As the state enters its fifth year of drought, Californians have finally identified the true water-hogging culprits: rich people.
Water use is directly related to income, with big lawns equating to big water bills. Under a statewide mandate to conserve, California is upping its drought-shaming game, singling out celebrities and golf courses, and even going after non-famous people who just want to grow orchards in their backyards.
Well, now the League of California Cities is offering a ballot measure that could channel some of that populist anger. The initiative would allow water agencies to impose tiered rate structures, which force power-guzzling one-percenters to pay substantially higher water rates than everybody else.
Water agencies already do this, though the rates are not as aggressive as they could be. But the legality of tiered pricing was thrown into doubt earlier this year, when a judge invalidated the rate structure in San Juan Capistrano. The issue is Proposition 218, which requires that government fees be directly connected to the cost to provide a particular service.
This ruling did not immediately invalidate all the other tiered rate structures around the state. And in fact, on Monday L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his support for expanding L.A.'s rate structure from two tiers to four. But the San Juan Capistrano ruling has clearly made some agencies wary of increasing rates at the upper usage tiers. If they do it, they will have to show some math.
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The ballot initiative, filed on Monday, would make it clear that tiered-rate systems are legal. The measure allows agencies to set rates that "encourage water conservation, prevent waste, and discourage excessive use of water." It also includes language tying rates to the cost of service, which echoes current law under Proposition 218.
The measure would also make it easier for local agencies to fund projects for stormwater capture and decontamination.
The League of California Cities is sponsoring the initiative, along with the California Association of Counties and the Association of California Water Agencies. To get it on the ballot, they would have to launch an expensive signature-gathering effort. And it could also face concerns that the measure would undermine the taxpayer protections in Proposition 218.
So it's possible this is just a backup plan as the local-government groups seek to get a similar measure through the Legislature.