Morning Report: Decision Day for Water Rate Hikes | Voice of San Diego

Morning Report

Morning Report: Decision Day for Water Rate Hikes

Energy fight heats up, San Diego students still struggling with new requirements and what Ballast Point’s ginormous sale means for San Diego beer.

The city of San Diego is proposing a water rate hike that’ll goose residents’ bills by 40 percent over five years, but that’s not the one that’s leading to a showdown.

Instead, it’s a plan to increase the cost of undrinkable, recycled water used for things like irrigation that’s creating battle lines.

The City Council is set to vote on the increase today, but there’s a new fight on the old north-of-eight, south-of-eight lines, with South Bay residents saying an across-the-board increase will result in them footing the bill so northern golf courses can get less expensive water for irrigation, as Ry Rivard explains in a new story.

South Bay leaders – including Supervisors Greg Cox and Dianne Jacob and San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez – are publicly opposing the deal, but Council President Sherri Lightner says it’s simple: One water agency, one price for recycled water.

• But back to that other increase the city is considering, the one that’ll hike residents’ water bills by 40 percent. Officials from the city’s public utilities department are making the case for that hike all around town, with a presentation that says the increase has nothing to do with rising administrative costs.

In a new Fact Check, Rivard vets that claim. Sure, the city made hires that increased its personnel cost before proposing any increases. But it also now says it’ll have to make cuts if the increases don’t go through. The new positions are the result of the drought, the department says, and the drought is out of the department’s control. That’s true, Rivard finds, but it also means things aren’t nearly as black-and-white as the city tried to suggest.

City Adopts New Community Plans for Encanto and Southeastern Neighborhoods

Logan Heights is set to get a taste of the city’s smart growth vision after all.

After three years of work, the city of San Diego on Monday adopted new, long-term blueprints for future development in a wide swath of the city along the I-94 and Orange Line corridors, including Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, Grant Hill, Emerald Hills, Chollas View, Lincoln Park and Encanto.

The new community plans for those areas intend to make way for new development, especially near trolley stops in the communities, by making it faster and more predictable – and therefore cheaper – to get new projects approved.

When the plan was initially released, however, it proposed keeping the area along the trolley line on Commercial Street, from 28th through 32nd streets, reserved for the industrial businesses that are there now, as we reported in March.

But at the urging of community members, City Councilman David Alvarez, who represents the area, proposed re-zoning that area to allow for the sort of walkable, transit-friendly development the city says it wants in its general plan.

The vote was unanimous. The city has now effectively updated two more community plans, with seven to go, after spending $15 million on the effort since 2008.

The Triumphant Return: What’s That Lot?

It’s been on hiatus for a few months, but we’ve got a new installment of a “What’s that Lot?” where we investigate just what is up with some under-used or mysterious property in a neighborhood near you.

This one, a vacant property just south of Petco Park and the new downtown library in East Village, comes from VOSD intern Amanda Rhoades.

The 5-acre lot was meant to become the site of a new retail center and homes back in 2008, and Civic San Diego, which handles development issues downtown, still lists it as a project in the works.

But the great recession killed those plans, and the developer’s moved on. They say they have no plans to do anything with the project now or in the future.

Ballast Point’s $1 Billion Windfall

With the sale of a brewery that’s been here since San Diego beer’s infancy, it’s clear the industry is moving from adolescence to adulthood.

Ballast Point and its Sculpin IPA have sold to New York-based Constellation Brands, owners of Corona and Modelo, for $1 billion. Yes, I said $1 billion. Not a mistake.

Two months ago, beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased St. Archer. But Ballast Point is 10 times the size and 20 years older than the relative newcomer. This is more likely to force local drinkers to decide how much they care about the ownership structure of their beer.

Ballast Point’s acquisition is more interesting for another reason, too: the city of San Diego gave the brewery a roughly $150,000 subsidy in early 2014 to make way for its most recent expansion. That could have been a different conversation if the company wasn’t locally owned at the time.

Constellation will take over full ownership, except for the company’s spirits business, making Ballast Point no longer a craft brewery, based on the official definition from the Brewers’ Association. It’ll keep operating in San Diego, though, and CEO Jack White says he’s looking to open a new East Coast brewing facility.

This is the fifth California craft brewer to be acquired by a larger player this year, a trend showing no signs of slowing.

Ongoing Fight Over City’s Plans for Renewable Energy Heats Up

Things got heated last week during a meeting of a city task force that advises the city on energy policies, KPBS reports.

The fight is over so-called community choice aggregation, which we explained last year here. It’s a program the city is exploring that would let the city, not SDG&E, buy the energy that would eventually power your home or business. The city could then choose to buy a greater share of renewable energy.

SDG&E and other utilities are barred under state law from lobbying against the proposal, which has led to some complicated fights – err, discussions, in the past.

Last week’s fight was the most direct it’s gotten. An SDG&E representative on the task force was told he should abstain from discussing the matter, just to be safe, leading to his attorney suggesting his constitutional rights were being violated.

San Diego Unified’s Tougher Grad Standards Loom

Students in the class of 2016 are the first to need to pass a series of courses meant to make them eligible to get into a UC or CSU school. The San Diego Union Tribune pulled the most recent numbers and, as of October, just 81 percent of students are on track to graduate.

That’s a drop in the school’s graduation rate from 88 percent last year, if something isn’t fixed for the 1,200 seniors left in the lurch.

As of January 2014, though, 3,600 kids were at risk of failing to graduate, our Mario Koran reported.

Late last year, the district started rolling out some fixes to get that number down, which appear to be working. But those fixes – passing kids with lower grades and removing required courses – don’t fix the problem so much as they erase the standard’s original intent.

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