2019 Water Quality & Flood Protection: Frequently Asked Questions

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Below are Frequently Asked Questions about the Water Quality and Flood Protection Fee. If you have a question that is not included here, please contact Sarah Henry at shenry@alamedaca.gov or call 510-747-4714.

1. What is the City’s Clean Water Program?
2. Why is a new fee needed?
3. Don’t my property taxes already pay for this?
4. How much is the new proposed fee? 
5. Will this proposed new fee replace my current fee?
6. Will the amount of the fee increase in the future?
7. How does the amount of this fee compare to other similar fees in the Bay Area?
8. Can the money from this fee be used to pay for other things?
9. Who gets to vote for this?
10. With rent controls in place, won’t this new fee have to be absorbed by landlords?
11. Why did I get a notice for this measure before a ballot?
12. When do we vote?
13. When will we know whether the measure passed?
14. What is the difference between the storm drainage system and the sewer system?
15. What is the City doing to ensure the money is spent wisely?
16. What happens if the proposed 2019 Water Quality and Flood Protection Measure does not pass?
17. Why did you wait this long to propose a new fee for this?
18. Is this a fee or a tax?
19. Will the fee pay for the $30 million of infrastructure needs?
20. Why is there no sunset or expiration on this fee? 
21. Why are only property owners paying and can landlords pass this fee to their tenants?
22. Is new development paying their fair share?
23. How are the fees calculated?
24. Can’t other City funds, such as the ½ cent sales tax, pay for the stormwater needs?
25. Does the proposed fee help implement projects proposed in the Climate Action and Resiliency Plan?
26. Why is the ballot not anonymous? 
27. I own more than one parcel, why didn't I get more than one ballot?
28. How do I determine if my property qualifies for the 25% or 57% rate credits that are given to properties that meet low impact development standards or drain directly to the bay?
29. How many parcels are there in Alameda?

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

Management of the City’s storm drainage system is done through Alameda’s 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.

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 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 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 before 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 took place on October 1, 2019. Property owners who did not approve of the proposed fee could mail their written protests in advance of this hearing or they could bring them to the hearing. On October 1, the City did not receive written protests from owners of more than 50% of affected properties, and the City Council voted unanimously to send out ballots to property owners in mid-October.

12. When do we vote?

Ballots were mailed on October 10, 2019, and property owners will have until November 25, 2019 at 6:00 pm to return 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 25, the ballots will be tabulated, and the results are 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 City Council will review and approve program revenues and expenditures associated with the program at open public meetings.

16. What happens if the 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 aging pump stations in place (some of which date back to the 1940s), which could cause recurring flooding on City streets and in City 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. However, those reserves are now depleted, so the City Council has proposed this measure to maintain Clean Water Program services and begin to repair aging infrastructure. 

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.

19. Will the fee pay for the $30 million of infrastructure needs?

Yes, a portion of the fee will be allocated to support more than $30 million in capital infrastructure projects. While this portion does not cover all of these infrastructure needs, it will provide critical local funds necessary for the City to better compete for state and federal grants that fill in the gap so we are able to implement critical infrastructure improvements in the City. 

20. Why is there no sunset or expiration on this fee? 

The costs of operating and maintaining a storm drain system, protecting water quality, replacing critical aging infrastructure, and preparing for sea level rise and the impacts of climate change will continue for decades. For these reasons, the proposed fee does not include a sunset or expiration date. However, because Proposition 218 only allows the City to collect fees to meet the costs of implementing the stormwater program, if in the future the costs of implementing the program decrease or are eliminated, the City must reduce or remove the fee. 

21. Why are only property owners paying and can landlords pass this fee to their tenants?

As a property-related fee, state law requires balloting only of property owners. In addition, state law requires there to be a connection (“nexus”) between the amount of the fee and the property the fee is being levied on. In this case, stormwater runoff is the connection, and the amount of the fee is based on impervious cover associated with each parcel. 
 
Property owners are legally permitted to pass the costs of the fee or portion thereof to renters in their annual rent increase so long as these costs are not more than the Annual General Adjustment projected to be 2.8% in the next year. An analysis of the proposed fee’s financial impact suggests an increase of a tenth of one percent (or .1%) of monthly rent would cover the proposed fee, so well within the Annual General Adjustment. 

22. Is new development paying their fair share?

Yes. Developers pay development impact fees for stormwater infrastructure and treatment associated with new development. However, state law precludes these fees from being used for the maintenance of our existing infrastructure, which is decades old and in serious need of repair. Users of new development will be charged the proposed fee, too. 

23. How are the fees calculated?

The City completed a rigorous engineering fee study that is available for review. The fee study identified and verified the financial need and then fairly allocated that need across all parcels within the City based on their contribution to the storm drain system.

24. Can’t other City funds, such as the ½ cent sales tax, pay for the stormwater needs?

As a general purpose tax, the City Council may choose during any budget cycle to direct some of the revenue from the ½ cent sales tax to support the Clean Water Program but there is no guarantee and alone, any allocation, will not meet the ongoing current and future needs of the Program. In addition, given the City’s current approved budget any allocation of the ½ cent sales tax or the general fund will mean a reduction in budget or service for other City programs like parks, recreation, police, fire, or emergency response.     

25. Does the proposed fee help implement projects proposed in the Climate Action and Resiliency Plan?

Yes, the fee will help support a portion of the costs to plan and execute projects identified in the Climate Action and Resiliency Plan. 

26. Why is the ballot not anonymous?

State law specifies that property-related fee ballots are a public record, however the City will strive to keep the ballot information confidential to the extent of the law. Similar measures to increase stormwater fees in other cities across the state have used the same process. Ballots must be received at the City Clerk's Office by 6:00 pm on Monday, November 25. When ballots are received, they are placed unopened in a locked box. Ballots will be opened and counted in Conference Room 360 in Alameda’s City Hall from 9:00 am-4:00 pm on Tuesday, November 26, and continuing every business day until the tally is complete. While any member of the public is welcome to observe, the name and voting preference are not visible to observers. City staff is not normally provided with a detailed list of vote results. Instead, at a December 17, 2019 City Council meeting, City staff will share back with the City Council a summary tally of the yes/no votes, and whether the measure succeeded or not. Government Code Section 53755.5 (b) (2) states in part, “The ballot shall include the agency’s address for return of the ballot, the date and location where the ballots will be tabulated, and a place where the person returning it may indicate his or her name, a reasonable identification of the parcel, and his or her support or opposition to the proposed fee."

27. I own more than one parcel, why did't I get more than one ballot?

A single ballot can be used for up to eight parcels. When we open and scan the ballot, you will receive one vote for every parcel listed.

28. How do I determine if my property qualifies for the 25% or 57% rate credits that are given to properties that meet low impact development standards or drain directly to the bay?

If you qualify for one of these rate credits, your proposed fee will be 25% or 57% less than what is on the fee schedule. If you have any questions about this, please call us at 510-747-4714 and we can look up your information on a parcel-by-parcel basis.

29. How many parcels are there in Alameda?

15,682 parcels belong to Alameda residents, 2,338 parcels belong to people in the United States but non-Alameda residents, and 12 belong to people in other countries.