A huge thanks to all of the residents who came to this month’s Town Hall meeting. It was a record turn-out!
For those who missed the meeting, I’d like to provide a summary of the topics we discussed. We met at Sports Basement’s Big Room with Presidio representatives. Their contact info is below.
Obama couldn’t make it
The notes below are about the utilities discussion. For police topics that were discussed, go here. For tree removal at North Fort Scott and Pilot’s Row, go here.
And finally, a HUGE thanks to Sports Basement for your continued support of our Town Hall meetings. We are so grateful!
The primary topic on the agenda was utility billing of residents. For this, we met with Kathleen Catton from the Presidio Trust’s Utility Billing department as well as Ann Ostrander, Residential Program Manager for the Trust.
One resident asked about rising utility costs, saying that three years ago we weren’t paying separate utilities, then we were paying 90 dollars a month. Today, this particular resident is paying between 140-150 dollars a month for his 950-square-foot apartment. So there’s a trend of rising costs, and he wanted to know where this trend was going.
Kathleen Catton replied that for a long time, the Trust was absorbing the cost of utilities. They did not want to “roll out their utility program and have a big rate increase on top of it,” so they initiated billing with rates set at a 1999 level, while the Trust subsidized the overall cost. They have increased the rates slowly over three years, to avoid “hitting you with a major impact”. Last year, finally, Presidio utility rates met those of San Francisco residents overall.
On top of that, the Presidio’s entire utility system is owned and maintained by the Trust. They have operational costs, water costs, capital equipment and distribution system costs, etc. If a water pipe breaks, the city does not repair it – the cost falls on the Trust. And even though they buy electricity from PG&E, they have to maintain their own substations and high-volt crews. They need to run and maintain an entire infrastructure.
One resident wondered: Is there a cap on utility costs that the Trust is charging us? Kathleen replied that right now, the utility rates are capped at the San Francisco rate.
I later emailed Kathleen for some clarification about rates. Regarding gas, the rate is set by PG&E. However, the Trust sets the rates for water, sewer and electric. About this, Kathleen writes: “rate calculations are actual total utility costs divided by total number of units delivered – not to exceed the cost of multi-family units for like service in San Francisco.” Here, “actual total utility costs” means not just what the Trust pays for water or electric, but also what it is paying to maintain its infrastructure. With that in mind, the Trust will not charge its residents rates higher than those of San Francisco, even if it means that the Trust takes a hit. And indeed, according to Kathleen, the Trust does “not recover [its] full costs for providing utility services in the Presidio.” It means they’re still subsidizing our water, sewer and electric.
Historic water treatment plant at Baker Beach
Kathleen talked in general about the water situation on the Presidio. The water treatment plant on Baker Beach provides 80 percent of the park’s water in summer, and 100 percent in winter. When the facility can’t produce enough water, the Trust buys it from San Francisco (“the Hetch-Hetchy stuff”), which comes to about 20 percent overall yearly. The California Department of Health requires that the Trust provide yearly reports, which can be viewed here. Our water quality is always very good.
In terms of how residents are charged for water: Most residential units on the Presidio have separate water meters. Baker Beach is the only neighborhood where units share water meters. If a water meter is shared, the utilities department allocates expenses based on the size of the unit, not based on the actual number of people in the unit. This is because water usage “is more of a lifestyle issue”. Kathleen said: “You can have ten people in a unit that shower at the gym and don’t cook at home, and they don’t use as much water as one person who takes a shower in the morning, in the afternoon and evening, and who does lots of laundry.” In terms of electricity, all units on the Presidio are individually metered, except for Baker Beach, where meters are shared.
A resident pointed out that the issue of shared utilities creates irritation between neighbors and it can be a non-incentive, with residents feeling that it’s pointless to conserve energy when their neighbors are wasting it. Kathleen replied that in fact she’s seen the opposite.
The bottom line: what can we do to change this cost-sharing between buildings?
Ann said that the army left behind “so many quirky conditions, especially when it comes to infrastructure” and the Trust has “looked long and hard at the costs and the analysis related to separately metering all utilities.” While they completely understand the frustrations of the current system, thanks to the way the army intermingled the piping between units (for both water and gas), it would be much too expensive to repair.
One residents shifted the focus to piped gas: which is really the major cost on most bills. Do we have smart meters?
No. PG&E puts smart meters on their gas lines, but in many cases, a gas line feeds a boiler that is shared between two units, so the costs have to be split between the two units. (This is “shared gas”). This is the situation for apartments on West Washington, Upper Portola, Simonds Loop, Quarry, MacArthur, North Fort Scott, Kobbe, Morton, Sibley, Vista, Wallen and Brooks/Baker. In all other neighborhoods, including Baker Beach, units are billed individually for gas (except for four units on Baker Beach).
The Trust’s meters are “radio read” which are safer than smart meters because they are not constantly transmitting.
How are we supposed to handle it when, for example, one neighbor uses a lot of gas, and we don’t? Kathleen suggested coming to her directly with this. She can provide you with an overall picture of energy usage in your neighborhood and your building so that you have a better sense of the inequality between units, and so that you have a platform for which to discuss the subject with your neighbor. Having this kind of information can often be very enlightening, she said.
Another resident pointed out that it was so much easier when our utilities were included in our rent. It eliminated the feeling of resentment of your neighbors’ energy usage. Kathleen replied that since utilities have been separately billed, there were significant drops in energy usage across all neighborhoods. In Baker Beach alone the electrical usage dropped 10 percent a year for the first two years. The suggestion was that seeing your own energy bill every month, knowing the costs and having to pay them separately, will prompt you to initiate better conservation.
Tom Blean, director of maintenance, illustrated this through his own experience, saying that previously, in 50 percent of his day-to-day work order visits, he would walk into a house that was heated “like an oven.” People very frequently left their heaters and electricity on while they were at work. Now that they pay their own bills, he has observed a lot less waste.
What about installing boiler upgrades or smarter thermostats? One resident pointed out that having a thermostat replaced made a HUGE difference for her household. She had to call the work order desk repeatedly, but when it was finally installed, it was great.
Another resident said it would be best if the Trust took the initiative on this, instead of individual households having to call. Ann replied that they were very open to considering that. According to her, the Trust has “a long history of using both efficient hot water heaters and furnaces” and when they install new appliances, they always go for an upgrade in energy efficiency.
One of the great things to come out of the utilities discussion came up when a resident asked if the Trust has sustainability plans.
The answer from both Kathleen and Ann: the Trust has alternative power coming into the grid from wind turbans at Crissy Field and solar paneling, etc. They are talking with the city about recycled water, and have been pursuing the idea of creating a recycled water plant on the Presidio. They’ve also installed a lot of purple pipe for reclaimed water.
Are residents able to install sustainable energy in their units? Does the Trust allow it? We pay very high costs for utilities, and a lot of the homes suffer enforced meter-sharing, what about defraying some of those costs with sustainable energy sources?
Both Ann and Kathleen were very receptive to this idea. They pointed out that while historic, rehabilitated units are now very energy efficient, residential tenants have not yet been considered for these sustainability practices. The thinking was: it takes 25 years to return the value of what you invest in a solar-powered system. Tenants might not be here that long, although the apartment would be.
Another resident pointed out that solar payback can be as little as 12 years, even seven. Some solar companies now lease, with no capital down, which would be a reasonable option. These companies would finance your cost if you commit to a lease.
Ann said, “I think we should consider this. It sounds like the technology is getting more efficient and practical for people.” And Kathleen seemed enthusiastic when she replied: “I will happily look at this issue.”
Another interesting note: the Trust says that if you want to buy an electric vehicle, they have a protocol for “helping residents install charging stations at their homes.” They have electric charging stations online already at Taylor Street, and more coming shortly. For more information on their protocol, click here.
OUTDOOR PATIO FURNITURE ISSUES:
Due to time constraints, and lack of residents at the meeting who were concerned with the issue of outdoor furniture, we decided to defer this topic. For now, Darin Delagnes offered to talk or email directly with anyone who has concerns. His contact information is below.
Given that residents are a driving financial force on the Presidio, and that we have so little say in the day-to-day workings of the Presidio, some residents would like to see more representation of resident concerns in the Presidio Trust. How can that happen?
Ann replied immediately saying, “Come to these meetings, make these meeting happen more regularly, give us your voice. This meeting used to happen the first Wednesday of every month – and DID – for more than ten years. We used to hear from residents, and residents get things done. Your voices matter. The MacArthur neighborhood was changed to a large degree because of the voices of those neighbors. Let us know. It’s up to you to tell us. It’s much more powerful in a meeting than in a periodic email. We really do give this a lot of serious thought.”
Another resident said it has been her experience that neighborhood issues were best resolved when neighbors got together to talk face-to-face with the Trust.
Is there an actual protocol for residents to resolve disputes or to get Trust projects underway in our neighborhoods? Ann says that yes, these meetings are the way to do that.
Despite planning this as a subject for discussion at the next meeting, we couldn’t help talking about it here anyway.
Is there a cap on parking costs or will you continue to increase the costs? Between the parking and the high utilities, these costs total 3,000 dollars a year for one resident – a very high amount.
Kathleen clarified what is covered by parking fees: the costs of the parking program (printing of passes, some enforcement), parking meters throughout the park, and the shuttles, “which are quite expensive,” parking lot repair and maintenance, roads and sidewalk costs. In fact any of those “transportation costs” can be offset by parking fees. The Trust can’t say that they won’t ever raise our costs, but the “residential [contribution] is a small part of the revenue base.” Most of the cost of the parking program is paid for by the meters throughout the park.
Is there anything we can do to stop this, any way we can have a say in these decisions?
Kathleen’s reply was that the goal of the Trust is “to reduce vehicles used within the Presidio.”
Residents replied that while we understand this, people with kids and with jobs can’t exclusively rely on the shuttle or public transportation. The few shuttles that go downtown typically take 1.5 hours. It’s really frustrating not to have a choice, but be told what to do, and to feel penalized for having a car that you need.
Kathleen replied that transportation systems in the city are paid for by a property tax that comes through your house. We don’t have that here.
As always, we would like to hear your thoughts and comments below, or via email. Our contact information is below.
This conversation will be continued at the next Town Hall meeting in August, and we hope you will join us. We feel strongly that the continued presence of tenant voices at these meetings sends a strong message to the Trust and will ultimately effect positive changes for all.
Contact info for the representatives:
Ann Ostrander, Residential concerns: aostrander [at] presidiotrust [dot] gov, 415-561-5328
Kathleen Catton, Utility services: kcatton [at] presidiotrust [dot] gov, Utility Billing: 561-4112
Tom Blean, maintenance: 561-4270
Darin Delagnes, John Stewart Company: ddelagnes [at] jscopresidio [dot] com, 561-5454
Park police: 561-5656 (emergency), 561-5505 (non-emergency)
Town Hall organizers (residents): presidiotownhall [at] gmail [dot] com
Presidio Residents Organization
Facebook: Presidio Residents Organization
P.S. Special thanks to Erich for the awesome brownies!