Water-rate system criticized 

A coalition of neighborhood groups is calling a new tiered water-rate system a "family tax," while the city agency that adopted the rate structure defends the pricing as a conservation incentive and the best way to raise money to pay for capital improvements.

Traditionally, The City’s Public Utilities Commission has charged a uniform rate per unit, or 748 gallons, of water used.

In an effort to raise money to help pay for the aging water system’s seismic upgrade and water storage improvements, the commission approved new water rates May 8, including a tiered pricing system that would impact only single family homes. The new pricing system would go into effect July 1, unless the Board of Supervisors intervenes and rejects it.

Under the new pricing system, it would cost $2.08 per unit for the first three units of water used each month, $2.50 for the fourth though tenth units and $3.83 for every additional unit. Those numbers will increase in the subsequent year to $2.28, $2.89 and $4.80. The SFPUC estimates that the average family household uses seven units of water per month.

SFPUC spokesman Tony Winnicker said the tiered rate system is meant to "encourage conservation" of water. "The income has got to come from somewhere. Conservation rates are a way to express our values of The City and conform with the best practices that the state recommends," he said.

"This is so unfair it makes my blood boil," said Joan Girardot, of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods. She said the tier rates are "fundamentally unfair" because they penalize larger families, since they will have to pay more even if they are using the same amount ofwater per person as a smaller household.

SFPUC estimates that 88 percent of its water customers would wind up paying first- and second-tier rates.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier has requested a hearing on the water rates, which will likely take place on June 4 before the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

She said she would introduce a resolution Tuesday rejecting the water rates. The resolution could be voted on as early as June 5 by the full board, depending on the outcome of the committee hearing.

"We do see this as a tax on families," Alioto-Pier said. "I realize [SFSFPUC has] to do something. They need to convince us that our families are not going to be unduly burdened."

The uniform water rate for multi-family buildings would increase on July 1 from the $1.97 per unit of water to $2.48, and increase to $2.87 per unit in the subsequent year.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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