S.F. homeowners boiling over new water rates

A new sliding scale for the cost of water has San Francisco utilities officials touting conservation efforts while homeowners are calling it a “family tax.” The initiative, adopted by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday, has some homeowners boiling.

At issue is a sliding scale for the cost of water that affects only single-family homes, not so-called multi-unit homes, such as apartment buildings.

Under the three-tiered system, single-family homeowners pay $2.08 for the first three units of water used each month, $2.50 for the fourth through 10th units and $3.83 for each additional unit after that. One unit is about 750 gallons of water.

The commission has traditionally charged a uniform rate for each unit of water, and multi-unit homes and buildings will remain under a uniform rate. Officials, however, have said a sliding scale is the best way to raise money for capital improvements, including seismic upgrades to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

“Water, like gas, electricity [and] bread, is a commodity,” utilities commissioner Richard Sklar said. “We expect to be reimbursed for it.”

Under the new measure, however, homeowners with families of five or more people can retrofit homes with water-conserving appliances — including faucet aerators, efficient washing machines, and low-flow toilets and shower heads — to skirt some of the charges. If a family makes the conservation changes, which would be eligible for rebates under state energy programs, its water bill would lock into the second-tier rate — $2.50 per unit — even if the water usage goes beyond the 10th unit. According to the commission, about 10,000 families would qualify for the option to green their homes.

“We don’t want to penalize families that are doing all they can to conserve, but still use a lot of water just because there is more people in the home,” commission spokesman Tony Winnicker said.

Opponents, however, call the three-tiered system a “family tax.”

“Your resolution sets up more bureaucracy, more government interference in our lives to the point of counting family members in a household,” said Denise LaPointe, president of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, which represents various neighborhood associations.

Joan Girardot, of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, said the measure is a terrible way to promote conservation. “There’s no incentive for one person living alone to conserve,” she added.

arocha@examiner.com


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