City of Fresno Lower Water Bill Referendum, Measure W (November 2014)
|Voting on Water|
|Not on ballot|
This referendum measure seeks to overturn a water rate hike proposed by Mayor Ashley Swearengin in August of 2013 that resulted in an average water bill of $48 per month for city residents in 2014 - double the rates from the previous year. The additional revenue was designed by the mayor's plan to fund a $410 million upgrade to the city's water system.
A group of taxpayers called "Citizens of Lower Water Bills — Yes on Measure W" ran the petition drive to put the mayor's water rate program to the test before voters at the fall general election. The petitioners survived multiple efforts from the city to stop the referendum, including a lawsuit.
- Note: Those who oppose the water rate increase and support the repeal of that increase, which is the outcome desired by the referendum petitioners, are referred to as "supporters" in this article.
The group behind the referendum petition is called "Citizens of Lower Water Bills — Yes on Measure W."
Former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim was a leader in the petition drive for Measure W and is a strong advocate in the pro-Measure W campaign.
Arguments in favor
Referendum backers argue that the 2013 ordinance raised the water rates too much and that people were struggling financially as things were. Some argued that the city should be able to pay for the water system improvements and updates with the revenue they already received.
- Note: Those who support the water rate increase and oppose the repeal of that increase, which is the outcome desired by the referendum petitioners, are referred to as "opponents" in this article.
The Fresno City Council and Mayor Ashley Swearengin have vehemently opposed the effort to overturn their 2013 ordinance to increase the water rates in the city.
Those opposed to the referendum and supportive of the city's water rate hikes argue that the additional revenue is necessary to fund essential infrastructure improvements and updates for the city's water system. They propose that making these improvements and updates before the system breaks down could save taxpayers large sums of money in the future.
The city has even argued in its lawsuit against the petitioners that the referendum effort illegally obstructs the city's duty to provide water services.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin said, “The city of Fresno believes there is ample case law that indicates that a core public service is not subject to a referendum. I recognize the short-term pain of raising water rates in the city of Fresno. However, I believe this short-term pain will result in long-term gain for the people of Fresno.”
- Fresno Bee: The Fresno Bee editorial board wrote an editorial in which it expressed approval of the mayor's increased water rates and the improvements to the water infrastructure of the city for which the extra revenue was earmarked. The board, however, did criticize the mayor and the city for putting up a struggle against the referendum petitioners, arguing that the voters were smart enough to make the right decision themselves. An excerpt from the editorial is below:
“We support the water-rate increases; they are vital to the city’s future. But with these stalling and blocking tactics, Swearengin sends a message that she doesn’t trust Fresno voters to do what’s best for the city."
—Fresno Bee editorial board
Path to the ballot
On July 25, 2014, "Citizens of Lower Water Bills - Yes on Measure W" submitted thousands of signatures to the city clerk.
Doug Vagim said, “It feels great to have the support from fellow citizens as we move forward in our attempt to get on the Nov. 2014 ballot. The city did everything they could to prevent us from our goal but in the end we will prevail.”
Citizens of Lower Water Bills v. City of Fresno:
City of Fresno v. Citizens of Lower Water Bills:
- Local utility tax and fees on the ballot
- Fresno County, California ballot measures
- November 4, 2014 ballot measures in California
- Cal Newsroom, "Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin Raises Water Rates, Then Sues Taxpayers," January 14, 2014
- Banning-Beaumont Patch, "Fresno Taxpayers To Repeal Water Rates," June 26, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.