Thursday, February 16, 2006
High Drama for Prop C
Steve Aceti's response to previous Dietmar Rother posting:
You Call This "Truth and Awareness?"
It's amazing to me that the same person who wrote a book entitled, "In Search of Truth and Awareness," could post a rant that pretends to sound authoritative about election law, municipal finance and other subjects of which he knows nothing about. His letters to local newspapers about beach erosion have always been off the mark and this most recent example of "if I sound knowledgeable, then maybe I am" is equally misguided.
It's clear from the veiled threats made at public hearings, in the press and, more explicitly in this blog, that Prop C has gotten caught in the cross-hairs of next fall's City Council election and the ETA's efforts to use this ballot measure and Prop A as a springboard for candidates it wants to run against the two incumbents up for reelection. Strip the politics away from Prop C and here's what's left:
(1) PROP C HAS WIDESPREAD SUPPORT
When the city first proposed charging a small fee to help subsidize its Clean Water Program, many coastal cities in CA were already charging a similar fee to help pay for unfunded mandates that were unexpectedly thrust upon local governments by state and federal regulators. The public supported a clean water fee when it was originally passed by the City Council and the lawsuit by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (which earns a profit by bringing such lawsuits) hasn't changed a thing. A large majority of the public still supports the clean water fee. Last December, the city sent notices to 22,000 voters about the Prop C public hearing, which included clear instructions on how to file a written protest to oppose the ballot measure. If a majority of voters had protested the fee, the city would not have been authorized to place Prop C on the ballot. The city received only 20 protests.
Despite what the ETA and its followers would have you believe, a large majority of Encinitas residents (64%) are satisfied with the job the city is doing across the board. The ETA represents a minority of thought in Encinitas.
(2) THE CLEAN WATER FEE IS NOT A TAX
The Clean Water Fee is not a tax and it only requires a simple majority to pass. That's in accordance with the settlement agreement reached by the city and the Jarvis group. If things were otherwise, the Jarvis " tax crusaders" would not have agreed to the election being held in this manner.
(3) THE ELECTION IS LEGAL
Mr. Rothe claims that "there is no correlation between water meter ownership and storm runoff," but he should talk to his neighbor and ETA founder Bob Bonde about why Bonde spoke in support of that method of collecting the fee when the proposal was before the City Council a couple of years ago. For Mr. Rothe to charge with a false air of authority that the city is in "criminal contempt of the law" for holding this election shows that he not only knows nothing about civil or criminal law but, even
worse, he hasn't read the settlement agreement by which this election is guided.
(4) DESPITE ALL THE HOOPLA, THE ISSUE IS A SIMPLE ONE
The only issue in this election is whether or not voters want to pay $5 per month to help subsidize the city's Clean Water Program. Poll support in the 64% range, and the fact that only 20 people out of a possible 22,000 voters filed written protests,
indicate they do. Prop C, like clean water ballot measures in Los Angeles, San Clemente, Santa Barbara and other coastal cities, will pass - as long as voters don't get distracted by the sideshow that attempts to link Prop C to this fall's City Council election.
Steven Aceti, JD
Encinitas Citizens for a Clean Ocean
Dietmar Rothe's rebuttal:
First, Steve Aceti does not seem to understand that my opposition to Prop C is not about the $5 or about clean water. It is about the conniving and the deceptive propaganda put forth by city management and council that obfuscate the real issues in an effort to circumvent the law.
Second, he refers to my "letters to local newspapers about beach erosion" being "off the mark" and "misguided." Where does he get this nonsense? I never wrote any letters to newspapers about beach erosion. Steve, please provide me with the reference texts that you allegedly base your comments on.
We all want unpolluted beaches, and we applaud Bay Keeper (which Mr. Aceti seems to be associated with) having sued the City of Encinitas, forcing it to clean up Cottonwood Creek that flows into Moonlight Beach. Money for purifying Cottonwood Creek water comes from the General Fund and ultimately from every taxpayer in the city, as it should be.
The so-called "Clean Water Regulatory Fee" is a tax, no matter how you look at it. The City has no shortage of tax revenues, as property tax and sales tax revenues have soared at a phenomenal rate over the last few years, much faster than Encinitas’ population growth. The city is just plain greedy asking for new taxes, so that it can cover up its fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement.
By converting traditional taxes to "fees," the city tries to circumvent laws like Prop 13 and Prop 218 that require a 2/3 majority vote by the taxpaying public. Moreover, fees can be raised anytime without consulting or even notifying the public. Such taxes, masquerading as fees must be struck down, as the HJTA succeeded in doing.
Remember the sewer tax? When the city illegally converted the sewer tax to a consumption fee, it set the stage for unlimited fee increases. Have you looked at your sewer tax lately? It has tripled over the last few years, with many residents paying over a thousand dollars per year. The city got away with this blatantly deceptive scheme only because nobody sued the scoundrels.
In this connection, please note the following: Water and sanitation districts are not regulated by State or Federal utility commissions and can raise their rates anytime they want. The city realized this a long time ago and appropriated the operating facilities in these districts, leasing them back to the districts and setting the stage for milking the water and sanitation districts. The districts then raise water and sewer rates to milk the homeowners in turn.
It is not generally known that the city has been playing that game for over a decade. You do not find this info on the city website. It is a well kept secret known to only a few insiders. Ask the City Manager, but don’t expect him to volunteer any city documents about this.
The city then conspired to go one more step by creating the Encinitas Public Financing Authority (EPFA), which now owns the districts’ operating facilities. The EPFA then issues Revenue Lease Bonds instead of General Obligation Bonds to finance the city’s pet projects, again in a scheme to circumvent a public vote by the taxpaying homeowners, who ultimately have to repay the debt with interest. The EPF Authority then extorts the money to repay the bondholders from the water and sanitation districts by demanding ever increasing lease money for operating the publicly owned facilities. The water and sanitation districts then stick it to the residents by raising water and sewer rates. Do you smell something really fishy here? It’s because it is.
An example are the $22.3 million Lease Revenue Bonds issued by the EPF Authority in 2001 to purchase the Hall property. Homeowners are now paying this debt down over 30 years, amounting to $45 million in principal and interest. Most of this money comes through the San Dieguito Water District, which is one of the principal agencies committed to the Authority under operating leases to repay the bonds. Now you know why your water rates and sewer rates are skyrocketing. The water and sanitation districts were flush with money and doing well before incorporation. Now they are constantly in the red struggling to keep up with their lease payments to keep the city tiger well fed.