Another Water Assessment Questioned
Last Tuesday’s (Oct 8, 2013) regular council meeting began with a closed session instigated by members of the community upset with the noise and light emanating from work being done at the train station due to the city’s underpass project commonly known as “The Jack Hole”. While many still feel that the project is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer dollars, estimated at $6.5 million, the focus has now turned to work being done at night, disturbing residents of the area.
Residents Ginger Emerson and Regina Dunlap made comments before the council adjourned into closed session, Dunlap’s through a written letter read into the record. Dunlap complained about being forced to leave her home because of the impact of the noise on her two year old son. Emerson has taken sound meter readings which she stated far exceed the 50 dBa allowed for working at night.
Former councilman and continual civic activist Michael Ceremello, whose complaint sparked the “potential litigation” agenda nomenclature, suggested that the city should abide by the Solano Transportation Authority contract which calls for a sound wall. Mayor Jack Batchelor was the chairman of the STA when the agreement was devised.
On returning from the closed session, it was announced by the new city attorney, Doug White, that he was directed by the council to file a cease and desist order against the STA which was to be delivered Wednesday. White stated that “compliance is never immediate as that is an unreasonable expectation but 24 to 48 hours would be.”
When questioned during public comment by Ceremello about the exact meaning of the order, White commented that the city couldn’t force the contractor to put in the sound wall. Ceremello pointed out that not only does the contract call for it, but it calls for all ordinances and laws of the city to be obeyed including noise standards which were enforced against Cal Water during drilling of their well on West H and Adams Streets.
While viewed as a step in the right direction, those involved don’t believe the action provides any solution for their problem. “This is a year long project, involving heavy earth moving equipment. The problem will only get worse”, according to Emerson. Ceremello added, “Patience may be a virtue, but stalling out action while people are suffering will not be tolerated for any length of time.”
Two other items on the agenda were of particular note. A presentation by David Okita of the Solano County Water Agency concerning a settlement agreement between State and the seven cities in Solano County was moved up the agenda. The aspect of this presentation which escaped most was brought home by the ever vigilant Ceremello. “So again we have a tax assessment by a water agency with no benefit to our citizens.”
It was explained that there is a “potential” for Dixon to receive water from the North Bay Aqueduct, which only three cities currently access. While the mayor was quick to point out it was like having an insurance policy and another source of water in the event of current well water contamination, it was also made known that the water would be unavailable for five years and only at the great cost of providing canals to transport the water to Dixon where it must be treated to make it potable. Ceremello quipped to this, “you don’t even want that water as it is so dirty that it has to be blended with Berryessa water.”
Councilman Thom Bogue felt there was an equity issue involved that wasn’t being addressed. “Other cities are using our allotment. Why aren’t we receiving some financial benefit from this?” Bogue left this issue go, for the time being, in order to accept the agreements and revised contracts. These all passed unanimously as did every other item on the agenda.
The second agenda item to create a stir was the proposal to create yet another Mello-Roos district, this time to finance infrastructure for the Brookfield area for residential home production. The only sticking point in the eyes and hearts of the council was the fact that the two present owners of the land in question were making financing and financial decisions which will affect future property owners.
Kevin Johnson, who sits on the planning commission and is a real estate professional, stated that home values will be much less for homes impacted by an almost $4,000 annual tax levy. The mayor stated there was no other way to do the infrastructure, which was quickly and easily refuted by Ceremello and Mary Savage, who lives in the Pulte Homes’ area, who claimed there is no Mello-Roos district in either of those residential subdivisions.
When it came to a vote, after Batchelor made a final comment of “no development will occur” elicited by Bogue’s question of what would happen if this wasn’t passed, vice mayor Dane Besneatte hesitated twice in voting yes as did councilman Jerry Castañon evidently buying what the mayor was selling.
One additional item of interest was an update by city engineer, Joe Leach, on projects at the waste water plant. The city is moving ahead with a dubious project known as “activated sludge” at a cost of $30 million which will be funded by increased sewer rates, which have already been estimated to be more than double what you currently pay. There will be a final rate report issued by Bartle and Wells and then what is known as the “218 process” will begin.
Citizens and property owners have the right to “protest” the rate increase for 45 days. If more than 50% of the property owners protest the increase, the city cannot force it upon them. A doubled water rate produced slightly more that 100 protests, far below what was needed. Well over 2600 protests will be needed to defeat this additional tax.