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Letter to the Editor: Will Sewer Tax Come Back in New Form?

Piedmont Resident Rick Schiller writes about why Measure A failed and about a "technical advisory group report" that may not exist

The Measure A sewer tax failed by the largest margin anyone can recall. Remarkably, no one at the City and not a single Measure A proponent has ever publicly countered the objections that led to the voter’s rejection. At some point City Hall will place this tax before voters again, therefore some basic points need to be clearly understood as an honest process is now compelled by the overwhelming voter rejection.

The City ballot argument stated the 2011 EPA order required Piedmont to replace its mainline sewers. This is directly contrary to the Federal 2011 Stipulated Order (“SO”), which does not require replacement. My direct email confirmation from the EPA compliance officer overseeing the 2011 SO unequivocally confirms there is no such requirement.

The City's mainline sewer replacement plan is aggressively accelerated, arguably far beyond the replacement program in any other East Bay city. The 1993 Regional Water Board Order required Piedmont to replace about 48% of the mainline sewers by 2014. That work was completed in 2005, well ahead of legal requirement. The 2007 Municipal Tax Committee (“MTRC”) report called this “accelerated.” After this accelerated replacement Piedmont then voluntarily completed another 12% by 2010. City Hall continues to deny the acceleration.

In early 2011 the City gave the MTRC a plan that included accelerated completion of mainline replacement and falsely stated this plan was enforceable at that time. Both the 2011 SO and my direct communication with the EPA confirm that the enforceable plan is the one presented July 15, 2012, well after the Measure A election.

When opposition mounted to Measure A, City Staff met privately in early January with MTRC members to convince them that complete sewer mainline completion by 2020 is required by a “Technical Advisory Group Report.” A subsequent public record request shows this report does not exist.

The Sewer Fund is a slush fund with use beyond sewers. The ordinance placing Measure A on the ballot allows the funds to be used for non-sewer purposes. Nearly half the maintenance workers of the City are paid 100% out of the Sewer Fund. On Jan. 17 City Council transferred $275,000 from general funds for money illegitimately taken from the sewer fund for the private benefit of the Piedmont Hills Undergrounding District. That money was used to pay the contractor to repair the Crest Road washout, despite a careful examination of that incident indicating the washout was likely a result of contractor error. Regardless, the work was described as sewer related and taken from the sewer fund. On Jan. 17, 2012 the money was reclassified as a street repaving cost.

Under the existing sewer tax Piedmont is in full compliance and not subject to any penalties. Chester Nakahara's Feb. 13, 2012 report: "We will continue to complete the required tests, monitoring and reporting that is required for our EPA compliance." The Proponent argument of $2,000 a day fines against Piedmont were a wholly unsubstantiated and tawdry scare tactic. We deserve better.

As confirmed by the EPA, the Vactor Truck was never required by the EPA. The Vactor Truck was reported as required by the EPA in the local print media that works closely with city staff.

By Law taxpayer money may not be used to provide promotional material for a ballot measure. City staff was active in aiding Proponents and promoting Measure A.

The Opponent campaign used the front pages of the Piedmont Post to further its viewpoint. Integral to that campaign was the Post’s reporting of my LWV Jan. 12 Forum remarks that I stated Piedmont would not be subject to EPA compliance. I never stated nor implied this falsehood presented by the Post. Residents can view my remarks at the City website KCOM section.

Despite the calculated and aggressive Proponent campaign, the failure of Measure A is the most dramatic defeat of any parcel tax in decades. Thoughtful observers understand resident dissatisfaction with other recent City processes were also a factor. Voters were able to see past the scurrilous “kill the messenger” attacks in the Piedmont Post against Tom Clark and myself. Despite the heavily biased and false reporting in that paper, our Opponent campaign was well received and understood by Piedmont’s normally tax tolerant electorate who soundly defeated this tax by a margin unprecedented in Piedmont’s history.

Rick Schiller
Piedmont

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