To raise water and sewer rates while deciding the fate of two historic buildings was the question the Benicia City Council had to answer at its Tuesday meeting.
The council began reviewing why the water and sewer rates had increased. According to a staff report, water conservation efforts, financial forecasts, Benicia not being able to maintain the required debt service reserve and the city falling behind with infrastructure maintenance were cited as the main reasons why rates had increased. It was recommended that no changes woud be enacted to alter any adjustments directly related to water and sewer rates. The council, after talking about the subject, opened the discussion up to public comment.
“I’m kind of taken aback at this meeting because the impression I am getting is that you did not know what you were doing before and didn’t care of business,” Cece Surette said. “I don’t know what you are doing now and you are not sure what’s going to happen in the future. You’re going to raise our rates $200 to $300. What’s up with that?”
Another resident, Kate Kissinger spoke from her personal experience.
“I don’t know a lot about running a city, but I do know that my water bill is twice what it was a year ago,” she said. “I live on a budget, and this water bill is blowing it out of the water.”
The council agreed to reconvene at a future date to discuss the topic further.
Automobile import company AMPORTS’ appeal to demolish the historic Foundry and Office buildings at 678 East H St. was the next item on the agenda. Since 2016, a legal battle between the city and AMPORTS has ensued on whether the company could tear down the East H Street property. A meditation group was created by the council to resolve the issue between AMPORTS and the city. Dana Dean, the lawyer for AMPORTS, has requested a rehearing on the demolition, which has been rescheduled multiple times. City staff recommended the council reschedule the rehearing to a future date to allow more information to be gathered.
“I often think of Lucy with the football,” Dean said of the rescheduling. “I would almost say this is like that except that instead her pulling the football away, she keeps moving it and moving it and moving it. You don’t have the authority to ask for such things. We are not going to cooperate endlessly”
Tim Reynolds, chair of the Historic Preservation Review Commission, spoke out in support of preserving the buildings.
“As everyone in this room had to sit by helplessly watching these fires last week, I want to share with you in addition of the tragic loss of life, all the tragic stories, I was watching the loss of historic structures,” he said. “It redoubled my resolve to see if there is any way to save two very historic structures in this town that may be very worthy of saving.”
Like the water rates and sewer increase, the council decided to reschedule the rehearing for a date six months from now.
In other matters, Meghan Barrett, a Benicia High School student with a 4.0 GPA, was appointed by the council to the Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission for a full student term.
“She is very engaged in the community and she is going to be terrific chair,” Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said.
The City Council meeting previously scheduled for Oct. 24 has been canceled. The council will next meet Nov. 7.