At the same time, that dollar amount is far less than a 740 percent rate increase some residents say was proposed in a water rate study released in the summer.
Members of the resident committee, appointed by Western Hills Water District president Guillermo Marrero, elicited mixed reactions as they discussed their findings during a Jan. 18 homeowners association meeting. Presenters said they spent nearly 2,000 hours reading through documents and talking with water district officials before they reached their conclusions.
“I would think that after so many hours of investigation, they could tell me what my water bill would be,” said Dan Trade, a resident who sat on a committee that opposed and defeated previous water and sewage rate increases last year.
Committee member Laura Frost stressed that the task of proposing a new water rate will be left up to homeowners, and there will be an informational meeting Feb. 5.
“Hopefully, people have a better understanding of what we’re faced with and what the facts are,” Frost said immediately after last week’s meeting.
Homeowners became frenzied over water rates in June, when a study proposed the sevenfold increase in costs as well as a spike in sewage rates. More than half of Diablo Grande’s homeowners sent in letters of protest around that time to defeat those proposals in accordance with Proposition 218, which requires utility districts allow customers to respond and, potentially, defeat rate proposals with protest letters.
After that vote, Western Hills Water District president Guillermo Marrero handpicked people for a water rate committee from among a group that had urged the defeat of the proposed charges.
While the Western Hills Water District approved a sewage rate increase in November, the water district has since taken last summer’s water rate recommendations off the table.
Committee members say the previous rate proposal would have unfairly charged Diablo Grande’s 422 homeowners with the cost of providing water to nearly 1,400 households that will exist at the end of the project’s first phase. Instead, they sought to determine how much it actually costs to provide water for the typical Diablo Grande home.
Residents pay $1.25 for every 750 gallons they use, in addition to a $35 monthly flat fee — about $51.38 per month for the average household, according to the group.
It’s difficult to compare those rates to those in Patterson, where residents pay a tiered use rate, Frost said. However, Diablo Grande residents pay more on average, committee member Bob Russell said, at least in part because water must go up about 1,000 feet in elevation to reach dwellers in the hilly community.
“That’s not a lot of money, but it’s a lot more money than surrounding communities pay for their water,” he said of the $51.38 monthly average.
Still, Russell and other committee members said they were pleasantly surprised at how low the cost turned out to be compared with the summer’s rate study. The committee considered how much the district must spend to buy water, treat it and move it to homes, as well as administration and payroll costs — a total of about $2.5 million in the past fiscal year.
But not everyone was pleased with the committee’s findings.
Local developer John Ramos, a Diablo Grande resident, said the new estimated costs still seemed too high. He maintained that World International, which purchased Diablo Grande in 2008, should bear a greater share of the price of water. Company representatives must have been aware that the water district had an annual deficit when they bought the development, he said.
“We need to figure out a way to shave that cost,” Ramos said.
Officials with Laurus Corp., which manages the property for World, contend that the company already spends about $25,000 each day to run the development, in addition to the $20 million it initially paid.
Ramos also took issue with a comment by homeowners association president Gary Chase that suggested Ramos and attorney Richard Mowery, who lives part time at Diablo Grande, were part of the district’s committee.
Both Mowery, who filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission about the water district’s governing practices, and Ramos said the committee never told them about its meetings, and they had no part in the figures presented this week.
Ramos said he wanted to participate, but committee members have not kept in contact since November and also failed to notify him about a meeting they had earlier in the week.
Both Frost and Russell contended that Ramos’ involvement with the committee gradually dwindled over time and ceased, and that he never reached out to fellow committee members about meeting times.
“We need to get beyond all this negativity,” Frost said. “We need to find new ways to work with each other.”
Mowery, meanwhile, said he could not properly form an opinion about the figures presented at last week’s homeowners meeting without more information.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the underlying data at this (Feb. 5) workshop so I can analyze it and come up with my own conclusion,” Mowery said.
Likewise, resident Mark Hill said it would be nice if the committee had offered a more concise breakdown of the figures. Residents would prefer no increase in water rates, he said, but the figures presented last week were at least an improvement over the numbers discussed in the summer.
“The amount they were asking for in June was astronomical,” Hill said.
Both Frost and Russell say they hope to bring their neighbors up to speed with background information before the upcoming workshop, though they were not clear as of this week about how or when that would happen. They also said they wanted to get feedback for a proposed water rate at the upcoming meeting, but it was not clear whether that would happen.
Regardless, they both held high hopes for the meeting and desired as many residents to attend as possible.
“I’m very optimistic that we’ll solve this problem and that World is going to work with us,” Russell said.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Editor's note: The version of this article that appeared in the Patterson Irrigator contained an error. It was Richard Mowery and John Ramos who said they were not invited to the ad-hoc committee meetings. For further clarification, only Mowery was involved in the Fair Political Practices Commission complaint.