Burlingame Hills sewer protest causes a stink

Despite saving their neighbors hundreds of dollars a year on their sewer bill, a faction of Burlingame Hills residents has created community friction with their action.

A protest was successfully lodged July 27 when three residents presented the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors enough signed petitions to negate the two-year, $200 hike. However, members of the Burlingame Hills Improvement Association is questioning the validity of those signatures.

Representatives of the BHIA had been meeting with sewer district staff since November 2007 to discuss future sewer service rates, according to an April 15 letter sent to residents by San Mateo County. After more than two years of discussion, the Board of Supervisors stated its intent to proceed with the rate increase through a second letter dated June 9, which was 45 days prior to the July 27 board meeting, Department of Public Works Director Jim Porter said.

When July 27 rolled around, three residents — Alison Sampson, Ray Moreno and Roberto Lanceolotti, who were also on the board of the BHIA — presented 307 signed petitions, well more than half the 426 residents of the unincorporated neighborhood, to reject the two-year increase.

“The people who got behind this had met with us and the county all along,” BHIA President John Spreitz said. “We asked them if they understood the need for the increase and if they agreed, they said yes. Then they ran out behind our backs and did a majority protest.”

Sampson said she was never in support of the rate increase and had been misrepresented through the county’s letters sent to Burlingame Hills residents.

“We said we did not agree to this,” Sampson said. “We stepped away from BHIA and paid for this protest totally by ourselves. The petitions were unaffiliated with the BHIA. This was a grass-roots movement, strictly neighbors getting together saying ‘Enough is enough.’”

The successful protest means rates will remain the same for this fiscal year. But without revenue from the proposed increases, the sewer district will be unable to fund capital improvement projects or enact the measures required by a settlement with Baykeeper, which calls for millions of dollars in funding to both repair the aging sewer main and replace several lines in the district, Porter said.

“The district risks losing access to a $2.3 million loan from a state revolving fund, which would be used to upgrade 70-year-old sewer lines,” BHIA Vice President John Keller said. “In addition, the district now faces the prospect of insolvency coupled with fines and increased legal fees brought about by failure to comply with a consent decree in federal court.”

Since the Board of Supervisors voted through a form of ordinance, the issue will not return to the agenda until next year, said Edwin Chan, chief legislative aide for Supervisor Mark Church.


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