Claremont inches closer to eminent domain in water fight

The Claremont City Council will take a vote on Tuesday, March 25 to begin eminent domain proceedings for the acquisition of the city’s water system.

The city’s legal team issued a notice of hearing this week declaring its intent to take a vote on eminent domain during the regular open session of the city council, being held at Taylor Hall, 1775 N. Indian Hill Blvd. The city will also be taking public comment on an environmental impact report regarding the water system acquisition.

With the council’s vote, the city would adopt a resolution of necessity, setting into motion a six-month deadline to file an eminent domain lawsuit.

Golden State Water, which currently operates Claremont’s water system, was notified of the hearing by the city’s legal team. According to the notice, if the water company does not submit a written appeal within 15 days of March 12, the day Golden State received the directive, the company’s right to be heard on the matter could be waived.

Golden State officials say they are preparing to submit their appeal. They continue to caution the city against moving forward with what Denise Kruger, the water company’s senior vice president of regulated utilities, refers to as “the largest financial gamble in the city’s history.”

“Any decision by the city council about whether to commence eminent domain should await further public dialogue and evaluation.  Key questions—including the cost of paying lawyers and experts to prosecute the litigation, the amount and allocation of new taxes, and what other city or company would be hired to operate the water system if it is seized—remain unanswered,” she said.

City Manager Tony Ramos refutes that claim.

“That’s their opinion,” he said. “We have a meeting on the 25th and will get further direction from the council on that night.”

At a meeting in November, city administrators estimated the city could afford to pay Golden State up to $80 million with little to no impact to existing water rates and without resorting to a water bond or parcel tax. If the water system purchase were to cost $100 or $120 million, city experts estimate rates would still be lower than existing Golden State Water rates in 9 or 17 years, respectively. Ms. Kruger asserts the value of the land and assets of the Claremont water system exceeds $200 million.

Existing litigation between Claremont and Golden State continues as talk of further legal proceedings commences. The water company filed a Writ of Mandate with the Los Angeles Superior Court in December to require the city of Claremont to release documents surrounding the financial impact of a water system takeover. Late last month, the council approved the use of $150,000 of the city’s unassigned General Fund money for its defense against Golden State Water’s lawsuit.

—Beth Hartnett


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