Utility rates go up and up; residents can’t do much but to keep on paying them | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |


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By Diana Diamond

Utility rates go up and up; residents can’t do much but to keep on paying them

Uploaded: May 13, 2019

I was cleaning out an old file cabinet drawer recently and stuck to the side was a 1993 bill from the City of Palo Alto Utilities Department for $100.67 for the 8-17- to 9-15-period.

Last September 2018, I paid $325.33 for the same period. That’s a 300 percent increase.

Same house, same two residents (my husband and myself), nothing different (except dual-pane glass downstairs, low-water toilets, a streamlined sprinkler system and less garbage.

A few days ago, I got a letter dated May 3, 2019 from the Palo Alto Utilities Department: “Proposed water and wastewater rate changes.” I went into my file and found a similar letter, “Proposed water and wastewater rate changes,” but dated a year earlier April 27, 2018.

The increases are based on the meter size in one’s home (5/8”, ¾:”, etc.), and the amount of gallons of water one uses – under 6 CCF (748 gallons per month) is less expensive that those over 6 CFF. In 2019 the gallons under 6 CCF will cost $2.56 per CCF, while the water over 6 CCF will go up $5.97 per month (per CCF), an increase of 63 cents per CCF.

Electric rates have escalated more wildly since 1993 – I estimate a 350 percent increase in my rates, despite the fact that we use much less electricity now. Our house has electric heating and in winter months (November through April), we only heat the family room and one bedroom because of the high costs. Yes, I wear layers of sweaters just to stay warm. (My utility bill was $605.03 in January 2019; most were electricity charges.)
Our utility rates in Palo Alto are going up, up and up, way beyond what we used to be paying. Inflation went up 67 percent from 1993 to 2019 -- $100 then is now $167.68 in 2019. That’s way less than our utility increases – and there are a lot of “utilities” in the bill from the city.

For example, storm drainage and garbage rates. In 1993 I was paying $3.25 a month for storm drainage. Now I am paying $11.24. My sewer rate was $13.89; now it is $38.66 – a 300 percent higher rate. And refuse rates for one can in 1993 was $14.30 a month; now refuse is $50.07 monthly (3 cans). Of course we are environmentally more conscious and separating our trash, which is good thing, so I can’t complain about that.

Then there’s the utility users tax, based on all my monthly utility consumption. The city of Palo Alto owns the utilities, they charge me rates to keep their staff and providing maintenance of all our utilities, but why then am I taxed on what I use? It’s not like buying a new chair and paying tax on that tangible good. The taxes are on water, gas, electricity (5 percent for each of those), plus a 4.5 percent tax each on telecommunications and prepaid wireless. (No information is given as to whether these rates have changed the last few years). All the utilities users taxes we pay go directly into the city’s general fund, to spend as the city wishes.

Several months ago a resident challenged that tax by filing a suit against the city, saying the tax was unfair, especially because we residents never voted on it, as the law requires. To my knowledge, that case has not yet been settled.

To protest a new utility rate, a resident must send in a written protest (not email) to the city. One’s utility account number must be included in the protest letter, and if you own the property, you must also include the Assessor’s Parcel Number(s) or street addresses of the parcels. Any objections to the 2019 proposed water increases must be received before June 17, 2019.

Practically speaking, the new taxes will always be approved because 50.1 person of all utility users must object in writing. The city knows it will, realistically, never get so many protesters to send a letter. So our utilities rates keep on climbing up and up and there’s not much any of us can do about it.