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By Miriam Raftery


May 19, 2009 (San Diego's East County)--Helix Water Board’s management withheld 68 letters sent by ratepayer from at least one Board member until after a vote was taken on rate hikes at the April 27 meeting. Below are excerpts from those letters. All opposed the rate hikes; many accused the board of unfairly targeting homeowners over businesses, particularly owners of large properties even if they have already reduced water consumption sharply.

There is still time to submit public comments prior to May 27, when the Board is expected to finalize proposed steep rate increases and delivery a doubly whammy for some residents by also eliminating cheaper irrigation metering for residential customers.

“This proposed tiered pricing mechanism is unfair to many Helix Water District ratepayers as it imposes an unfair burden on large families and owners of large lots.” – form letter sent by several dozen different ratepayers

“My brother and I are both in our late 70s and on Social Security. We have more than 25 fruit and nut trees (some of which are 40 years old) as well as vegetable gardens. After eating and canning the fruit and vegetables for our own use, the excess is donated to senior nutrition programs and food banks…At the proposed Domestic rate of even level 1, the resulting water bill would bankrupt us unless we kill all our trees and abandon our garden—although doing so would require added outlays at the market to replace that which we had grown for our consumption.” – Carl Schirmer, El Cajon (who shares his property with three generations in his extended family)

“I oppose the proposed water rate increase because I am the mother of 5 kids, and I cannot afford to be paying more for my bills. My husband just got laid off from his job, and it’s been hard enough as it is.” – Niram Mashkour, El Cajon

“If there really was a serious water shortage in San Diego County, there would be a moratorium on building more darn houses. The water districts are money gouging bureaucracies who have to account to no one and are out of control.” – Shirley Watkins, owner, Shady Lane Trailer Park, El Cajon

“We are a non-profit therapeutic riding program for handicapped children. We are below your requested usage level but that is irrelevant to the fact that what you are proposing is unfair. Hold every customer to the same standard and ask them to conserve the same percentage. If they don’t conserve as you are asking, then penalize them! Don’t penalize only the property owners for owning property and then ask nothing of all your apartments and condos that have no reason to conserve because you expect the larger landowners to save their share as well! It’s wrong.” --David Carter, program director, Horsemanship for the Handicapped, La Mesa

I have covered my pool in order to reduce the amount of water required. If I were to drain the pool, the surrounding earth would cause thousands of dollars of damage to the pool due to buckling. For almost a year, my outside watering has been at 40% and 50% of normal watering levels and 0% during and after rains. Furthermore, at least 1/3 of my property has been fallowed, is not irrigated at all, and about a dozen fruit trees have been allowed to die due to not watering. To charge us more per unit for water for domestic users than to charge commercial and government users is wrong. ” –David C. Wilson, El Cajon

“We are operating the last orchard in Lemon Grove. It is considered to be a historic site by both the Lemon Grove Historical Society and the City of Lemon Grove. When we inherited the property, we were advised to split the lot and sell. After much consideration, we decided to carry on the tradition our grandparents built. Perhaps not a good decision, yet truly a labor of love—one that is appreciated by hundreds of people. Our delicious fruit is consumed by seniors, who count on it year-round. We donate fruit to the Ronald McDonald House children and their families…We have cut back to the absolute minimum to save the orchard…But the proposed rate increase will destroy the orchard as we are currently having difficulty making the water payments in the summer months…Technically we are not a “business” as we donate the fruit. However…we are asking for commercial rates for the orchard.” – Susan and Clifford Brandt, owners, “Old Dunn Orchard,” Lemon Grove

“How could it be deemed equitable that an owner of multiple acres can get a 100% plus increase, whereas an owner with little or no yard would receive a 22% increase? What is the incentive for the vast majority of homeowners that have smaller or common area sites to conserve our precious resource when there is a disproportionate monetary increase? The only fair solution would be to apply a flat per unit rate that would apply to all domestic users. A flat rate would: 1. Cover the projected costs, 2. Factor in 10% or more conservation, and 3. Ensure that everyone conserves water. -- Robert Dykmans, El Cajon

“Property values in the Mt. Helix area will certainly drop with the rate increase you are talking about. Owners, like myself, who have large lots (1.25 acres) will most certainly have to let a large portion of the landscaping die…I guess that the larger lot owners are going to be subsidizing the smaller lot owners…at least until we can help elect different board members.” – Alan Foster, La Mesa

“We have 7/8 of an acre upon which we raise fruit trees, vegetables, and ornamental plants. We raise and sell hundreds of plants every year. Since 75% to 80% of our water is used for irrigation, do we qualify for the irrigation rate that your water district has? We received your note that water rates may go up. This would put a financial burden upon us if it happens.” – John Zimmerman, Spring Valley

“My wife and I are …semi-retired as missionaries and do not have a lot of money—just enough to barely get by … I try to grow a few vegetables to eat a little more economically, but with this increase I will not be able to do that, so please show a little compassion…- David Jaynes, El Cajon

“I would like to commend you on your recent decisions to eliminate tier 5 from the water rate schedule…and the change in the implementation of the new rates until August 1st, 2009…Special kudos to Directors Verbeke and Hedberg for their tenacity in opposition to rushing the rate schedule plan to fruition without assessing the input from the customer. The Helix Water District water study…was conducted without solicitation of public input and assessment of the different requirements of the user i.e., family size, parcel size, erosion, sustainment of large animals, fire protection zones, climate, etc…It appears the Domestic (single family residential) customers are being targeted to shoulder more than their fair share of the water crisis…-- Gordon Place, El Cajon

“Ratepayers are already financially stressed by a catastrophic economy that has resulted in unemployment and rising costs in every area of life…Moreover we don’t understand why water conservation isn’t mandatory. Why should people have lawns in a semi-arid region? Why should so many golf courses be permitted?” – Jack and Helen Ofield, Lemon Grove

“Unlike other districts, there is no consideration of past homeowners’ attempts to conserve…I have reduced my usage almost 40% …Many of my neighbors with large lots have done the same, and we are at the breaking point…What position has HWD taken regarding the issue of reduced shipment from the Sacramento Delta? Has there been any effort to challenge the endangered species doctrines to place the people’s need equal to the needs of a finger-sized fish?...What is HWD’s position on gray water? Is there any reason that we cannot recycle our shower and sink-water drainage to supplement irrigation? Many areas across the USA have made this work. Why is HWD not promoting this? What is HWD doing, or propose, to take advantage of the street drain water headed for the ocean?” – Wade Stone, El Cajon

“I have an acre of property with 25+ fruit trees and avocado trees. I have a family of 4 and there is a swimming pool. With what you are proposing, I would have to cut my usage by 75% over the summer to even come close to your “average” usage. I am all for conservation, but ask us to conserve the same amount and hit us with penalties if we don’t. You are penalizing people who have property before you even start asking us to conserve. It’s wrong!...I cut back my winter usage by 50% from last year to this year…my grass is dying and much of my landscape will follow suit.” – David Carter, El Cajon

“…we don’t see where you have taken into consideration the size of families, whether or not they are seniors, the size of the acreage that they live on, or whether or not someone has a pool. It seems that one is penalized if they don’t live on a standard lot in a neighborhood with little space between houses.” – Thomas and Margaret Dennison, El Cajon

“We already conserve enough water-how much money is enough for you people? Cut your staff, cut your services, why don’t you try cutting back for once. Quit coming to the already over taxed, over fees, consumer. We have had enough!” – Hoyt T. McGarity, Lakeside

“We are a combined home, with two families living in a new home. We work hard at trying to conserve water. We purchased all new water & energy-saving devices while building. ..However we have not landscaped our yard yet. When that happens, our usage will go up, and we will be penalized. None of this is equitable.” – Sally Reynolds, La Mesa

“I live on S.S.I. and Social Security disability from check to check… I had a brain tumor years ago and walk with a pick-up walker and have horrible left vision problems….I’ve worked and my parents have worked hard all our life to have what we have—all these increase in water each year is absolutely ridiculous. I have spent over $500 in auto-sprinkler repairs…I have cut my gardening (vegetables) in half to save water. Whose going to buy my food? I’ll need food stamps! I have 10 water auto sprinklers and the other I water with my pickup walker and it’s very dangerous whenever the hose tangles around my walker …The Helix Water District should give a discount to all seniors and people on extreme fixed income on their water bills—all the other utilities does[sic]—AT&T –Cox Cable—San Diego Gas & Electric, & EDCO Disposal…you should set up a fund to help fixed-income people to help pay their water bills. “ - Rosemond Lo Preste, L a Mesa

“We have been very careful with your water. We have a rock landscape with few thirsty plants…We have low flow toilets and same for showers. Dish washer runs low-water setting, only when stuffed, same for washer.”— Marily Brucker, El Cajon

“Recently we provided the homeless with 500 pounds of fruit from a mini grove in our backyard. With a water rate increase, we’ll have to cut back on watering the trees first and not be able to provide for the homeless….The proposed rate increase, as published, is just an estimate and it appears you’re jumping the gun to hit our pocketbooks during the summer highest water usage. That’s an unconstitutional rip-off! We’re retired and on a fixed income…a 20% increase is beyond our budget. What would you do to continue to provide for the homeless?” – Donna and Edward Beckley, La Mesa

“Other alternatives should be considered such as desaltation plants, cuts in agricultural water use, and more pumping of water from the North. This board and others in Southern California need to do more to address these issues rather than to raise rates for no other reason then to receive more cash. It does not bring any more water to our district.” – Daniel C. Owens, La Mesa

“We have most measures in play you discussed and are continually updating our habits and irrigation system. Unfortunately and fortunately we live on 1.1 acres.” – Sue Daniels, master gardener, past docent at Cuyamaca Water Conservation Garden

“I would like to call for a public vote for the proposed rate increase.”— Malfrid Wassdahl, Lemon Grove

“We have done everything possible to reduce our consumption, including the installation of the low flow faucets on the shower heads, new high efficient rotator nozzles, and a climate weather monitor for the irrigation system. We are opposed to this water rate increase proposal by Helix Water District.”— William M. Woolman, El Cajon

“Helix water operates in a known desert area and to date has not demonstrated any initiative in devel9oping/exploring any new forms of water renewal, water storage or capture…Each year we watch as millions of gallons flow down storm drains to the sea, why isn’t this water captured?...Why aren’t laws put forth to require new construction projects to use porous materials in driveways, parking lots, etc. that capture and allow runoff water to more readily sink into the ground o replenish the groundwater supply. How about the use of waterless urinals, rain gutters, rain barrels, real tax incentives for artificial lawns, elss highway landscape projects, pipelines/aqua ducts from snowy regions such as Canada or mountainous US regions etc…the possibilities are endless, yet Helix Water remains silent. “ – Randy Matkowski, El Cajon

“In 2004, we installed artificial grass front and back yards at a cost of $11,000. This drastically reduced our water consumption. A further reduction of water usage would be impossible.” – Karl W. Young, El Cajon

“I am 77 years old, on a very limited income…There is no lawn. Having taken several xeriscape classes at Cuyamaca College, I have planted drought tolerant plants, succulents, and junipers. Last year one of my bi-monthly bills took 1/8 of my monthly income. It’s true that I left a hose on for 2 days. At my age, memory isn’t what it used to be. So this year a similar mistake will cost me ¼ of my monthly income.” – Dana M. Burak, La Mesa

“Our tenants are trying to conserve water already…to punish our tenants and other families already faced with reduced work hours, loss of benefits and in some cases a loss of employment is unfair…We pay the water bill and pass the amount on to our tenants, with any proposed increase we will be force to pass this increase along.” – Michael and Beverlee Steiding (owners of a duplex in Lemon Grove)

“This house and property have been here for 37 years. When I moved here, we had 40 fruit trees. All but two are now dead, as we cut back on water…I am really astounded that property owners of older, larger homes are going to suffer and have lower property values as a result of the endless development of tract homes on small properties…I suggest new businesses and home developments move to places where there are identified water sources rather than force the rate increases on existing residents.” – Lesley McClelland, El Cajon

“We don’t know why you are declaring war on larger lots. Our water usage averaged 74 units and if our land had been divided into ¼ acre parcels, the usage would increase to 132 units according to your average… The only reason we can come up with for your punitive rate schedule is that you believe those with larger lots have more money and can absorb a 57% increase better than those with smaller lots. This isn’t necessarily true. We are retired and on a fixed income.” – Dick and Gail Nye, El Cajon

“The financial increases which you would burden water users are totally inconsistent with those increases of surrounding water districts. I have lived in my home for 35 years and the increases that you have suggested would be an unbearable financial burden to me. I have an acre and 2/3rds and I have always been responsible for maintaining my property in a way that minimizes what could be a disastrous fire hazard, while simultaneously treating water use as a precious resource.” – R.J. Casale, El Cajon

“We have a koi pond…which receives backwashing once per week. That drops the water level which must be replaced by running ½ hours worth of water.” – Pattie Wertheimer, El Cajon

“According to the Department of Water Resources’ California Data Exchange Center, the Sierra snowpack levels as of March 1, 2009 are excellent. Further, based on the rainfall data, there is no multi-year drought. The truth is that the so-called “water shortage” has been entirely created by Socio-Political activists…By increasing rates, the District has not increased the supply of water to its customers. It merely requires customers to pay more for less, all justified through scare tactics and lies.”— Cole & Liise Davis, El Cajon

“We are large lot owners—our property measuring in excess of 1 ¼ acres. We use drip irrigation,water-smart meters, water in darkness hours, and restrict our watering to every-other day for 6 minutes. We zeri-scaped much of our property by using ground cloth covered with rocks and boulders, planted cactus, drought tolerant native plants and shrubs, and implemented recommended water conservation techniques while maintaining control of the sloped land…Under the current proposed water use rules, despite these measures we will not be considered for the “super saver” category because of the volume of our water use…We pay tax for the size and value of the lot, but do not feel it is justifiable to be charged a higher rate than others who simply own less land.” – Lee and Sarah Rogers, El Cajon

“Our first reason for opposing these changes is the anticipated water increase isn’t known yet…We also oppose the proposed resolution authoring “staff” to pass through future increases imposed by the supplying districts and authorities…We no longer trust our representatives to provide tight fiscally responsible oversight.” – John and Phyllis Griffin, El Cajon

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