Friday, July 06, 2007

Paying The "Pipers"

What is it with the local entities that are the de facto alimentary canal for our city? First it was the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, which recently announced a whopping 50% increase for the removal of fluids - and other stuff, if you get my drift - from our homes and businesses. Then, in the mail yesterday, we received a notice from the Mesa Consolidated Water District - which provides the fluid to more than 100,000 users that the Sanitary District eventually removes - announcing a public hearing on their own pending rate increase!

The interesting part of the announcement on this little postal card I'm staring at right now is not the amount of the proposed increase in water rates - 9% for the potable water we drink and use to perform other functions - it's the timing of the public hearing. The hearing is going to be held at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 28, 2007 in the Board Room at 1965 Placentia Avenue, Costa Mesa, at which time users who wish to protest the proposed rate increase are encouraged, more or less, to make their views know.

The card also states, "All written protests to the proposed water rate increase must be received by 7:00 p.m. on August 28, 2007.... A postmark is not acceptable." It goes on to say, "Comments submitted by telephone, electronic mail (email), or through Mesa's website will NOT be accepted or counted as protests." If you want to protest this rate increase and have it count you have to do it by that date and time.

And just when, you ask, is this proposed 9% increase in the water rate going into effect? Well, the card tells us that the implementation date is September 1, 2007 - three working days following the public hearing!


Now, let me ask you - Do you really think the good folks at Mesa Consolidated Water District give a rat's fanny about how you feel about this rate increase? Neither do I. If they cared at all they'd plan this hearing well in advance of the implementation date instead of just three days before it's to go into effect. This is just another example of bureaucratic arrogance or ignorance, or both. I can just hear a recent conversation in the MCWD Board Room now... "Oh, yes, I guess we'd better tell our users we're going to hit them with an increase pretty soon. What's the latest date we can get away with? Three days before it's effective? Sounds good to me!"

Don't misunderstand me on this issue. I don't doubt the need for a rate increase. Anyone who has lived here for more than a few years understands just how precious water is to us all and, in this year particularly, the need for a rate increase is not a surprise. Heck, in the rainfall year that ended a few days ago we accumulated only 2.2 inches, around 15% of normal.

And, quite honestly, we are practically stealing our water at the current rates. For example, my last water bill was for 42 units at a cost of $83.58 at the current rate. Add in the $15.00 "basic charge" and $.92 for something I don't understand and my bill last time was $99.50. The amount of water I used worked out to $.00266 per gallon! With the rate increase it would rise to $107.06 - no big deal in the grand scheme of things. For some perspective, a gallon of Arrowhead Spring Water at Ralph's costs around $1.50 - more than 560 times more than a gallon of MCWD tap water costs.

I know of a little hamlet along the central coast that has begun water surcharges to "encourage" conservation. The same amount of water over the same time period would have cost more than $2,000! Their philosophy is to "encourage" you to conserve with a tiered rate structure. The more you use, the more you pay - in staggering multiples. If that doesn't work, they simply shut off your water and seal the meter.

No, my complaint isn't that I have to pay more for my water. I just don't like the cavalier way the water district and the sanitary district go about doing their business. That being said, I'll bet we don't have a half dozen people show up for either of the public hearings on the two rate increases next month. No one seems to care about these two utilities unless the water stops flowing - at either end of the "alimentary canal".

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Liberty Is Alive And Well In Costa Mesa Today

What a way to start Independence Day!

All that "bombs bursting in air" stuff is going to take a back seat to the events of the Costa Mesa City Council meeting in the early morning hours of July 4th, 2007

At the end of the meeting, the last item to be discussed was the subject of whether or not to place before the voters the question of a directly elected mayor. This discussion began at 11:55 p.m. and went on for a half hour before the issue was finally voted upon.

The item was placed on the agenda by Mayor Allan Mansoor at the request of former mayor Gary Monahan, who served this city for twelve years on the council, including multiple terms as mayor. A
s it turned out, Monahan was the only person who spoke in favor of placing this subject on the ballot this morning. All other speakers, including former mayor Sandra Genis, spoke opposing the concept. The few other citizens who spoke, each of whom were respected community activists, said, basically, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

During the debate on the dais the issue looked like a slam dunk to be placed on the ballot, particularly since Councilwoman Linda Dixon was absent from the meeting. Mansoor made a motion to do exactly that - have the issue placed before the voters on the ballot at
the primary election on February 5, 2008. This, coincidentally, would be the most costly solution - probably costing the city in the neighborhood of $200,000. Councilwoman Wendy Leece, the barnacle on his rump during the past election, seconded our young jailer/mayor's motion - demonstrating for about the zillionth time that she has no mind of her own.

The debate was hea
ted between Councilwoman Katrina Foley and the mayor, particularly when she pressed him on the issue of term limits for the directly elected mayor. He hadn't included any mention of that in the motion to be placed on the ballot, even though he was quite specific that he wasn't interested in additional compensation for the position, nor was he interested in any additional enumerated powers - like the power to appoint commission and committee members. Finally, after several questions like, "Do you support term limits for a directly elected mayor?" the closest he would come to an answer was that he didn't like term limits.

Earlier speaker Jay Humphrey
pressed the issue of the additional powers, stating that, while Mansoor wasn't interested in the additional powers, other future directly elected mayors may be - and this decision would provide them with the power.

Mansoor championed his issue weakly. When pressed
to explain why the city needed this after fifty-four years, he didn't have a response. He said it would provide more "clout", but speakers reminded him that clout from half the six Orange County cities that have a directly elected mayor came from their size, not the mayor.

Finally, at 12:25 this morning, the vote was taken. The result was 2-2! Tie vote, motion failed! Mansoor and Leece voted yes - Foley and Mansoor's buddy, Eric Bever, voted no! The look on Mansoor's face was priceless as his head snapped to the left in a classic double-take, looking at Bever as if to say, "What the heck is going on here?!"

I have no idea what happened to cause Bever to vote against his pals on the dais, but he sure d
id make the right decision. Maybe he was peeved because he was rebuffed by his buddy a couple times earlier in the meeting. Once, for example, he kept trying to interrupt the debate on the CarMax project when the issue of a wall was being negotiated and Mansoor put him off you could hear him mutter an epithet. Or, maybe, Bever remembered that a couple years ago columnist Jim DeBoom once named him an "Eagle" and he picked tonight to finally begin acting like one.

So, regardle
ss what happened with Bever tonight, the spirit of the day prevailed. As former mayor Genis - appropriately attired in a blouse resembling the American Flag - so rightly put it during her comments opposing the proposal, "I think it's quite fitting that we're doing this just at the very beginning of the Fourth of July, 'cuz two hundred and thirty years ago we said 'We don't need no stinkin' kings' and that's what I say here - 'We don't need no stinkin' kings!'" I couldn't have said it better myself. You could practically envision George Washington smiling.

On this Independence Day, I wish you all a safe and sane celebration. The spirit of liberty, hard won and painfully retained, is alive and well in Costa Mesa today.

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