Update, Monday, May 9, 10 p.m. — Palo Alto City Council approved the transfer of part of the city’s unused allocation of water from the Hetch Hetchy system to East Palo Alto at no charge.
The vote was 7-1 with Greg Tanaka in the minority, arguing that the water rights have value and the city shouldn’t give them away at a time when it is raising water rates for residents.
A lack of water has prevented EPA from moving forward with developments such as affordable housing.
City Manager Jim Keene and several council members said transferring the rights was something a good neighbor would do, and EPA will still have to pay for the water from the Hetch Hetchy system.
Original story, published Saturday, May 5
BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Council will vote Monday (May 7) night on whether to give 500,000 gallons of water per day to East Palo Alto — an idea that has not been universally popular on the Palo Alto council.
Palo Alto Councilman Greg Tanaka spoke out against the idea last Monday (April 30), explaining that instead of giving away its extra water for free, he thinks Palo Alto should be selling its allocation to East Palo Alto, like Mountain View did last year.
“What city does that, right? Our neighboring city, Mountain View, sells it for $5 million. We give it away. What city does that? I mean, if we’re really hurting for money, we don’t give away money,” Tanaka said during a discussion about a possible ballot measure to raise taxes for infrastructure projects. “To me, this is totally inappropriate.”
Mountain View signed a $5 million agreement in May 2017 to sell 1 million gallons of water a day to East Palo Alto.
East Palo Alto has a disproportionately small water allocation from the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System because the allocations were worked out before East Palo Alto was incorporated into a city in 1983.
Under the 2009 Water Supply Agreement between San Francisco and wholesale customers in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties, transfers must be permanent and at least as large as 100,000 gallons per day.
Possible boost for affordable housing
East Palo Alto has had a moratorium on building new structures since June 2016 as a result of its water shortage, stopping projects such as the Primary School founded by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan, and a low-income housing project.
The city will be voting on whether to lift the ban this year. East Palo Alto leaders are also rehabilitating a well and building a new groundwater well while seeking water allocations from other jurisdictions.
The idea was first suggested at council in 2016, when Council members Eric Filseth, Karen Holman and Tom DuBois and former mayor Pat Burt called on the city to consider transferring or selling some of its water allocation to East Palo Alto.
In a memo to the rest of the nine-member council, the four focused on East Palo Alto’s well-being and ability to provide affordable housing as important for Palo Alto. It gained support from Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Greg Scharff.
Palo Alto has a permanent entitlement to almost 17.1 million gallons of water per day, which it hasn’t surpassed since the 1970s. Thanks to improved infrastructure and technology that uses less water, the city hasn’t even used 14 million gallons a day since the 1980s.
Giving away part of the city’s allocation could have an impact during a water shortage, according to City Manager Jim Keene. During droughts, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission can cut water sales to San Francisco and the wholesale customers, including Palo Alto.
Transferring 500,000 gallons a day to East Palo Alto could require Palo Alto to reduce its water use by another 1% during water shortages. The transfer would bring East Palo Alto’s allocation up to just under 3 million gallons of water per day.