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June 20, 2018
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Cotati to oppose Senate bills

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
May 25, 2018

The Cotati City Council decided Tuesday evening to send letters of opposition for Senator Bill Dodd’s two passion projects, Senate Bill 1088, a bill that would potentially create pricey constraints on small locally owned utilities such as Sonoma Clean Power and Senate Bill 988, an already existing law that would extend the delinquency period for residents who have failed to pay their water bill. Under advisement from City Manager, Damien O’Bid and city staff, the council came to a general consensus that while the bills do have good intentions, the key concerns are too great to be forgone and so council moved to oppose the bills unless they are amended.

There were concerns centered around each bill. City staff said as currently written the Office of Emergency Services Bill creates concerns regarding the potential of “unlimited” Investor Owned Utility expenses. Investor Owned Utilities are privately owned gas and electric providers versus non-profit public utilities, which are managed by elected officials and public employees. 

There’s also the concern that SB 1088 would limit the implementation of Distributed Energy Resource programs, which are smaller and tend to be locally owned power plants that use clean energy such as solar power.

Sonoma Clean Power for instance is one such program that provides clean power energy to local cities such as Cotati and could be affected by this bill.

“Locally, Sonoma Clean Power is currently working with the bill author to clarify. At this time, the league of California Cities has taken a ‘watch’ position on this bill,” according to an agenda item report by City Manager Damien O’Bid.

O’Bid explained why the city opposes this bill’s language and why these concerns are significant. 

“1088 is (relating to) more than just Cotati, it is for the whole region. It would try to limit distributed energy programs like small local programs... Solar has become more popular and there are new energy sources that do not generate as much Greenhouse Gases and are more resilient,” O’Bid explained in an interview. “We’re part of Sonoma Clean Power, which purchases power and distributes it to the cities and we use that. The way it (the bill) is currently written, it would limit the ability to do that.”

If passed as is, the bill would require the Office of Emergency Services to establish certain standards for reducing risks for a major event, such as a wildfire. The adopted standards would have to include policies for managing aspects such as defensible space and any other actions taken by an electric or gas corporation or locally owned utility that would reduce the risk of fire “in a major event.” Essentially, this might mean added expenditures for local companies such as Sonoma Clean Power, which may make it difficult for them to meet added costs.

The other senate bill, SB 988, has a more direct connection and effect on Cotati if passed.

The bill, which is an already existing bill, would add an amendment that would in short that would lengthen the terms of delinquency for water bills.

As stated in the agenda report, “the bill would prohibit an urban and community water system from discontinuing residential service for nonpayment until a payment by a customer has been delinquent for at least 60 days.”

The deferred payment plan would give more time for delinquent customers, however, that added time would also mean that their delinquent bills would continue to add up, adding to their debt over a long period of time.

Cotati Mayor Mark Landman said he believes there is good intention behind the bill, however, if 60 days were added then a person would continue to get services without having to pay for an extended payment of time.

“We believe that it is a very well intentioned bill but for our municipality we already provide cost options for people who cannot pay and this would (mean) that other ratepayers would have to carry the costs,” Landman said. “And for 1088, it is a bill that seems to have to do with a change in safety plans (for utilities) and for our region that would be good, but we are concerned that it would put constraints on local utilities (such as Sonoma Clean Power).” 

Currently, the city sends out bills on a bi-monthly schedule with bills being sent out around 14 days following the close of the last cycle. If bills remain unpaid after 30 days, the person will receive a late notice and if after seven days the bills still are not paid, then water will be shut off.

O’Bid says the city has already generously extended their delinquency period and has programs to help people pay their bills.

“This bill would take the problem further,” O’Bid said. The League of California Cities has also taken an “oppose unless amended” stance on the bill. 

In a drafted letter to Senator Dodd from Director of State Legislature Relations Association of California Water Agencies, Wendy Ridderbusch, Legislative Representative California Special Districts Association, Rylan Gervase, Legislative Representative League of California Cities, Erin Evans-Fudem and several other entities, the letter expresses the main reason as to why there is so much opposition.

“The bill would completely change the practice of water purveyors who currently undertake multiple protocols to ensure that water service is discontinued for non-payment only when a customer fails to follow through,” the letter states.   

According to Landman, Senator Dodd did make one amendment towards the bill, however, there are still changes to the bill that local municipalities are hoping will be made.

Landman also said that a number of other cities in Sonoma County such as Sebastopol and Windsor will most likely follow in Cotati’s footsteps and send letters of opposition to Sacramento.

“We had a big meeting with all the cities on Friday and we indicated that we would oppose it and then we brought it down to the individual cities,” Landman said. He also mentioned that Tuesday’s night discussion of the bills was production and that council members unanimously agreed to oppose the two bills. 

O’Bid said of the matter, “It is important to let our feelings be known before it gets to the governors’ desk.”