Petaluma Sewer Rate Rollback Initiative, Measure U (2010)
If Measure U had been approved, it would have rolled the city's sewer and water rates back to 2006 levels. The increases, which would not have gone into effect if the rollback initiative (Measure U) had been approved, will be phased in over 5 years starting in 2007, raising monthly water bills from $33 to $42 and monthly sewer rates from $44 to $80.
The supporters of Measure U also supported Measure K, which was on the November 4, 2008 ballot. Measure K, which was defeated, also would have rolled back the sewer and water rates in the City of Petaluma.
- These final, certified, election results are from the Sonoma County elections office.
Text of measure
The question on the ballot:
|Shall an ordinance be adopted to reduce city of Petaluma wastewater sewer rates to rates in effect on Jan.1, 2006?|
Lawsuit over ballot language
- See also: 2010 ballot measure litigation
A lawsuit was filed by the City of Petaluma to force a change in the way that supporters of Measure U presented their arguments in the official ballot pamphlet on Measure U.
In the challenged ballot argument, supporters of Measure U said that the city raised sewer rates an average of 20% each year over the past five years, allowed the costs of the plant to grow from $34 million to $160 million and that the city is planning to borrow another $50 million. The city disagreed in its lawsuit, saying that the rate increases averaged 14.3% a year, that the $34 million bid wasn't for the wastewater treatment plant but for a different project and that the loan they intend to take out is for about $27 million, not $50 million.
A Superior Court judge agreed with the city, and ordered some changes made to the ballot arguments.
Former Petaluma councilman Bryant Moynihan and retired pilot James Fitzgerald were leaders in the sewer-rate rollback effort.
Moynihan disputed the contention of those who supported the higher sewer rates that Measure U would cause the City of Petaluma to go into default in August 2010 on the bank loans it took out to pay for the Ellis Creek facility.
The editorial board of the Argus-Courier was opposed to rolling back sewer rates to 2006 levels. In an editorial opposing Measure U published in February 2010, they said that the mere presence of the measure on the November ballot was "already having a severe impact on the city's financial situation" because bond buyers didn't want to buy city bonds given the situation. And, if bond buyers refrained from buying city bonds, this would make it more difficult for the city to sell the bonds it wants to sell to repay the bank loans it took out to build the controversial sewer plant. The bank loans came due in August 2010.
The editors of the newspaper also believed that if voters approved the measure, it would "force the city to default on its multi-million-dollar loan from the state to build its new wastewater treatment plant, have its credit rating shredded and face probable bankruptcy."
Ellis Creek treatment facility
The controversial Ellis Creek treatment facility was built in 2009. It can treat up to 6.7 million gallons per day in it dry weather flow condition. The treatment plant includes nine pumping stations, 192 miles of pipeline and 3,664 manholes. The plant is capable of cleaning 2,200 million gallons annually.
In June 2009, the City of Petaluma hired the Reed Group, a consulting firm from Sacramento, to prepare a study on the city's wastewater rates. The study had not been produced as of May 2010.
Path to the ballot
The signatures to put the initiative on the ballot were collected by a group called "Petalumans for Fair Utility Rates." This group objected to the sewer rate increases that the City of Petaluma imposed to pay for the new Ellis Creek wastewater treatment facility.
- Argus Courier, "Sewer ballot measure already hurting city", February 11, 2010
- Press Democrat, "Petaluma council faces sewer rate ballot decision", October 12, 2009
- Petaluma Press Democrat, "Petaluma City Hall sues to delete or change Measure U ballot argument", August 27, 2010
- KSRO, "Judge Sides With City On Controversial Petaluma Ballot Measure", September 1, 2010
- Petaluma 360, "Measure K supporters may try again Group begins new effort to roll back sewer rates; may gather signatures for future ballot measure", January 8, 2009
- Petaluma Spectator, "No Need To Restructure Wastewater Plant Loan", February 7, 2010
- PFUR challenges need for loan re-structuring
- Petaluma 360, "City’s water rate study set back; Critic says city is intentionally delaying report to sabotage ballot measure", May 20, 2010