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Civil Grand Jury Finds EBMUD Not Fully Transparent on Rate Increases

An Alameda County Civil Grand Jury investigation has found that EBMUD has not been sufficiently transparent in asking for rate increases. (Google Street View)

An Alameda County Civil Grand Jury investigation has found that EBMUD has not been sufficiently transparent in asking for rate increases. (Google Street View)

An Alameda County Civil Grand Jury investigation has bound that the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) has not been sufficiently transparent in disclosing information about rate increases.

The Civil Grand Jury launched an investigation pursuant to a succession of rate increases for many years, including an increase approved by the utility’s board in June of 2013, which will see a compounded water rate increase of more than 20 percent over two years.

Water and sewer agencies benefit from a loophole in Proposition 218, passed by California voters in 1996. These agencies are exempt from securing approval of rate increases through a public vote.

As the grand jury report notes, “the public’s only recourse to a rate increase is for more than 50% of the affected residents to submit protest letters. These letters must be submitted prior to the board’s vote on the rate increase. EBMUD has 384,000 ratepayers. There is no reasonable probability that 192,000 people would be motivated to submit such protest votes.”

The report notes that water rates increased 104 percent from 2003 to 2014.

The grand jury found that the utility “failed to sufficiently explain to the public the underlying reasons for the June 11, 2013 rate increase” and that the utility board’s daytime meetings at a single meeting location, as well as the utility’s failure to record or live-broadcast meetings, has limited public participation in rate increase decisions.

The report recommends that EBMUD provide the public with more a more complete and an objective analysis to support future rate increases, and that the governing board provide better public access to meetings, by broadcasting or live-streaming meetings, recording meetings and making them available online, and by holding meetings at times and locations more convenient for more members of the public.

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