2019 Water Quality & Flood Protection: Frequently Asked Questions

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1. What is the City’s Clean Water Program?

Management of the City’s storm drainage system is done through the Clean Water Program. The City owns, maintains, and operates over 10 pump stations (some dating back to the 1940s), 126 miles of pipelines, 96 acres of lagoons, 278 outfalls to the Bay and numerous tide gates and seawalls to control flows and convey our stormwater safely and reliably to the Bay.

Thirty years ago, changes in Federal law added the responsibility of reducing water pollution (thus the name “Clean Water Program”). In fact, stormwater runoff is the leading cause of pollution in the Bay. Trash, such as plastics, cigarette butts, and other non-biodegradable products, gets swept into the drainage system with storm water runoff, which flows directly to the Bay. Chemical and bacterial contaminants such as fertilizer, pesticides, and animal waste are also spread through, and pollute, this untreated runoff. The City of Alameda provides street sweeping services and installs and maintains trash-capture devices in water inlets in order to minimize the amount of trash and pollutants flowing through our storm drainage system, thereby enhancing the cleanliness of the water in our local waterways. In addition most new development is required to install on-site treatment and retention facilities to further reduce pollutants.

2. Why is a new fee needed?

The City’s storm drain fees, which have been in place since 1992, have not been increased for nearly 15 years.  This is due to changes in State law, which now require all stormwater fee increases to be approved by voters – a major undertaking.  The City went without a fee increase as long as possible by controlling costs and using financial reserves, but those reserves will be depleted this year and the only options are to raise fees or cut services.  The City places a high value on protecting the City’s quality of life, so we have proposed the Water Quality and Flood Protection initiative so property owners in town can have their say. 

3. Don’t my property taxes already pay for this?

No.  The Clean Water Program started in 1992 with a fee charged to properties.  This has been the only regular revenue source for the Program since its inception. This is similar to water and sewer rates where the activities to provide those services are supported solely by user rates.  This ensures that the rates are fair and equitable, and funds cannot be used for other purposes.

4. How much is the new proposed fee? 

The new fee is based on the amount of impervious surface on your type of property. The fee for your property (or for each of your properties if you own more than one) will be printed on the ballot you receive through the mail in October. The proposed new fee for a single-family home on an average size lot will be $78.00 per year in addition to the amount you already pay (typically $56 per year). That total fee amount of $134 per year works out to $11.17 per month for the average home. 

5. Will this proposed new fee replace my current fee?

No. You will continue to pay your current fee. The proposed new 2019 Water Quality and Flood Protection Fee will be in addition to what you are currently paying. For the average home, the new fee of $78 will be in addition to the typical existing fee of $56 for a total annual charge of $134.  That works out to $11.17 per month for the average single-family home.

6. Will the amount of the fee increase in the future?

Yes, the City Council would be allowed to increase the new fee according to the Consumer Price Index, but no more than 3% per year. This is to keep up with the cost of inflation. 

7. How does the amount of this fee compare to other similar fees in the Bay Area?

As stated above, the proposed new fee for a single-family home on an average size lot will be $78 per year. This would be in addition to the $56 per year currently paid by each residential property owner. Rates in other Bay Area cities are $150 in Burlingame, $164 in Palo Alto, $92 in San Jose, and $109 in Santa Cruz.

8. Can the money from this fee be used to pay for other things?

No. The proposed new 2019 Water Quality and Flood Protection fee, if approved, will be a dedicated source of funds that can only be used for the Clean Water Program. This money cannot be taken by the County or the State, and the City cannot use these funds for any other purpose.

9. Who gets to vote for this?

Owners of property in the City of Alameda will be mailed ballots to vote on the proposed 2019 Water Quality and Flood Protection measure.

10. With rent controls in place, won’t this new fee have to be absorbed by landlords?

Not necessarily. An analysis of how those fees apply to owners of apartment buildings suggests an increase per apartment unit of $2.20 per month. That works out to a tenth of one percent of a monthly rent of $2,200. One tenth of one percent is well below the Annual General Adjustment (AGA) permitted as a rent increase, calculated at 70% of the change in the Consumer Price Index over a 12-month period. 

11. Why did I get a notice for this measure, but not a ballot?

State law (Proposition 218) requires two steps for this type of fee: 1) a mailed Notice, a 45-day protest period, and public hearing; and 2) a ballot measure. The public hearing is scheduled for October 1, 2019 at 7:00 pm at City Hall. Property owners who do not approve of the proposed fee may mail their written protests, or they can bring them to the hearing. If the City receives written protests from owners of more than 50% of affected properties, the initiative is defeated, and ballots will not be mailed. If there is no majority protest by the time of the public hearing, the City Council will then decide whether to send out ballots to property owners in mid-October.

12. When do we vote?

If the City Council votes to proceed with the measure after the public hearing on October 1, ballots are scheduled to be mailed on or around October 10, and property owners will have until November 15, 2019 at 5:00 pm to mail or bring their ballot to the City Clerk. Please note that completed ballots must be received by this deadline to be counted. Post marks do not count.

13. When will we know whether the measure passed?

After the close of the balloting period on November 15, the ballots will be tabulated, and the results are tentatively scheduled to be announced at a City Council meeting in December or January.

14. What is the difference between the storm drainage system and the sewer system?

In Alameda, like most cities, there are two separate systems. The City’s storm drainage system collects and conveys rainwater runoff from streets, roofs, sidewalks, etc. directly to San Francisco Bay – there is no treatment process in place for that rainwater. On the other hand, the City’s sewer system transports sanitary wastes from toilets, sinks, baths, showers, industrial processes, etc. to EBMUD facilities for treatment and final discharge to the Bay. 

15. What is the City doing to ensure the money is spent wisely?

Transparency is important to the City Council. The funds from this new fee will be held separately in an account dedicated to the Clean Water Program. By law, the revenue from this fee cannot be taken by the County or State and cannot be used by the City for any other purpose. The City strives continuously to find the most cost-effective ways to achieve the goals of this program. The expenditures for this program will be audited annually and the revenue and expenditures identified and approved by City Council as part of a regular public hearing.

16. What happens if the proposed 2019 Water Quality and Flood Protection Measure does not pass?

The Clean Water Program is currently running an annual deficit of approximately $1 million per year. This has depleted the Program’s financial reserves, which are exhausted this fiscal year. If the new Water Quality and Flood Protection Fee is not approved by voters, the City will have to begin cutting services to reduce expenses by over $1 million per year. With a current budget of approximately $4 million, that amounts to a 25% cut. The types of services that might have to be reduced or eliminated include street sweeping, frequency of inspecting and cleaning our pipes and inlets, and pollution control programs such as beach clean-ups. In addition, the City will be unable to have a stormwater capital program, leaving in place aging pump stations (some of which date back to the 1940s) and existing, recurring flooding on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

17. Why did you wait this long to propose a new fee for this?

The last time the existing fees were increased was in 2005. Since that time the Clean Water Program has been attempting to survive off the Program’s fiscal reserves and defer certain maintenance and improvement projects as long as possible. Those reserves are now depleted, so the City cannot wait any longer to raise fees. 

18. Is this a fee or a tax?

This proposed measure is a property-related fee, rather than a tax, as defined by Proposition 218, which was approved by California voters in 1996. Because this is a property-related fee, it will be voted on by property owners rather than registered voters, and it requires a simple majority (over 50%) of the votes cast to pass. As a property-related fee, it is required by law to be fair and equitable with all property owners paying their fair share. It also must have strict fiscal safeguards to ensure it is not spent on other things. If approved, the fee will appear as a line item on the annual property tax bill for all affected properties.