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Last updateThu, 22 Jun 2017 8am

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Water district brings tax debate to Los Altos Hills

Among the agenda items the Los Altos Hills City Council will mull over during their specially scheduled March meeting is a water tax some property owners have paid the Santa Clara Valley Water District for more than three decades without receiving water from the district.

The meeting, scheduled both Monday and Tuesday, will include a brief presentation by Purissima Hills Water District Board of Directors member Steve Jordan on what he deemed the “inherent unfairness” of the State Water Project tax.

An estimated two-thirds of Los Altos Hills residents – mostly those in the northern part of town – receive water through the Purissima Hills Water District, which is supplied from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. One-third of residents, those in southern areas annexed by the town after water services were already in place, receive water from the state through the Santa Clara Valley Water District, Jordan said.

Tax burden

Since 1984, all Los Altos Hills property owners have paid the Santa Clara Valley Water District tax for a state-built water and power development and conveyance system that distributes water throughout the Bay Area and other parts of the state. Jordan estimates that Los Altos Hills property owners collectively pay the Santa Clara Valley district more than $250,000 annually through the tax, averaging approximately $125 per parcel.

Each property owner’s State Water Project tax burden is based on the assessed value of his or her property, said Jim Fiedler, Santa Clara County Valley Water District chief operating officer.

Fiedler said his own estimate is closer to $36, a number based on assessing each property value at $535,000.

Fiedler confirmed that the Santa Clara Valley Water District has been unable to provide the Purissima Hills district with water in the past but said the denials came because his utility was operating at capacity. He said Santa Clara Valley officials are open to generating dialogue with Purissima Hills about potentially providing water in the future.

Fiedler cited a number of ways the State Water Project’s flow of water to Santa Clara County has benefited all county residents – even those not technically served by the Santa Clara Valley Water District – including the reduction of the likelihood of land subsidence (sinking ground) and saltwater intrusion due to groundwater overdraft. The water has also boosted the overall economic growth of the region.

“We think there are indirect benefits to Los Altos Hills,” Fiedler said.

But Jordan is bringing up the issue now because he expects the Santa Clara Valley Water District tax burden to double, triple or even quadruple to fund Gov. Jerry Brown’s contested Bay Delta Conservation Plan for supplying Sacramento River water to areas of South and Central California.

The price tag for the project, which involves constructing two 30-mile gravity flow tunnels, is estimated at between $25 billion and $67 billion.

By addressing the Los Altos Hills council, Jordan hopes to galvanize councilmembers into partnering with other constituencies that don’t directly benefit from the State Water Project tax, including Palo Alto and Stanford, and to collectively contest the tax before the rate increase to support the new Delta project.

“You want to get the battle started early, because once they do this, it will be cast in stone,” he said.

Although city officials have not yet finalized the agenda for the special meeting, they expect additional topics to include a midyear city budget update, sewage rates and distribution, and the appeal of a Planning Commission decision by homeowners seeking a site development permit.

Discussion of Interstate 280 off-ramp signalization is postponed until the April 20 council meeting, according to Mayor Courtenay C. Corrigan.

City officials anticipate posting the official agendas for Monday and Tuesday’s special meeting on the city website, losaltoshills.ca.gov/city-government/city-council/reports, by Thursday.

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