Andy Katz: Expand Lifeline Water Rates for Low-Income Families

This guest post was written by East Bay MUD Director Andy Katz. Director Katz represents EBMUD’s Ward No. 4 which is comprised of the cities of Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, El Cerrito and Kensington, as well as a portion of Oakland.

Perhaps you’ve read about the painful cuts that will be hitting California’s low-income families hard in the next fiscal year. These are tough economic times, and our social safety net provided by state government is falling through. But we can make a small, but important difference in the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which serves Oakland and most of the East Bay.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) Board of Directors will decide on key budget matters at its meeting on April 12. One proposal includes closing critical gaps in the Customer Assistance Program (CAP). The CAP provides a 50% discount off the water bill for basic water use to households earning up to 165% of the federal poverty level: Households earning less than $24,000 for a household of 1-2, or $34,000 for a household of 4 are eligible.

This threshold is lower than California’s electricity rate relief program, CARE, which covers households earning up to 214% of the federal poverty line, about 60% of the median income. The Customer Assistance Program also does not cover EBMUD’s wastewater bill, which can be up to a third of charges that customers face.

Closing both of these gaps would only cost EBMUD an additional $450,000, a very small cost out of an annual operating budget of $450 million. Yet this would make a big difference for families earning a low income but are just out of range of our program – about 1% of a family’s annual income.

Please click here to write a personal message to the EBMUD Board of Directors urging the Board to close important gaps in the Customer Assistance Program to protect low-income households.

Andy Katz
Director, East Bay Municipal Utility District
Representing north Oakland, Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, and Kensington

24 thoughts on “Andy Katz: Expand Lifeline Water Rates for Low-Income Families

  1. Patrick M. Mitchell

    It also doesn’t cover Oakland’s egregious sewer maintenance charge. Potential savings are a couple of bucks a month for most families. Why not just offer free water service as long as they don’t exceed a certain volume of water per person? Since people would have to apply for this program that should be simple to work out.

  2. Andy Katz

    The Oakland City Council has the jurisdiction to establish lifeline rates for Oakland’s sewer charge billed through EBMUD. EBMUD will have the billing capability to incorporate such a program if determined by the City of Oakland.

  3. Patrick M. Mitchell

    Oakland can’t afford a pot to piss in let alone subsidize sewer maintenance charges – which we all know are not funding sewer maintenance.

  4. CitizenX

    Mr. Katz, your post made no mention of how these subsidies are to be funded, other than to say, “(c)losing both of these gaps would only cost EBMUD an additional $450,000…”. Would it not be more accurate to say that these measures would cost EBMUD ratepayers an additional $450,000?

    From a practical standpoint, isn’t this proposal even somewhat risky post-Prop 26? I would imagine that the more conservative element might view this as a tax — no?

  5. len raphael

    Patrick is absolutely correct that the sewer “city agency fee’ which apparently doesn’t cover the cost of maintaining, let alone upgrading our sewers, is a disguised parcel tax.

    on every residential water bill in oakland (do non profits get this too?) there is a charge for water, an ebay sewage charge of 15 bucks, and a “city agency fee” of about 20 bucks per month, per unit. i assume EBMUD actually gets and does something with the 15 dollars.

    I assume that the 20 x12 = 240/year “city agency fee” gets eaten up by a combo of expensive city employees in public works, non competitive contractors, and interfund borrrowing.


  6. FloodedByCEDA

    City of Oakland sewer service is now $51.60 every 2 months on our EBMUD bills for a single family dwelling. This is like a $310 per year parcel tax and will be increased 16% next year. The City council votes it in, Not the voters. The money is a restricted fund for sewer service (fund 3100) except it is really not restricted to sewer service. Lots of Citydepartments dip into it.

  7. len raphael

    if you rent a single fam home, or a newer condo, your water is separately metered. That gives landlord the right to pass the water bill cost to the tennant separately from the rent and completely independent of any rent controls.

    Most apartments are not separately metered and so the water bills have to be absorbed by the owners. From a policy point of view, the tennant have zero financial incentive to conserve or to evaluate the wisdom of the disguised parcel tax.

  8. eo

    Our water bill is around $90.00 but only around $15.00 of that is actually our water use. We have zero incentive to conserve by cost alone since our water usage doesn’t really correlate with our bill. I think a much smarter plan would be to raise the cost of water to residents and shrink the general fees. Most of those living at the poverty rate don’t have lavish grounds that they are irrigating and soaking tubs that they are bathing in. If our water bills actually had to do with how much water we use, a lot of the income disparity would be taken care of.

  9. David

    I am somewhat surprised that V would even allow something like this to be posted on A Better Oakland. There is no information in this blog about the details of this proposal, just an expectation that we will act as mindless automatons when told that the poor are in danger and fire off a message.

    I am not clear on how helpful this program is to those struggling with their bills. As others have pointed out, there are a lot items on my water bill that this program doesn’t seem to cover. Is the CAP program really the best way to help EBMUD’s impoverished customers? What about altering the rate structure to reward those who use less water?

    If it were to be saved, where would this $450,000 come from? It seems very odd for Mr. Katz to ask us to advocate on budget items when he doesn’t bother to inform us at all about the trade offs and choices the Directors are making.

  10. ralph

    Can someone with a water bill please indicate how many gallons of water they use on average per month and the number of people? CAP appears to pay one-half of the water bill up to 1,050g per person per month, which seems like an excessive amt of water? Again, where is the incentive to conserve?

  11. Andy Katz

    The program covers up to 35 gallons per person per day, just enough to cover limited basic indoor water use. After that, all customers are charged the same rate schedule. In contrast, all the average EBMUD single family home customer uses about 100 gallons per capita per day (270 gallons per account), about 62% used indoors.

  12. Dax


    The CAP water savings program is very limited.

    BTW. 1,050 gallons per person per month is extremely low. That is 34.5 gallons per day.
    I have a traditional flush toilet.
    About 6 gallons per flush.
    Heck, 4 flushes per day and you’ve used up 24 of your 34 gallons
    A low flow shower? gallons?
    Couple clothes washings per week

    My last bill I used 60 gallons per day for one person.
    It would be very difficult to reduce that to 34 gallons.
    I know, you can get a low flush toilet installed for $$…then of course, you have to flush it twice to get everything down.

    They pay half of the first 1,050 gallons.
    The savings on that is about $1.50 per month. The savings on the monthly fee is about $5 per month.

    Figure a house with one person can save about $6.50 per month.
    With two people, about $8 per month could be saved.

    So, a couple could save about $96 per year, …. minus Jean Quan’s new $80 parcel tax, leaves them with a $16 net savings.
    That would be $1.33 per month bonus.

    The city sewer service charge is $22.24 per month.

    But be careful. If you allow your garbage bill to be a day late, the City will charge you a $70 penalty.
    It would take over 4 years of CAP savings on water to pay for just one day late on your City penalty for your garbage.

  13. ralph

    Thanks. I don’t see my water bill as it is wrapped up in my dues. Don’t like this concept but it is what it is.

    Thinking probably clouded by my consumption. I also have low flush and HE appliances and wash clothes no more than once per week so according to my math my water consumption is rather low.

  14. Patrick M. Mitchell

    Don’t forget that the city sewer charge is going up 15% which would effectively wipe out and savings over the course of a year.

    I have a dual flush Toto toilet (actually 2) that I installed in late 2009. I bought them via a locally-owned hardware store and with the EBMUD rebate, they ended up costing me $99 each. Quickly depress the lever and the toilet uses .9 gallons for “liquids” and depress and hold the lever and the toilt uses 1.6 gallons for “solids”. That being said, I’ve never had to use the 1.6 gallon flush. Why not install better toilets for these people rather than subsidize water use? It would probably cost less over time and there would actually be a real benefit (lower water usage) to go along with the touchy-feely benefit.

    Before my partner moved in, I averaged about 600-700 gallons a month living alone. That includes toilet, Grohe low flow showers, Bosch dishwasher and LG front loading washer. I also have a garden with both edible and non-edible plants. When I run the water to shower, I collect the cold water that comes out first to use in my garden. Same in the kitchen (there is a bucket under my sink). Low water usage isn’t very difficult if you have the right equipment and make a conscious effort.

  15. Patrick M. Mitchell


    So, since the money we pay in sewer charges is not being used for what it is supposed to be, doesn’t it then qualify as a tax? A tax we would have to vote on before it could be increased? And like Measure Y, one they shouldn’t be collecting at all?

  16. Dax

    East Bay Mud water rates.
    Ever consider what they pay employees?
    How about a meter reader?
    How much per hour?
    Would you guess $55 per hour?

    Here is how it breaks down

    Salary $31 per hour
    Health, dental, vision $10 per hour
    Pension employer contribution $11 per hour.
    Misc comp, $3 per hour.

    Total Compensation without overtime $55 per hour.

    Base pay $63,908.

    BTW, my $55 per hour calculation assumes the person was working 52 forty hour weeks.
    But of course, we all know that worker will get 2 to 5 weeks of paid vacation, plus 12 or more holidays, as well as perhaps 10 sick days.

    If you only use actual hours worked, then that $55 figure goes up to about $65 per hour.

    We all know public employees would make much more in the private sector, and they only take public sector jobs to do good, as well as get job security.

  17. Dax

    Len, the most common figure is for health, dental, and vision is $19,125.

    If you assume the meter reader actually works 52 weeks and 40 hours in each week, then the hourly cost is $9.19 per hour.
    Of course, no one works that many full weeks.
    There is vacation, holidays, sick days, etc.

    That $19,125 does not include sick leave or insured disability.

    They may or may not have some small co-pay for each visit. I doubt they do.
    Moreover I seriously doubt they have any deductible.

    I don’t understand what you don’t understand. This amount is what the employer pays. East Bay Mud.

    Good gosh, don’t you realize many public agencies have even more grand plans than this one.

    AC Transit pays its drivers as much as $27,241 per year for medical, dental, and vision depending on family size.
    They have NO deductible. They make NO co-pays.

    Over at the Golden Gate Bridge District, a sales clerk in the gift shop, who sells post cards and trinkets to the tourists has a medical, dental, vision package that costs $27,268 per year.

    I mean, don’t you realize this massive compensation for even the smallest jobs is normal.
    That sales clerk, costs the district $83,597 per year to keep on the job.

    These are the things the public does not see.

    No wonder Oakland has chosen to not respond to the CC Times request for details.

    Compare that gift shop clerk to one doing the same job at Fishermans Wharf, getting $10 per hour with zilch for benefits.

    Or on the higher end. I know someone who works for a Bay Area fire department.
    Total comp for the last year was over $308K. Only about $16K of that was OT.
    Over $76k of it was for pension contribution by the employer.

    The public would be astounded.

    Oakland, especially during these tough budget decisions, needs to let the people know the true facts.

    Just as NO ONE in Oakland was ever informed about the 35% boost in pensions, very few know anything about the size of the benefit packages in Oakland.

    You seem shocked at $10 per hour just for health, dental, and vision.

  18. len raphael

    Dax, that average cost is probably a combo of a 0 deductible cadillac plan, plus no employee contribution for dependents. But then I could believe that a cadilac dental plan could cost close to what a normal medical plan. Yeah, that would do it.

    -len raphael, temescal

  19. len raphael

    Should be shocked but not that the response of director, Andy Katz, to EBMUD planned rate increases is to subsidize them for poor people, instead of looking for ways not to raise the rates at all.

    His sterling set of progressive endorsements for reelection included some of the unions representing some of the highest paid EBMUD employees:

    • Sierra Club
    • League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay
    • Alameda County Democratic Party
    • Berkeley Democratic Club
    • East Bay Young Democrats
    • El Cerrito Democratic Club
    • Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club
    • Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club
    • Green Party of Alameda County
    • Berkeley Citizens Action

    • AFSCME, Locals 2019 & 444
    • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Locals 302 & 595
    • Laborers, Local 304
    • Plumbers Union, Local 342

    Starting years ago when one of my first cpa assignments was auditing the Sierra Club HQ payroll (Dax, my lips are sealed), to more recently when I’ve watched the Sierra Club throw their weight behind high density rezoning in Oakland flatlands, I would never donate a nickle to them and reflexively vote against any candidate they endorse. There are plenty of leaner effective conservation orgs out there that deserve support.

    -len raphael, temescal

  20. len raphael

    Director Katz has conveniently provided a way for us to express our support for cutting compensation costs at EBMUD before they raise rates.

    On his website, partially down the first page, there is a link to create an email that I trust he will forward to the Board without censoring.

  21. Dax

    Len, re “Dax, that average cost is probably a combo of”

    I didn’t say that the $19,125 was the average cost. I have seen some higher and I’ve also seen some lower.
    The lower ones are no doubt for unmarried employees with no children.
    From there you have married couples, unmarried “partners”, single parents with children, couples with 1 child, all the way up to married couples with 10 children.
    However the rate EBMUD pays a plan such as Kaiser probably charges no more once you get past 4 children.
    I know plans like that listed in AC Transit contracts give a choice of plans and something like Kaiser tops out at about $1,900 per month for the family.
    A few plans are over $2,000.
    Then you also have extra for dental.

    As a portion of salary, for some employees this can amount of a very high percentage of income.
    I saw one employee in, I think, Dublin, where her pay was, for some reason, $21,666 and her medical plan alone cost the city $14,426.
    That is for a “Office Assistant”.
    The other “office Assistant” earned $7,555 and got heath plan costing $7,569.
    I don’t know the reason for those strange numbers. Perhaps there is some explanation.

    BTW, comparing EBMUD meter readers to City of Alameda Power meter readers is as follows for “total compensation”.

    Alameda $75k to $78K total package
    EBMUD $98K to $116K total package.
    (for EBMUD I dropped of the 5 highest and also some off the bottom… so as to get the mid-range compensation)
    Wonder why EBMUD pays so much more for similar work. Though it is a bit harder to lift those water meter lids all day long, often like mine hidden in bushes.

    Reminds me, I’d better go trim mine tomorrow.

    Here is the link for all the salaries of those agencies and cities willing to report.
    Oakland is currently missing.

  22. len raphael

    The not so amazing response of several civic activists in Temescal to my rant about the EBMUD rate hikes, was that Andy Katz is a great guy because he has tried to raise rates on heavy suburban users. That if he had succeeded, than we could afford to pay the EBMUD workers what all workers should be paid.

    A variation of the prop 13 debate.

    Not even a question of why it would be good idea to spend more than say Alameda on compensation, instead of rebuilding the water distribution network and building redundancy for disasters, even if we had higher rates.

    These activists aren’t trust funders, but probably did buy their homes 20 years ago. Still, if that’s what some of the civic minded residents believe, it is going to be a very interesting seeing how they react to the fiscal avalanch barreling toward Oakland.

    -len raphael, temescal