City Council’s Christmas Gift is a Utility Rate Hike; Moratorium Enacted on Legal Pot Sales; Van Gent Family Honored; STEM Scholarships OK’d; and Sewer Service Denied for a Tierra Oaks Project

Redding City Council members channeled their inner Grinch on Tuesday and voted to put a lump of coal in every ratepayer’s stocking beginning in the new year.

With a 5-0 vote, the council approved rate increases for sewer, garbage and water services. Combined, the new rates are expected to add $11.22 to the monthly utility bill for the average single-family house beginning in January. The bill will increase by another $4.49 in the 2017-18 fiscal year and go up again by $4.70 in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Protest ballots were sent to ratepayers who then had 45 days to mail in their objections; ballots that were not returned were counted as “yes” votes. If the protest ballot tally reached 50 percent or higher, the council would have been barred from raising rates.

City Clerk Pamela Mize and her crew counted the ballots last week. On Tuesday she reported that some 39 percent of the approximately 26,600 water and wastewater ballots had been returned and 35 percent of the 28,949 solid waste ballots. The 50-percent-plus-one threshold had not been met.

Greg Washburn, a frequent critic of rate hikes, questioned the protest ballot methodology. “Do you honestly believe 16,000 people actually voted to raise their bill by $11 a month?” he asked, calling the ballots misleading and expressing the concern that ratepayers may not have known that not responding was the same as a yes vote.

Councilwoman Julie Winter.

Councilwoman Julie Winter. Photos by Jon Lewis.

“This isn’t about what we want, it’s a matter of need,” said Councilwoman Julie Winter. It’s not enough that Redding simply owns its utilities, she said, “but we have to care for them too. We have to manage this resource for the long term.”

Councilwoman Francie Sullivan agreed with her colleague. “I, too, want to be sure we have safe water and toilets that flush.” Councilwoman Kristen Schreder called the rate increase “conservative” and well-supported.

Public Works Director Brian Crane said the rate increases, which were reviewed by a citizens committee, are needed to replace aging wells, pipes and other equipment. The biggest increase—a $5-a-month hike for water—is the result of a court ruling that bars utilities from using a tiered water rate system. The tiered rate structure was in response to California’s drought.

Council members Francie Sullivan and Brent Weaver.

Council members Francie Sullivan and Brent Weaver.

In a busy session Tuesday, the council also:

Marijuana moratorium

–Voted 5-0 to enact an immediate 45-day moratorium on the outdoor cultivation, processing, testing, storage and retail use of recreational marijuana. City Attorney Barry DeWalt recommended the moratorium to give the city time to figure how it will regulate the cultivation and sales of pot.

The issue surfaced on Nov. 8 when California voters approved Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. The day after the election, it became legal for adults to possess and use marijuana and to grow up to six plants indoors.

Redding’s moratorium does not apply to authorized medical marijuana users, nor does it prohibit the indoor cultivation of six or fewer plants, DeWalt said.

DeWalt said Prop 64 gives local governments significant local control over the cultivation, manufacture, processing, delivery, storage and retail sale of non-medical marijuana. He said it’s important to exercise that control before the state begins issuing licenses, which is supposed to happen no later than Jan. 1, 2018.

City Manager Kurt Starman said the city will give a more complete presentation on Prop 64 sometime in January in a community forum setting.

A handful of speakers supported the moratorium to allow for a thoughtful review of Redding’s policies, but they also voiced support for the opening of licensed dispensaries. Holly Link said tax proceeds from the pot stores could easily provide Redding with the $1.1 million a year that was anticipated in the recently defeated Measure D sales tax increase.

Brad Thompson said that extra revenue could be used to address Redding’s growing heroin and methamphetamine-related crime issues.

Linda Gisske, a retired Redding police officer, spoke in opposition to retail sales in Redding. She said she has long opposed the legalization of marijuana and, based on a career’s worth of conversations with drug addicts, she considers pot a gateway drug.

Linda Gisske.

Linda Gisske.

DeWalt said the moratorium can be extended up to two years if needed, “but I don’t intend to move that slowly.”

Mayor Brent Weaver said speed isn’t his worry. “I’m less concerned with hurrying it along than I am in getting it right,” he said. “This is a whole new ballgame and we want to make sure we proceed in the best interests of the city,” agreed Sullivan.

Redding family lights it up

–At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Weaver presented the Mayor’s Certificate of Recognition to Redding’s Van Gent family after their dazzling Christmas light display captured a trophy and a $50,000 prize on ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” contest.

Mayor Brent Weaver with the Van Gent family.

Mayor Brent Weaver with the Van Gent family.

Michelle Van Gent said the show’s producers contacted the family and asked them to participate and that, win or lose, she thought it would be a good opportunity to bring some positive attention to Redding.

She also expressed thanks for her neighbors’ patience as people arrive nightly in droves to admire the choreographed light display. The Van Gent home is located at 2499 El Verano St.

STEM scholarships

–Voted 5-0 to approve Redding Electric Utility’s “Powering Redding’s Future College Scholarship and Technical School Grant Program.” The program, which will award $50,000 in scholarships to 18 high school seniors, is intended to encourage more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The ultimate goal is to groom north state youth for jobs with Redding’s electric utility, Assistant City Manager Barry Tippin said. Learn more about the scholarship program here.

Village at Tierra Oaks

–With a 4-1 vote, the council denied a request for wastewater service from developers of a proposed 89-unit gated community just north of the city limits.

Marcus Partin had asked the council to extend wastewater treatment services to his 56-acre subdivision and the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the extension, but the council sided with city planners who worried that extending services outside city limits would set a harmful precedent.

Marcus Partin.

Marcus Partin.

Mayor Weaver said he was sympathetic towards the developer, called the Villages at Tierra Oaks a “top-notch project” and praised Partin’s team of engineers, but he said he feared an approval would lead to more and more requests for municipal services outside Redding’s city limits. “There will always be another project just across the street,” he said. The council’s job, he added, is to keep city utilities safe and affordable.

It would be easy and popular to say yes, Councilwoman Winter said, but contributing to Redding’s sprawl looms as a red flag. “This will open up a can of worms,” she said.

Councilwoman Sullivan noted that there are some 2,500 lots in the city limits that are already approved for homes and that Partin’s project could proceed without city sewage service, although that would require construction of a private sewage treatment plant.

Tim MacLean of Sharrah Dunlap Sawyer said most of those lots were approved during the real estate bubble of 2005-2006 and that they are not economically feasible in today’s market. In addition, from a land-use planning perspective, MacLean said taking advantage of Redding’s existing wastewater treatment pipe is much less disruptive than building a treatment plant.

Longtime Tierra Oaks residents Brian Hicks and Don MacDonald both spoke in favor of Partin’s request and said his project would be a welcome asset to the north Redding community.

Councilman Adam McElvain, without commenting on the issue, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.
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