ENCINITAS — Despite protests by residents, San Dieguito Water District rates increased beginning March 1.
City Council, in its role as the board of the San Dieguito Water District, voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Teresa Barth opposed to increase water rates for customers, on Feb. 24.
With the Encinitas Taxpayers Association taking the lead in a campaign against the proposed increase, 1,070 letters were received by the council opposing the rate increase.
However, under state law, the district’s board could only have been blocked from raising rates if 50 percent plus one of property owners in the district submitted official protests.
The district serves 13,005 property owners in Leucadia, Cardiff, downtown Encinitas and a portion of New Encinitas households.
Clearly, the effort fell short of the required 6,503 signatures despite a full-court push by the association and its members.
Under the rate increase, the average residential customer increase would be 13.5 percent. While an average district customer currently pays $99.30 per month, the bill would increase to $112.71, or an additional 160.92 annually.
“The water is in quite a bit of distress,” Larry Watt, director of Public Works, told the council.
He referenced the long-standing drought in Southern California and the increasing cost of wholesale water by Metropolitan Water Authority that supplies the majority of the district’s water supply.
Kevin Cummins, vice president of the association, said most of the people he’s spoken to oppose rate increases.
Cummins said the rate structure is unfair.
He claimed the district’s largest customer, the city, pays less than residential customers.
“You must make it fair,” he told the council.
He also urged the council to “free the water district” with an independent board of directors rather than the City Council members serving as the board.
Leucadia resident Kathleen Lindeman, questioned the 22 percent hike in rates for common areas of homeowners’ associations.
Councilwoman Barth, who served on a subcommittee that unanimously recommended a rate increase, said she had a change of heart. She said she was swayed by arguments that the district could cut costs by eliminating raises and benefits for district employees.
Councilman James Bond disagreed. District employees have two years remaining on their current contract and Bond said opening up negotiations would do little to reduce wages.
Many residents said they were practicing water conservation but that a hike in water rates amounted to a “punishment” for their efforts.
Karen Caden, a 29-year resident, said she conserves water but continues to see her bill rise. “We need to protect the property owners here,” she told the council. “I’m sure no one in Encinitas wants to pay more (for water).”
Barth suggested a 5.5 percent increase that was initially supported by Councilman Jerome Stocks. However, he voted with the majority.