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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Alameda County, CA November 4, 2014 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Director; Alameda County Water District

The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of Fremont, Newark, and Union City and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Water Rates

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

? 1. Why have water rates gone up and up?

Answer from Judy C. Huang:

The simple answer is that the cost of water that ACWD must purchase to deliver to our customers has risen dramatically in the past few years. For example, Hetch Hetchy water, which is sold to us by the San Francisco PUC has tripled in cost since 2008 and will rise another 40 percent by 2018. Water from the State Water Project (if we can get it), will rise in cost between 33 and 66 percent in the next few years. In addition, the costs to maintain our infrastructure and make critical seismic improvements to maintain a reliable water system have increased and must be reflected in our rates. Finally, the drought and associated reduction in the quantity of water sold forces the district to apportion our fixed costs over fewer units of water sold.

We have done our best to keep our water rates as low as possible -- even though our rates have risen each year, we continue to be below the Bay Area average, and a recent benchmark study showed ACWD be operationally efficient, with one of the lowest operational costs per connection compared against similarly sized water utilities in California. Nevertheless, I will continue to look for ways to make ACWD more efficient, using technology and automation to reduce costs. One thing I will not support is reneging on our commitment to providing you safe and reliable water.

Answer from Eric Tsai:

Our water rates have increased for at least 15 consecutive years. The last 10 years of rate increases have averaged 8% each year. If you live in an apartment or own a business property, ACWD has raised your waters rates by 21% this year alone.

ACWD was founded for the benefit of the public, but these excessive rate increases that far surpass inflation have not benefited our community, especially the poor and seniors living on fixed income.

Our water rates continue to rise because ACWD spends more each year than it takes in, and all it takes is a simple majority vote by the Board of Directors to raise rates.

When other local government agencies want to raise revenue, they have to get at least majority voter approval at the ballot box. For instance, when a school district wants to issue a bond, they need at least 55% voter approval. This process ensures there is widespread debate on the issues and holds the school district accountable. However, when ACWD wants to raise revenue, all it takes is 3 votes by Directors without much public debate. This creates a culture of complacency to raise revenue rather than control expenses to balance the budget. If ACWD had to get approval at the ballot box every year to raise revenue, do you think they would ask voters to approve raising water rates by 21% on those living in apartments? Because ACWD does not need voter approval to raise revenue, it is extremely important that the Board has Directors who will focus on fiscally responsibility.

Water costs have been rising throughout the years, which has contributed to rising water rates. In the last 9 years, water costs have increased 124%. However, the fastest growing expense category during the last 9 years is Administration and General expenses. Administrative expenses have increased 220% in 9 years. In just the last 2 years, administrative expenses have increased 94%.

Spending must always be prioritized to maintain a safe and reliable water supply. However, there is a lot of wasteful spending that does not lead to one drop of water. For instance, ACWD will spend $279,000 to write ACWD history books to celebrate their 100th year anniversary. This spending is irresponsible during normal times and outrageous during this drought. ACWD budgeted $300,000 for travel and subscriptions and nearly $600,000 to renovate their headquarters for next year. Some or most of these spending can easily be redirected towards maintaining our water supply.

In March 2014, ACWD declared a water shortage emergency. During emergencies, everyone must share in the sacrifice. Ratepayers are asked to conserve water by 20% and our water rates have increased twice this year. However, there has been no shared sacrifice by ACWD employees. At the very least, management pay raises scheduled through 2017 should be frozen when a water shortage emergency is declared. Ratepayers, especially low income households and seniors living on fixed income, cannot and should not bear the full brunt of an emergency.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' statements are presented as submitted. References to opponents are not permitted.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.

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Created: July 23, 2015 14:55 PDT
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