SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Californians could see their water bills increase under a measure passed by lawmakers Thursday.
The legislative bill approved by the state Assembly would let local governments charge residents for storm water management systems without voter approval.
Supporters of the measure say it will help cities and counties prevent flooding and save water. Opponents say it violates Californians’ right to vote on taxes.
Gov. Jerry Brown must sign the legislation for it to become law. Under the bill, local governments could charge residents to construct storm water control facilities, which divert and store rain runoff.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher said such infrastructure could have protected against the flooding in San Jose earlier this year that caused an estimated $73 million in damage. The San Diego Democrat said the measure clarifies that the definition of sewer water includes rain runoff.
California law subjects local fees and taxes to voter approval, but exempts charges related to “sewer, water, and refuse collection services” so communities can charge residents for facilities like sewage treatment plants without a vote.
It’s unclear how much the measure could cost residents because fees would vary by community.
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association, said the bill subverts the will of Californians who passed the proposition in 1996 requiring votes on taxes and fees.
“It’s a direct contravention to Proposition 218, the right to vote on taxes,” he said. “It would deprive California voters and property owners of the ability to have a say (on) storm water runoff fees.”
The bill squeaked out of the Assembly with the minimum 41 votes it needed to pass. Gonzalez Fletcher and the bill’s author Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat from Van Nuys, rushed around the Assembly floor persuading hesitant members to support the bill for several minutes as votes were tallied.