San José Rejects Tributary Agencies’ Claims Regarding Regional Wastewater Facility
For Immediate Release
February 26, 2016
Jennie Loft, Public Information Manager
Office Phone: (408) 535-8554
San José Rejects Tributary Agencies’ Claims Regarding Regional Wastewater Facility
SAN JOSE, Calif. - The City of San José today formally rejected claims made by wastewater tributary agencies regarding the planning, implementation, and costs for the long-term Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility that serves 1.4 million people in Silicon Valley and protects the waters and environment of southern San Francisco Bay.
The tributary agencies represent about 20 percent of the population served by the facility located at the northernmost end of San José. The agencies recently filed claim against San José and Santa Clara, owners of the facility, that the City of San José says is inaccurate and misconstrues events.
Under their master agreements with San José and Santa Clara, and as required by state law, the tributary agencies must pay their proportionate share of operating and capital improvement costs, which are clearly defined. The tributaries, however, allege that San José is not allocating costs correctly.
San José rejects this allegation entirely, noting that cost allocations are done in accordance with the master agreements and consistent with State guidelines.
The tributary agencies claim that they do not have adequate information about the CIP which is completely contradicted by the many years of public discussions and participation by tributary agencies in the development of the capital improvement program.
“The tributary agencies’ elected representatives and their staffs have been directly engaged in improvement program discussions for the last eight years, and with the financing discussions for the last four years,” said Ashwini Kantak, Assistant Director for the San José Environmental Services Department that is responsible for the Regional Wastewater Facility.
“All the tributary agencies explicitly agreed to the funding strategy in June 2015, but now they want to back out of their commitments to replace and modernize essential infrastructure that protects our environment and economy of Silicon Valley as well as the public health of residents of all our communities.”
The CIP is a ten-year, $1.4 billion program that is already rebuilding the sixty-year-old wastewater facility.
The tributary agencies include the City of Milpitas, West Valley Sanitation District, Cupertino Sanitary District, County Sanitation District No. 2-3 of Santa Clara County, and Burbank Sanitation District.
In their claim, the tributary agencies allege that their ratepayers are subsidizing San José and Santa Clara ratepayers for the cost of the project.
“Actually, the agreed-upon cost formula and independent analyses clearly show that San José and Santa Clara will pay for almost 80 percent of the costs of the capital improvement program, while we are currently only using about 56 percent of that capacity,” said Kantak.
“If the tributary agencies did not pay their share of the capacity, San José and Santa Clara ratepayers would effectively bear an even larger share of the costs to rehabilitate the facility. On behalf of the residents of our community, we know it is not right that low-income ratepayers in East San José subsidize high-income ratepayers in Cupertino and Saratoga.”
In addition, San José is in the process of securing a low-interest loan from the State that would benefit ratepayers from all affected cities and special districts. The tributary agencies were asked to execute a simple amendment to the Master Agreement that would provide assurance of repayment commitment; however they have opted not to do so.
“We’re shocked and mystified that the tributary agencies are not taking advantage of the low-cost financing to help their own ratepayers by reducing the costs of financing the capital improvement program,” said Kantak. “We only asked them to sign amendments to provide assurance to commit to repaying a loan agreement, like any responsible party would in a loan.
“A simple amendment to the Master Agreement would allow these agencies, which need low-cost financing to help with rates, to participate in the state program now, without waiting for the completion of other unrelated negotiations.”
Although the tributary agencies have accused the City of San José of a lack of transparency regarding Regional Wastewater Facility planning and costs, this is contradicted by the extensive public discussions, public meetings, and easily accessible public documents on the San José website over the past ten years.
All of the CIP project reports, documents, and audits about the CIP are all posted on the City’s CIP web page.
“On the other hand, we have found that the tributary agencies themselves have not provided any transparency of their own in response to reasonable public records requests that we have made recently,” said Kantak.
On February 9, 2016, San José asked the tributary agencies for public documents related to the claim and to respond to their proposed changes to the master agreements.
“Under state law, they are required to respond within ten days and get an extension for special circumstances. The tributary agencies chose not to provide a single document at the end of the ten day period and instead opted to use the extension clause for the entire request. Many of the public documents requested should be easily available, and it is ironic that the very agencies clamoring for transparency from us have banded together to not make even a single document available,” said Kantak.
In contrast, last month, San José responded to an extensive public records act (PRA) request from the tributary agencies with documents that totaled more than 5,000 pages spanning from 1990 to 2015. Since then the tributary agencies have made a second PRA request to San José for which the City is compiling responsive documents.
“We firmly believe the tributaries are wasting both time and money with these legal claims and records requests, both for themselves and for San José,” said Kantak. “We want to end this dispute and its distractions so that all of us can focus on our main challenge to rebuild and replace the Regional Wastewater Facility so that everyone can benefit from the capital improvement program.
“We even brought forward a proposal, at the request of the tributary agencies, to start negotiations in March on broader changes to the master agreements and were extremely surprised when this proposal was rejected by the tributary agencies themselves.”
San José and Santa Clara have been planning for the rebuilding of the 60-year-old wastewater facility in order that it can continue to serve and protect the entire region without risk of failure. The Plant Master Plan process started in 2007, and the long-term CIP will achieve the plan’s goals to benefit South Bay residents and businesses by protecting public health, the environment, and the Silicon Valley economy.
About San José Environmental Services Department (ESD) and the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility
San José, Capital of Silicon Valley, is the largest city in Northern California and the 10th largest city in the nation. The San José Environmental Services Department (www.sjenvironment.org) manages garbage and recycling services; watershed protection and pollution prevention; municipal drinking water and recycled water; community sustainability initiatives; and the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility.
The San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility is the largest advanced wastewater treatment facility in the western United States. Operating around the clock since 1956, the RWF treats about 110 million gallons of wastewater daily that is then discharged into the waters of southern San Francisco Bay. The treated wastewater helps keep the Bay clean and supports a diverse ecosystem of birds, fish, and habitat. The RWF consistently meets 100 percent of its state and federal discharge permit requirements.
The Regional Wastewater Facility is jointly owned by the cities of San José and Santa Clara with the San José Environmental Services Department serving as the operator and administrator. It serves more than 1.4 million residents and over 17,000 businesses in eight Silicon Valley cities including San José, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, and Monte Sereno.
The Regional Wastewater Facility also manages the South Bay Water Recycling program, delivering highly treated recycled water to 700 customers in San José, Santa Clara, and Milpitas, which saves over 2.2 billion gallons of drinking water a year. The RWF also provides 10 million gallons daily of treated wastewater to the Santa Clara Valley Water District Silicon Valley Water Purification Center as part of an innovative clean water demonstration project.
This news release is available online at www.sanjoseca.gov.