For $2.8M, Auburn keeps sewer talks open; council eyes new homeless shelter option
Just when Auburn’s involvement with the regional sewer project appeared to be ending, the City Council voted Monday to begin working on an agreement that would keep the door open.
The Auburn City Council voted 4-1 Monday to draft a set of deal points for an agreement with Placer County to buy capacity in a common section of pipeline at an estimated cost to the city of $2.8 million.
It would keep the option open of connecting to the regional sewer at a later date, and Auburn would have the ability to sell the capacity if it determines in the future that it won’t need it, if Placer County accepts that proposed stipulation.
Mayor Kevin Hanley, the lone councilmember to vote against it, said he still sees the regional sewer as a “flawed project” and wanted to see more information before moving forward.
City Councilman Dr. Bill Kirby said he “strongly believes” it is the best option.
“(The common pipeline) provides this city with the greatest flexibility in a very unpredictable future with minimal risk,” Kirby said.
The drafted stipulations for a deal would come back at a later meeting before council, which then can amend and approve them as it sees fit before sending it to Placer County. However, the governments will need to act quickly as Placer County has indicated an agreement would need to be reached before July.
Rate payers would be looking at an estimated monthly increase of $2 to $3 per dwelling to cover the costs of buying into the pipeline, Auburn Public Works Director Bernie Schroeder said.
The common section of pipeline stretches about 4 miles along parts of Highway 193 and Virginia Town Road.
The county extended the offer after the Board of Supervisors rejected Auburn’s regional sewer deal points on March 12 and voted to move forward with Lincoln on the $73.2 million project without Auburn. The Auburn City Council said in its deal points it would not enter the regional sewer project unless it received $18 million from the county to keep Auburn’s sewer rates from rising.
Auburn’s estimated cost to enter the regional sewer project is about $36 million.
Council also directed the city staff on Monday to notice sewer rate payers of the consumer price index adjustment on the upcoming parcel tax report – estimated to be a 1.2 to 2.5 percent change equating to a monthly increase between 73 cents and $1.51.
While the city works out an agreement with Placer County for the common pipeline, it will begin upgrades to its own wastewater treatment plant with construction of a $4.8 million oxidation ditch. It is the lone “major process” that has not been rehabilitated or replaced from the original plant, according to the city staff report.
Rate increases beyond the consumer price index to construct the ditch are not currently anticipated as it was factored into the current rate model, the report said, and pre-design will begin this summer.
Any rate increase beyond the 2013-14 CPI would require a rate study and a Proposition 218 hearing, so if and when the common pipeline agreement comes to fruition, that process would begin immediately.
City eyes regional approach to homeless shelters
The City Council unanimously agreed Monday to postpone a vote on where to approve permanent homeless shelters in the city’s zoning code after the possibility of contracting services from Placer County had been raised as a solution to the contentious issue.
The city is working to come into compliance with Senate Bill 2, a state law passed in 2007 that requires every jurisdiction to allow a permanent homeless shelter by right in at least one area within its borders.
Kirby and several other council members wanted staff to begin talking with Placer County immediately about the possibility of a multi-jurisdictional approach to providing the services.
The council ordered the community development department to make it their top priority.
“Everything else should be dropped,” Kirby said. “Contact the county tomorrow (Tuesday) and start this discussion.”
The city’s update to the housing element must be completed by October, leaving a narrow window of time for it to tackle an issue with the county, something councilmember Bridget Powers expressed concern about given the amount of time it has taken to negotiate a regional sewer project.
Prior to Monday, the city staff had not approached the county about the issue.
The reason for tackling the homeless shelter zoning now is because the city has to update its housing code every five years, and if it did not meet the SB 2 requirements, then it would not get approved by the state this year.
Hanley said the talks with Placer County about working on providing homeless shelter services with Auburn should have begun “four or five years” ago.
“The state has put us in a box because if we don’t comply with SB 2 in some manner our general plan is shut down,” he said. “There will be no building permits. If you want to put a deck on your house, forget about it. The whole thing is shut, and that’s the nuclear weapon that the state has in its hip pocket and that is the thing we have to deal with.”
The council heard from about 10 people during public comment, including homeless advocates, a homeless man, property owners and a Union Pacific railroad official.
Some, like railroad representative Liisa Stark, had practical concerns about safety if the homeless shelters were to be allowed near the railroad tracks, as had been proposed by the Planning Commission.
Others, like Tim Murrin, became emotional as his voice wavered, talking about how Auburn “is the only city that is still in this situation” of not having addressed the SB 2 requirements.
As a homeless man who said he cannot get a job because of the time he has to spend on his own personal hygiene and getting nominal services, he pleaded for more accommodations that would help him reenter society.
Jon Schultz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews