Guest column: Santa Fe Irrigation District water rate concerns
BY GREG GRUZDOWICH
For almost the past two years, I have been the Chairman of the RSF Association’s Water Rates Committee challenging the rates that Santa Fe Irrigation District charges. The committee was formed to ensure that the water rates set by the SFID are equitable and legal for all RSFA members and all SFID customers. (Prior to my time on the committee, I served a four-year term as an SFID Director.) RSFA has funded the RSFA Water Rates Committee’s use of national water rate experts and attorneys involved in other water district’s legal challenges.
The water committee has been very active challenging the current Cost of Service Study that is being done by Carollo Engineers consultants to set rates for the next three years. We are challenging their current approach based on our opinion that these rates do not conform to Proposition 218, which is part of California’s Constitution that requires charging each water user based on the actual cost to serve that customer.
For decades, SFID charged a uniform rate to all residential customers until about 14 years ago. Beginning at that time, Raftelis consultants were used to create an initial three-tier rate structure. The same consultant years later proposed our current four-tier rates. Now SFID’s new consultant is proposing two-tier rates, with a large enough tier one to supply the district’s cheapest water to cover indoor and outdoor water needs to over 50 percent of parcels which are mostly along the coast. The more expensive tier-two water is used primarily by larger inland parcels in Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch. The larger number of smaller parcels are represented by three of the five SFID directors. Board decisions are made on a simple majority of three out of five votes.
When I was an SFID Director, I was concerned that its multiple tier structures were supported through the use of “creative” math by past consultants. For example, how can a three-tier, four-tier and now two-tier proposed rate structure all be mathematically cost-based in providing equitable rates? They can’t.
Our main area of current legal concern includes the fact that SFID always uses a blended supply of cheaper and more expensive imported water every month resulting in a blended, proportional supply cost. So, at virtually all times, cheaper tier-one water is sold at prices below cost, an apparent violation of Proposition 218. In drier than forecasted years, larger quantities of more expensive imported water are purchased and sold below cost to supply some tier-one needs. In equally wetter years, this cost does not equal out. Additionally, any excess cheaper local water would be sold that year as higher priced tier-two water, resulting in water being sold above cost, yet another Proposition 218 no-no.
California law states that all “reasonably” needed water per parcel should be provided at a constant unit rate. Only unreasonably used water can be charged at a higher rate but not more than the actual cost of that water. Since larger parcels typically have greater reasonable irrigation needs, what rate structure would be appropriate for SFID? Our unique water district has a large number of small parcels and a small number of large parcels. Anyone with a basic knowledge of statistics will tell you that you cannot average these parcels to arrive at an equitable “average” use that is the same for each residential customer.
We continue to make our case that the easiest and most understandable way to be equitable to all parcels is to charge a blended uniform rate that is directly supported by the blended cost of water supplies that represents the operational reality of how SFID functions. That applies to all reasonably needed water for each individual customer.
Make your voice heard. SFID customers are welcome to attend SFID board meetings to learn more about the rates they are paying for water and to share opinions and concerns during public comments at the beginning of each meeting. The next SFID board meeting is Sept. 20.
— Greg Gruzdowich is Chairman of the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Water Rates Committee
Wonderful news for RSF — ‘Dan the Barber’ is back!
With so much going on in our little village over the past few years, it is nice to be exposed to positive feelings. Three years ago, we lost our grocery store, not only a place to grab a quick bite, it was also a place to bump into your neighbors. We had an Association board election that was a real struggle, with negativity flying around. Management is turning over at the golf club, and attendance seems down.
On the brighter side, it is so nice to see the support around our town barber. As some of you might know, “Dan the Barber” as he is so commonly referred to, was out for a couple months. Frequently people would come by and ask about him, as his shop is next to my office They asked that they please be contacted when he returned. They would leave me their phone numbers for him to call, some from as far away as Florida. It was so nice that people were looking out for their barber, and genuinely concerned.
Dan is an anchor in our little village. Now Dan is back! Back to cutting hair, chatting with his clientele, and listening to their stories. They missed that, as did he. Dan has been in the exact same location for 42 years and cuts the hair for three generations of men. People like Craig Edwards, that have been going to Danny for 36 years, are so happy he is back. It just goes to show that with everything that has gone on, people are so happy to see their barber back, and the town seems more lively.
Rancho Santa Fe