April 11, 2009 Meeting Summary


E-mail reminder was sent.


Susan C. sent brownies.


5 members


Agenda Items:

The meeting began about 11:25

  • Alameda St power conduit project
    • All the disruption, mess, and damage on Alameda Street and adjacent avenues and lanes during the past month apparently has to do with the contract approved by the City Council on November 24 for “construction of underground electrical conduit equipment along Alameda Street, Sierra Bonita Avenue, and Altadena Drive.”
    • The background given was: “Pasadena Water and Power Department (Department) has begun a capital improvement project to replace the 4 kV distribution system with a17 kV system to improve electrical service reliability. …  The proposed contract will allow the Department to construct the underground substructure necessary to connect the existing underground electrical system to the
      existing overhead electrical system in specified locations within 90 days after a Notice to Proceed is issued.”
    • The only statement at the Council meeting seemed to indicate there is a 4 kV conduit already underground which will be upgraded to 17 kV.  No other information was provided.
    • No improvement or undergrounding of power service to Alameda Street itself should be expected.
  • Water rate and usage regulation changes
    • PWP is expecting a 10 to 15% reduction in its MWD allocation this year.  Any water supplied in excess of the allocation is expected to cost 3 to 5 times as much.
    • The Urban Environmental Accords goals that the city signed up to a couple years ago require a 10% per capita reduction in usage by 2015. Not clear what base year is, but report says it is 198 gallons per day.
    • PWP staff is expecting state wide legislation requiring 20% reduction by 2020.
    • As less water is used, less is paid for water, but infrastructure costs are not reduced, so water rates must go even higher.
    • At Monday 4/13 City Council meeting, the Council is being asked to approve a new water conservation plan, replace the current water shortage procedure ordinance, and set a public hearing for June 8 to approve a new water rate structure and water rate increases.
    • These are items 5D1 and 5D2 on the Council Agenda:
      www.cityofpasadena.net/councilagendas/2009 agendas/Apr_13_09/agenda.asp
    • Here is a summary of the proposals:
      • modify the water block rate structure
        • adding two new rate blocks
        • Block 1 will be “essential use”, at least 8 billing units (5984 gallons) per month, considered to be enough for indoor use by a family of four.  For our size meters this is a 1/3 reduction from the current level of 12 billing units.  The total allocation to block 1 is to be reduced to 35% of total water usage so as to reflect the proportion of total local water used vs imported water.  The pricing for block 1 is then supposed to be based on the cost of our local water.
        • Block 2 will cover an additional 45% of total usage, Block 3 another 10% of usage, block 4 another 5% of usage, and block 5 the highest 5%.
        • For our residences, the blocks work out to:
          Block Billing Units / Month Price / Billing Unit (summer, inside city)
          1   0 –   8 $0.91
          2   9 – 24 $2.50
          3 25 – 34 $3.00
          4 35 – 46 $5.00
          5      > 46 $7.51
        • Block 2  will be priced to reflect the costs of imported water, at this time 275% of the block 1 rate.  The block 3 rate will be 120% of the block 2 rate.  Block 4 will be 200%, and block 5 will be 300% of the block 2 rate.   These ratios would be subject to adjustment based on a five year rolling average of supply costs.
        • Revenues from sales in the 4th and 5th blocks are to be applied to conservation, incentive programs, and development of new supplies.
        • If a water shortage is declared, the normal allocation of water to blocks 2 through 5 would be reduced based on the water conservation goal.  So a 20% water conservation goal would cause the block ranges to be reduced by 20%.  So block 2 would be billing units 9 – 21, block 3 would become 22 – 29, block 4 would go to 30 – 37, block 5 would be 38 and above.
        • If a water shortage is declared, the rate charged for each block 2 through 5 would also go up according to a formula.  The higher the conservation goal, the higher the rise in rates.  For the 20% conservation goal example, the rates would increase by 25%.
      • raise water rates
        • PWP says current water rates are not high enough to meet revenue needs.
        • Proposal would increase fixed monthly D&C and FPS charges this July 1 to gain an overall water charges increase in revenue of 10% starting this July 1, and an additional revenue increase of 8.7% on July 1, 2010.
          The presentation is somewhat misleading because on first read it sounds as if they are only increasing the fixed rate D&C and FPS by 10%.  But studying the chart, they are actually increasing them by almost 51% this year and another 31% next year for an almost doubling of the monthly basic fixed charge.  For example, for the 3/4″ meter size most of us probably are, the monthly charge would increase from $8.17 to $16.14.  Since we are billed every two months, double that is what will show up on the bill.
        • Rate blocks 1 to 3 would be “realigned” to reflect “actual cost” of providing water within each block.  Block 1 is supposed to reflect the cost of local water, which is now only about 35% of total water usage.  Reducing its size should reduce the amount of water covered by it to about 35% of the total.  Block 2 will cover an additional 45% of usage, Block 3 another 10% of usage, block 4 another 5% of usage, and block 5 the highest 5%.
        • the current Purchased Water Adjustment Charge would be combined into the base rate so the PWAC  basis would be 0.  Then it would be increased (or presumably decreased) based on changes in water purchase costs to pass through those costs on an ongoing basis.
        • Reduce the rate differential between service inside and outside the city.  Currently outsiders are charged 35% more; they would be charged 25% more.
        • Reduce the seasonal rate differential from 6% to 3% to better reflect the actual difference in costs.
        • For our small meter sizes (which are 89% of the customers in the city), the effect of the changes for an average customer is said to be a 36% increase in the total bill.   The percentage impact is much less for larger users, even though they use 45% of the water.
        • However, the PWP provided charts and statements don’t seem to correlate with one another.  Either there are errors or they are using different combinations of customer categories and averaging in a confusing manner.
          Doing the math for using 12 billing units per month in summer in the city (probably a minimal amount for those watering yards), the increase (not including taxes and assuming no water shortage is declared) will be about 49% for 2010 vs 2008.  Going from $27.00 to $36.67 to $40.49.  For the actual two month bill, double those numbers, add taxes, then add 10% or so for water shortage rates.  And that is only the water portion of the bill!
        • Although unstated in Monday’s agenda item, the city is also looking to rake off more money from the utility revenue for use by the general fund.  A full 10% of a larger amount.  (They’ve taken less then 10% in recent years.)   It will be interesting to see whether a judge’s recent decision against the city of L.A. for a similar practice of taking from their DWP will impact Pasadena.   The decision seemed to be not that the practice itself is illegal but rather a problem with disclosure on the bills.
      • development of a “budget based” water rate system
        • staff expects to propose this by December 2009 to be in effect by July 2010
        • PWP will categorize customers by usage characteristics such as single family or multi-family residential, and various commercial and industrial classifications.  Based on the characteristics they would assign a water budget.  This would presumably be used for deciding the rates to be paid instead of the fixed blocks based on meter sizes.
      • establish a permanent water waste prohibition ordinance
        • no watering between 9 am and 6 pm except by hand-held container or hand-held hose with a shut-off nozzle, or for a short time during irrigation system repair
        • no watering during rain
        • no “excessive water flow” or runoff
        • no washing down hard or paved surfaces except for safety and sanitary hazards, and then only with bucket, hand-held hose with shutoff nozzle, or special machines
        • fix leaks, breaks, malfunctions within seven days
        • fountains and decorative water features must have recirculating systems
        • vehicle washing only with bucket or hand held hose with shutoff nozzle, or by commercial facility
        • drinking water in restaurants only by request
        • restaurants must use water conserving dish wash spray valves
        • hotels/motels must provide guests option to decline daily linen service
        • buildings requesting new water service cannot use single pass cooling systems
        • commercial car wash systems must have recirculating systems by July 1, 2010
        • Fines start with written warning for 1st offense, then $100 for second offense, increase by additional $100 for each subsequent offense, maxing out at $500.  Fines for commercial are double those for residential.
      • modify the existing water shortage ordinance
        • many of the items in existing ordinance become permanent
        • new ordinance has no water rationing allocations.  Instead it has four levels of shortage, each with more drastic prohibitions on the number of allowed days of watering per week, the time allowed for fixing leaks, breaks, or malfunctions, filling ornamental lakes/ponds, washing vehicles, filling pools, new water service.
        • exempted
          • police and fire use
          • use of recycled water, gray water, or caught rain water
          • maintenance of trees and shrubs or vegetable garden via bucket or hose with hand-held nozzle with shut off device is
          • maintenance of existing landscape for fire protection and soil erosion control
          • maintenance of rare plant materials or those essential to protected species
          • Maintenance of landscape within active public parks and playing fields, school
            grounds, golf course green and day care centers, provided that such irrigation does not exceed two days per week;
          • Actively irrigated environmental mitigation projects.
          • commercial growers
    • additionally, staff is working on
      • adopting a water efficient landscape ordinance
        • By state law, Pasadena must adopt the State Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance by December 2009.  It applies to all landscape construction or modification greater then 2500 sq ft.  It has to do with the planning and permitting process.
      • evaluating a potential requirement to replace fixtures on resale
        • currently doing a study during regular occupancy inspections to estimate how many pre-1992 fixtures remain.   Expect to recommend a replacement on resale requirement by July
      • reviewing gray water system and storm water capture ordinances
        • expect to have recommendations by October, but also waiting for a state process that is developing new standards which aren’t expected until next year.
      • adopting water use limitations and mitigation measures for new development
      • providing incentive rebates for indoor fixtures, irrigation technologies, water efficient landscape and turf replacement
        • The major area for water savings is now outdoors.
      • providing direct installation and distribution of efficient technologies
      • providing water use audits
        • expanding them for commercial.  Will look into expanding residential audits beyond high bill complaints, and also include outdoor usage.
      • providing better water use information and education including better usage data on bills, water use standards or guidelines, efficient usage practice suggestions.  New advertising campaign.
  • Park – new pedestrian walkway planning
    • Latest heard now four weeks ago.
    • “buffer fence” between the proposed pathway and the backyard walls eliminated with the intention instead to landscape that area.  Possibly vines or rock garden or combination.  Should cause less of a tunnel effect for the walkway.
    • Waiting for Dept. of Transportation to come to terms with pedestrians having to access the gate without a sidewalk.
    • Updated drawing
  • Ice Rink project status
    • Nothing new publicly except noticed that the recommended Capital Improvement Program city staff will start presenting to the City Council on Monday April 13 does not show any allocation of funds to the Ice Rink project for fiscal 2010 or 2011.
  • Chick’s sporting goods to become Dick’s
    • Chick’s sporting goods store located in Hastings Village (east side of Sierra Madre Villa) has been running a clearance sale with lots of local advertising.  This sale is expected to last into early May.
    • The Chick’s chain was bought out by another sporting goods chain called Dick’s.
    • This store is supposed to eventually be reopened as a Dick’s.
  • Directory of tradespersons
    • After last month’s discussion, Sharon has put together a draft recommendation form that would be distributed to all the households in the neighborhood and put on the web site.
    • She has been waiting for feedback/possible improvements before printing it.
    • Passed it around at meeting – no comments made.
  • large scale maps
    • Found a couple of large scale maps.  One is about 18″x22″ and is just the neighborhood streets.  We used it at the meeting and it was helpful to point out locations we were talking about.  The other is an old (1985) 36″ x 40″ zoning map of the entire city.  Did not take it to meeting due to cumbersome size.
    • One of these months someone will bring a laptop to the meeting and hook it to the overhead projector and we’ll be able to display all kinds of information large scale to everyone present.
  • scam warnings
    • Lower Your Property Tax
      • The County Assessor is warning about letters being sent out to home owners by private companies to pay them to lower their property tax bills.  Because property values have dropped, properties purchased in recent years may now have a value less then is on the tax roll. Reducing the assessment would result in a lower property tax bill.
      • Property owners do not need to pay anyone to request the assessor to review their property assessment.
        • The assessor is automatically currently reevaluating assessments on all properties purchased in 2003 or later.  Property owners whose assessment is reviewed will receive a letter in June providing the results.
        • Property owners can always request the assessor to review their property assessment for free by filling out a single page form called a “decline-in-value application” available on the assessor’s web site: www.assessor.lacounty.gov.  Or call 888 807-2111 for assistance.
      • Some of the letters are made up to appear to be official letters from the assessor’s office.  Some of these letters are from companies which will take your money and just fill out the assessor’s form that you could fill out for free.  Some of them may be scams to get information from you for other purposes.
    • Automated phone calls
      • Even those of us on the do not call list are getting lots of these calls, even though they would be illegal even if the business was legit.
      • One of them is something about a 2nd notice on an expiring car warranty.
      • One of them is something about a last chance to lower your rate on a credit card
      • There are probably a number of other similar pitches.
      • Notice that they do not identify you by name, they do not identify the card company or the car much less any details that would indicate they are your card company or the holder of your car warranty.  Even those of us without card balances or car warranties are getting these calls.  They are just trying to get you worried or excited and hook you into giving them information they should not get.   They can make thousands and thousands of these calls and even a very few people giving them info will pay off for them.
      • If you get a call from someone claiming to be from your bank, card company, warranty holder, or anyone else you were not expecting a call from, and you think they might actually be legit, take their name and call back on the official number on your statement (not a number they give you).
    • Miscellaneous phone calls
      • There are a lot of construction or other service businesses who seem to have bought homeowner lists from the County and are just calling everyone without regard to the do not call registry.  Some of them don’t care; others mistakenly think the county has already screened the lists.  If you don’t want them calling again, tell them to take you off their list.  Legit businesses will not want to waste their resources calling you if you tell them not to.
      • Charities and political organizations are not subject to the do not call list.  But legit ones will stop calling if you ask them to.  There are increasing numbers of scam artists posing as charities or causes.  Do not give your personal or financial information to people calling you on the phone.
  • 2nd unit ordinance re-examination
    • There are going to be four meetings around the city to discuss the current regulations for the development of second units aka “granny flats” in Single-Family Residential zones in the City.  The debate is whether the regulation should be revised to allow the possibility of more second units, and if so, how.
    • The nearest meeting to us is April 23, 6:30 pm at Victory Park
    • Current regulations (zoning code section 17.50.275) only allow second units on lots 15,000 sq ft or larger that are not in a hillside or landmark district.  (No lot in our neighborhood is that big.)  There are so many restrictions, including such things as having its own two covered parking spaces, that only one permit has been requested and approved in the city in the 5 years since the ordinance was enacted.
  • Proposed “handbill” ordinance
    • The new handbill ordinance comes to the City Council for approval on Monday April 13 as agenda item 8A2.  There were no public commenters when it was proposed to the Council on March 2, but since then there was as least one protester – someone who was part of the lawsuit against the city that invalidated the previous ordinance.
    • In summary, the new ordinance would:
      • Prohibit the distribution of handbills on residential property unless the handbills are properly secured so that they will not be blown about
      • Prohibit the distribution of handbills on residential property if there is placed in a conspicuous location near the entrance a legible sign of at least 16 square inches bearing the words “No Handbills” or a similar notice, subject to certain exceptions;.
      • Permit the handing of any handbill to a person who is willing to accept the handbill; and
      • Establish a rebuttable presumption that the person whose message is on the unlawfully-distributed handbill has violated the ordinance.
  • anything else attendees wish to discuss
    • child safety
      • Recently a high school boy in our neighborhood who takes a public bus to school was followed home from the bus stop by an adult man.  The boy noticed the man following him and told an adult when he reached home.  An adult then kept track of the man while police were called.  Police talked to the man, who was described as delusional.
      • This is a reminder to talk to your children about being alert to what’s going on around them and to report suspicious behavior.  Talk to them about their route(s) to and from school and other places, including issues such as public visibility, places to run for help, walking on the side of the street toward traffic so they can’t be snuck up on by cars.  You should think about how you increase your own safety too.
    • neighbor watch
      • We discussed how important it is to get to know who are neighbors are, who belongs, what’s normal activity and what is out of place, so we can watch out for each other.  Of particular concern are elderly living alone and children.  Question was raised as to whether there is any list of elderly living alone.  No such list exists.
    • recycling & bulky item pickup info
      • The city has updated its web site information on recycling and bulky item pickups.  (Actually they’ve put the yearly trash info brochure online so you can find all that info even when you’ve misplaced it).  It was noted that each household is now allowed two free bulky item pickups per year and that when you call for an appointment they will ask you for a list of items you are disposing of.  (In practice, they will take miscellaneous small items that were not specifically listed – they are mainly concerned about making sure the items are eligible for pickup and making sure they have appropriate pickup capacity.)  The yearly trash brochure includes a list of the types of items allowed for bulky item pickup and those that are not.
      • We also got into discussing the vagaries of when city code inspectors do and don’t cite people for various violations.  Often there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason why they pick one over another.  It may be someone complained, or something they happen to notice while in the area, or an overzealous new inspector (sometimes even exceeding the bounds of what is allowed).
    • e-waste recycling, including ink cartridges
      • Discussed how there are now not only the county collections at the Rose Bowl in June and the race track in August.  The city now has collections every quarter at the Rose Bowl, and many schools and churches have also been having collection events to use to raise money.  Some of these will even come and pickup items for you.  (With the recent decline in value for recyclables, the number of these private collections may drop off in the near term.)
      • Some office stores are periodically running promotions where they will give you a substantial discount for a new printer or computer when you bring them an old one for recycling.  (Read the fine print though – usually the new item has to be over a certain price and sometimes it can’t be an item already on sale.)
      • Ink cartridges can also be recycled at some stores that sell them – particularly those that also sell their own brand of cartridge.  Some will even give you an incentive such as a rebate on next purchase, though they all seem to have reduced the value of those incentives in recent months.

Next meeting is May 9, 2009.

Adjourned about 12:55