Mar 31 2012

Opinion: Reasons Sewer Measure Failed

 Measure A Opponent Explains its Defeat –

The Measure A Sewer Surcharge Tax failed by the largest margin anyone can recall. Remarkably, no one at the City and not a single Measure A proponent has ever publicly countered the objections that led to the voters’ rejection.

At some point, City Hall will place this tax before voters again; therefore some basic points need to be clearly understood as an honest process is now compelled by the overwhelming voter rejection.

The City ballot argument stated the 2011 EPA order required Piedmont to replace its mainline sewers. This is contrary to the Federal 2011 Stipulated Order (“SO”), which does not require replacement. My direct email confirmation from the EPA compliance officer overseeing the 2011 SO unequivocally confirms there is no such requirement.

The City’s mainline sewer replacement plan is aggressively accelerated, arguably far beyond the replacement program in any other East Bay city.  The 1993 Regional Water Board Order required Piedmont to replace about 48% of the mainline sewers by 2014. That work was completed in 2005, well ahead of legal requirement. The 2007 Municipal Tax Committee (“MTRC”) report called this “accelerated.” After the accelerated replacement, Piedmont then voluntarily completed another 12% by 2010. City Hall continues to deny the acceleration.

In early 2011, the City gave the MTRC a plan that included a further accelerated completion of mainline replacement and falsely stated this plan was enforceable at that time.  Both the 2011 SO and my direct communication with the EPA confirm that the enforceable plan is the one to be presented July 15, 2012, well after the Measure A election.

When opposition mounted to Measure A, City staff met privately in early January with some MTRC members to convince them that complete sewer mainline completion by 2020 is required by a “Technical Advisory Group Report.” A subsequent public record request shows this report does not exist.

The Sewer Fund is a slush fund with use beyond sewers. The ordinance placing Measure A on the ballot allows the funds to be used for non-sewer purposes. Nearly half the maintenance workers of the City are paid 100% out of the Sewer Fund.

On January 17, the City Council transferred $275,000 from General Funds for money illegitimately taken from the Sewer Fund for the private benefit of the Piedmont Hills Underground Utility District. That money was used to pay the contractor to repair the Crest Road washout, despite a careful examination of that incident indicating the washout was likely a result of contractor error. Regardless, the work was described as sewer related and taken from the Sewer Fund. On January 17, 2012, the money was reclassified as a street repaving cost.

Under the existing sewer tax, Piedmont is in full compliance and not subject to any penalties. Chester Nakahara’s February 13, 2012 report: “We will continue to complete the required tests, monitoring and reporting that is required for our EPA compliance.”  The proponent argument of $2,000 a day fines against Piedmont was a wholly unsubstantiated and tawdry scare tactic. We deserve better.

As confirmed by the EPA, the vactor truck was never required by the EPA. The vactor truck was reported as required by the EPA in the local print media that works closely with City staff.

By Law, taxpayer money may not be used to provide promotional material for a ballot measure. City staff was active in aiding proponents and promoting Measure A.  The campaign used the front pages of the Piedmont Post to further its viewpoint.

Integral to the proponents campaign was the Post’s reporting of a League of Women Voters January 12, 2012 forum quoting me incorrectly that Piedmont would not be subject to EPA compliance. I never stated nor implied this falsehood presented by the Post. Residents can view my remarks on KCOM, available on the City website.

Despite the calculated and aggressive proponent campaign, the failure of Measure A is the most dramatic defeat of any parcel tax in decades.  Thoughtful observers understand resident dissatisfaction with other recent City processes were also a factor. Voters were able to see past the scurrilous “kill the messenger” attacks in the Piedmont Post against Tom Clark and myself. Despite the heavily biased and false reporting in that paper, our opponent campaign was well received and understood by Piedmont’s normally tax tolerant electorate, who soundly defeated this tax by a margin unprecedented in Piedmont’s recent history.

Rick Schiller

Editors Note:  The opinion expressed is that of the author and not necessarily that of the Piedmont Civic Association.

One Response to “Opinion: Reasons Sewer Measure Failed”

  1. Thank you, Rick Schiller, for keeping these facts visible in spite of the tsunami of contrary propaganda.

    Yes, we citizens of Piedmont deserve better from our city government.

    I voted against the bond measure, and I’ll do so again, until I see substantial change at the highest levels of city management. The people who caused the undergrounding failure have not yet been held accountable, so giving them more money to spend will only end up racking up more preventable costs.

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