One key concept seems to have gone missing in the discussion, however: Climate Change.
The debate has been framed up in terms of
- Loss of home and property value without an adjacent golf course
- Loss of jobs if the golf course must close
- Changing water usage patterns by large irrigators
- Reducing water costs for large irrigators and compensating with increasing costs for residential users
From the article about the proposed water rate cut:
“It’s not unusual to try to save or to create 50 jobs in this town forgiving taxes for years on end, for doing a whole variety of fiscal gymnastics to get them in,” said City Councilor Chuck Bennett, a committee member. “I’m not sure why in the case of a business like this we wouldn’t do the same kind of thing relative to this cost.”From the article about the proposed housing development:
But [Public Works Director Peter]Fernandez said that would open the door to more special deals, undercutting the city’s carefully designed rate structure, which charges each customer class the actual cost of the water it uses....
In the end the committee voted to reduce rates for all 670 irrigators, from $4.24 per unit (748 gallons) to $2.97 per unit. Residential rates will be raised to make up the lost revenue to the city – estimated at $600,000 per year....
the plan...would save Creekside about $60,000 per year. Creekside is the only Salem golf course to irrigate with city water.
The club spends about $300,000 per year on water, and had asked to be reclassified to either the commercial rate, at $2.19 per unit, or the industrial rate, at $1.54 per unit.
The property’s owner – developer Larry Tokarski – is moving forward with a plan to turn the entire 18-hole championship course into single-family homes.On Facebook, Councilor Bennett criticizes the paper's presentation and offers his own explanation and counter-narrative:
On May 27, Tokarski sent the city of Salem a pre-development application for a 156-acre, 354-unit planned development....
Homeowners say the homes they bought were advertised as being in a golf course community, and that the covenants, conditions and restrictions (CCRs), recorded in 1992, prohibit the course’s development.
As a group, homeowners stand to lose $30 million through reduced property values if the course is developed, one resident said at the meeting Thursday.
Five options were considered by the Task Force. The recommended option to reduce the irrigation volume rates by 30 percent was developed based upon updated peak water use data, and to maintain the integrity of the cost of service model. Maintaining the integrity of the cost of service model requires that a new rate structure be applied to all of the customers within a classification, not just one customer. To further maintain balance, cost reductions for a customer classification must be balanced with corresponding increases to the remaining classes.All of this is complicated and clearly there will be trade-offs. There is probably not a simple, clear, and elegant solution that is fair to everyone.
The current irrigation rates reflect customer usage characteristics developed in 2011. Current water use data were analyzed to determine whether there had been changes in relative peak demands (peak hour costs represent approximately 20 percent of total irrigation costs) across customer classes. In addition, data from 2015 showed a reduction of almost 10 percent in irrigation peak demands relative to other customer classes. Recognizing large nonresidential customers frequently irrigate during off-peak hours, these costs could also be reduced.
But even Councilor Bennett's explanation is framed up as an analysis of "peak demand" and nowhere is there evidence that a rate scheme considered the supply side in addition to the demand side. I suppose the value of the golf course as a stormwater detention and filtration system is touched on, especially as Public Works may require modification of any Planned Unit Development for storm water management.
But the problem here with water rates is not flood, but drought. We have a known seasonal scarcity of variable severity, one that is likely to have more frequent and deeper episodes of scarcity in the future.
If we want pricing signals to support wise use of a seasonally scarce resource, then reducing pricing after "a reduction of almost 10 percent in irrigation peak demands relative to other customer classes" may be a move in the wrong direction. Instead, we should want to encourage a further 10% reduction, and a price increase could be a way to accomplish that.
If one of our high level policy goals is to encourage water conservation, it doesn't look like the plan for Creekside implements that strategy in a thoughtful way. Instead, it looks like it approaches the matter from a fundamental perspective of plentiful water rather than any scarcity of water.
Fortunately there will be more debate and discussion of all this. Councilor Bennett says there will be a Public Hearing planned for October 10th at City Council.
In the meantime, it seems impossible that there is a viable long-term plan to retain the golf course. Nike and Adidas are both getting out of the golf business and the demographic trends seem to promise golf's decline. Since the area is poorly served by transit, not very walkable, and intensely car-dependent, it is not a good match for any kind of multi-family or low-income housing, so there may be no real public interest in anything other than managing stormwater. Adding to housing supply, in an area far from any proposed bridge, with 354 homes seems like it might be the best use after all.
(For more on water supply, drought, and climate change see notes here.)