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City, Golden State call temporary truce in Claremont water system dispute

The city of Claremont and Golden State Water came to a compromise last week in the ongoing dispute over Claremont’s water system.

The five-page agreement between the parties adopted at a special city council meeting on July 31 is evidence that both sides are capable of coming to the water table and making concessions for the greater good of Claremont

Signed by Mayor Joe Lyons on Monday, August 4, the agreement requires the city to release financial feasibility documents and revise its ballot measure to seek approval of $135 million in bonds rather than $55 million as previously stated. In exchange, Golden State agreed to abandon the citizen initiative petition as well as dismiss both the Public Records Act lawsuit and the CEQA lawsuit challenging the city’s Environmental Impact Report.

“After much discussion, the city council ultimately accepted a compromise proposal with the city’s current water system operator, forcing Golden State Water to dismiss all frivolous lawsuits against the city and drop the company’s misleading petition drive,” said Claremont Mayor Joe Lyons. “The compromise proposal saves taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and is the best long-term deal for city residents and ratepayers,” 

Denise Krueger, senior vice president of regulated utilities for Golden State, signed the agreement on July 31 and maintains that the water company will continue to meet with city leaders to address water issues.

“This agreement represents a first step in what we hope will be a continued collaborative process,” states Ms. Kruger. “Golden State Water has always urged the city to give residents information about the total costs, including how much they would have to pay in principal and interest payments over 30 years. Residents should know that even with $135 million in borrowing,  that will not be enough money for this unprecedented takeover plan.”

Golden State Water also agreed it would not file any additional lawsuits based on activities or actions taken by the city prior to the adoption of the agreement. However, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho was quick to point out that while Golden State agreed to dismiss existing litigation, the water company is not waiving its right to potentially challenge the ballot measure or any Brown Act violations. The agreement also doesn’t prohibit Golden State from bringing forward another public records act request or challenge based on new discovery.

“They could bring a whole host of other lawsuits and public records suits and Brown Act lawsuits, but those lawsuits are not the types of lawsuits that would prohibit you from moving forward on your process,” Ms. Carvalho told the council.

Despite Golden State’s concession to dismiss the CEQA lawsuit within two business days of the effective date of the agreement, as of press time, the water company appears to be in violation of that agreement. On August 7, three days after the agreement was executed, Los Angeles County court records indicate the case remains pending with a trial-setting conference scheduled in mid-September.

It also should be noted that Golden State’s dismissal of the Public Records Act (PRA) lawsuit is contingent upon the delivery of the moderately-redacted financial feasibility report from the city, including all exhibits and attachments, within seven days of the agreement’s execution. Golden State agreed to drop the public records action within five business days of receiving the report. However, if the water company seeks judicial review of the city’s redactions, the case will be dismissed within two days from issuance of the Superior Court ruling concerning the redactions.

The release of the city’s feasibility report has been a point of contention between Claremont and Golden State since December 2013, when the water company filed a Writ of Mandate in a bid to require the city to release the financial reports regarding the water system takeover.

According to a city spokesperson, the city remains on track to release the documents as scheduled and continues to meet Los Angeles County Registrar deadlines in filings related to the ballot measure set for November 4.

Written arguments are in the final stage of completion and rebuttals will soon follow, all of which will be available on the city’s website for a 10-day public review period. The ballot measure itself, submitted to the registrar’s office on August 1, will require a “Yes” or “No” vote and will read as follows:

“Shall the City of Claremont be authorized to issue water revenue bonds up to $135 million to pay for acquisition of the Claremont Water System and incidental expenses payable only from the water system’s revenues?”

Mr. Lyons holds that the revised language in the bond measure does little to change the city’s previous position.

“Claremont voters will be asked to approve the issuance of water revenue bonds in an amount up to $135 million,” said Mayor Joe Lyons. “Contrary to what some may be saying, the changes to the ballot language do not change the financing mechanism that the city always intended to propose to the voters.”

For information regarding the water revenue bond ballet measure, log on to the city’s website at www.ci.claremont.ca.us.

—Angela Bailey

news@claremont-courier.com

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