Coastal Voices: Poor residents can't pay more for water

By Katherine Kelly September 27, 2013 01:50 pm

I am the organizer of the Prop. 218 protest against the proposed water rate increase, and my reason for this action is to represent the 46 percent of the Crescent City population that lives at or below the federal poverty limit, which as anyone in that group knows, it’s a constant struggle for survival.

The majority of Crescent City citizens have an annual income of $30,000 or less. Of that group, those with an annual income of $10,000 or less is the largest, followed by the second-largest group with annual incomes in the $20,000 range. Our city’s median annual income is $19,000, which is less than half the state average.

Half the population in Crescent City literally can’t afford to pay more for such vital services as water and sewer. That isn’t saying they merely would prefer not to: they simply can’t.

Thanks to the doubling of our sewer rates back in 2007, low-income people, half the population, have already made sacrifices in food, medicine, or other necessary evils of living, to pay their increased sewer bill. We were told with that rate increase to just suck it up, and we were forced to do so. But for those living on a fixed income, or working a low wage job — which is the bulk of jobs Crescent City has to offer — the incomes have not gone up, in fact, adjusting for inflation they’ve gone down, and cost of living has increased.

Another aspect to consider that was pointed out to me by a local business person: These rate increases combined with lowered incomes take enough out of customers’ pockets that it affects their ability to buy extras: get haircuts or nails done, buy clothing or shoes, go out for an occasional meal or movie. This hurts local business.

Look around at the empty houses and closed businesses. Do we want to turn Crescent City into a ghost town? It appears to be already on its way.

But I’ve noticed a pattern with city dealings: the poorer end of the population is not even considered in its solutions. It’s as if our plight is not real to them. If they really understood what it’s like to live on $866 a month, they would not be coming with their hands out one more time.

But they live comfortably and truly cannot relate. It reminds me of the last Prop. 218 protest, when our little group met with the city so they could try and talk us out of protesting. One official, when warned of the upcoming economic tsunami — the big recession of 2008 that anyone who was paying attention could see coming — said not to worry, Crescent City is usually not affected by such things.

With our city on the verge of bankruptcy and half the population worrying about keeping a roof over their head, the lights turned on, and food on the table, he could not have been more wrong. This lack of foresight and critical assessment is not the exception with our community leaders, it’s the rule.

So here we are again, warning the city that the population cannot absorb another rate increase. Are they listening? No. They’re doing everything they can to make this protest fail, or at least make it as hard as possible for the organizers.

In its formal notice, its last paragraph reads, “If you have any questions ... call 464 6517.” People have already asked questions on the record at the City Council meeting and e-mailed further questions. The city won’t answer questions. It won’t provide needed information, like a list of property numbers to use as a master sheet or a list of water customers and addresses.

We can do it without the their information but in the end it will be they who pay the price, because instead of a getting an ordered pile of letters to check off against a master list, they will get a jumbled pile of letters.

If you are one of the 46 percent struggling to survive, or on the brink of becoming part of that group, or just plain care about the plight of your fellow human beings, I’m asking you to get involved.

There’s plenty of work to do and we only have until Nov. 4 to get it done. It’s always the same group of people doing this work for the entire community. Call me if you want to help stop our local government from pricing us out of living (707-954-3318).

Katherine Kelly is a Crescent City resident.