2.47 per unit — 748 gallons — of water in the first tier and up to $9.05 per unit in the fourth. The city, which has since changed its rate structure, was charging customers who used the most water more than the actual cost to deliver it, plaintiffs said. The law, they argued, prohibits suppliers from charging more than it costs to deliver water.”


A Stanford scientist and his team of weather researchers are cautiously embracing the idea that climate change is likely to be the cause of the drought.  If true, droughts will be the new normal.  Kevin Fagan, San Francisco Chronicle:


“This drought hasn’t been marked simply by a dearth of rain, but also by unusual heat, the team noted. That warmth — the average temperature in California in 2014 was 61.5 degrees, a record — points to human-caused climate change as one big reason for the drying out of California, the researchers believe…


“They came to the conclusion that during the early and mid-20th century, big swings in temperature and precipitation occurred independently of each other, and only about a quarter of the time did California get a warm and dry year at the same time. But suddenly in the past two decades, 80 percent of the years have been warmer than average — coinciding with an unusually frequent surge of hot air across the Pacific toward the Western United States.


“The Stanford team projects this trend to continue from here on out — translating into what [Noah] Diffenbaugh says is the “new normal,” a future filled with warm and dry years about half the time, instead of a quarter. A big culprit in all this, the team says: global warming.


“’No matter how you look at it, global warming is occurring, and this is increasing the risk of extreme events,’ Diffenbaugh said. ‘We have to deal with the reality that we are in a new climate.’"


A new law would allow paid car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to participate in carpooling – changing a law prohibiting the practice dating back to 1961.  Tracy Lien, Los Angeles Times:


“Introducing AB 1360 on Monday, [Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco)] said the bill would change a Californian law written in 1961 that doesn’t allow passengers in a commercial ride to each be charged separately for sharing the ride.


“’We have long encouraged public transit and carpooling to reduce traffic and air pollution,”’Ting said. ‘We cannot extend this mindset to ride-sharing without changing a 50-year-old law predating the Internet.’”


Over at the Grizzly Bear Project, Anthony York looks at the numbers for rising college tuition costs.  Part of the reason: more students. 


“In California, the CSU system went from serving more than 233, 000 undergraduate and graduate students in 1993 to more than 435,000 students in 2013.


“UC, meanwhile, had an undergraduate enrollment of about 123,000 and about 33,000 graduate students at the nine campuses in 1993. By 2013 , enrollment was up by about 50% — with about 177,000 undergraduates and 46,000 graduate students at the nine campuses.


Another reason, at least for UC: more administrators:


“…UC administration is up by more than 300% while full-time administrative positions at CSU are down about 33 percent over the same period.”


And, speaking of education, a new bill by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) would mandate testing for dyslexia and other learning disabilities.  Some disability advocates like the bill but it faces strong opposition.  From Matthew Bowler, KPBS:


“So far three influential organizations have come out against the bill.


California School Board Association, Special Education Local Plan Area and the California Teachers Association all sent letters of opposition to the state Assembly Education Committee. All the opposition letters echoed similar reasons for their position against the bill, AB 1369.


“The groups said screening every kindergarten to third-grade student will cost too much and could lead to over-diagnosis. Reading problems are a normal part of young learners developmental process, the groups said.”


Capitol wags are buzzing with the news that Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) has removed fellow San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez from the Assembly Public Safety Committee.  The two deny a rift.  Chris Nichols, U-T San Diego:


“Atkins said Gonzalez asked to be removed.


“Gonzalez, by contrast, said in a statement last week that the decision came only after Atkins spoke with her and laid out expectations that Gonzalez said she ‘could not fulfill… without violating her values and her obligation to protect families in her district.’


“In follow-up comments on Monday, the two downplayed the notion that there’s any significant personal division between them, but did not clear up the different versions of events.


“’There’s not much to it,’ Atkins said in a phone interview on Monday. ‘She asked to be off. I accommodated that request. We never had a single conversation about her role on that committee.’”


For those drought-conscious homeowners out there, not quite sure what to do with all that lawn, here’s a story of  one homeowner who inadvertently solved that problem (with photo):


“Businessman Paul Currie was in a hurry…


“He was at his holiday home in Rata St, Wanaka, about to head home to Christchurch.


“The new lawn was looking great, he thought.


“Just those broadleafs… perhaps he should give them a quick spray before he left…”


Neighbors soon began calling, asking if vandals were responsible for the strange designs etched into his vast front lawn.   As details emerged, Paul realized that he had made a mistake.


“Instead of using a herbicide for broadleaf only, he had accidentally used a broad-spectrum herbicide containing glyphosate - good for any grass that needs to be turned from green and healthy to brown and dead.”


The impromptu ‘art project’ has become a tourist attraction, snarling traffic on what is normally a sleepy street.


“As for the residents of residential Rata St, they are wondering if parking meters or traffic wardens might be required.


Alan McKay, who lives opposite, says the lawn has become a new drive-by tourist attraction and he is waiting for a nose-to-tail crash.”