Disgruntled customers sound off on water rates

Five hours of public comment in front of an administrative law judge Tuesday featured the testimony of more than 100 disgruntled customers of Golden State Water Company’s Region 3. The comments were part of public hearings held by the California Public Utilities Commission Tuesday.

Claremont’s Taylor Hall housed 2 of 6 hearings held by the CPUC this week. Similar hearings took place in Barstow and Apple Valley as residents of cities throughout Golden State’s Region 3 rally against another wave of proposed water rate increases set to begin piling on in 2013.

“When your water bill is more than your car payment there’s something terribly wrong,” said Claremont resident Gil Dickason. “It’s beyond a felony. This is a felony rate.”

Golden State’s Region 3 serves an estimated 98,000 customers in 33 cities and adjacent territory spanning Barstow to Los Alamitos, Los Angeles to San Bernardino.

Golden State has proposed a 21.4 percent increase in water rates for 2013, followed by a 2.7 percent increase in 2014 and an additional 3.3 percent in 2015. The proposal, submitted last July, is currently in review and will be voted upon in December 2012, according to Judge Richard Smith, who is assigned to the case.

An estimated 700 of those customers crowded into Taylor Hall throughout the day Tuesday to speak to the outrages water rate spikes, those being enforced currently and those to be implemented in the next few years.  

“In the worst times of economic history these gentleman see it fit to put in for a rate increase,” said Mr. Dickason, addressing representatives of Golden State Water present at the hearing. “What about the elderly? What about those people on fixed incomes? You ought to hang your head in shame. It’s greed.”

Mr. Foshay, a retired Claremont resident on a fixed income, said he and his wife have done everything they can to conserve water, but are still being stung by water statements with high figures.

“It’s a win-win for them and a lose-lose for me,” Mr. Foshay said. “This is beyond greed. To me this is criminal. Water is not an option; it is a requirement and a necessity. It shouldn’t be owned by a private company.”

Local business owners and city employees also chimed in to the discussion. The schools of Claremont Unified School District paid an estimated $337,000 last fiscal year on water bills, according to Joe Tonan, president of the Claremont Faculty Association.

“It’s time to place people over unreasonable profit,” Mr. Tonan implored of the CPUC.

Golden State representatives stood firm in their resolve that the increases are necessary and that building a reserve from past rates is not an option.

“The commissions’ rate setting policies do not allow Golden State to build up reserves for future infrastructure investments. All infrastructure investments are funded by the company at the time of the investment,” said Keith Switzer, Golden State Water’s vice president of regulatory affairs. “The historical costs of the infrastructure and the financial costs are recovered in rates once the CPUC finds it to be reasonable, but the cost recovery does not allow for the accumulation of any reserve to replace aging or worn out infrastructure.”

Mr. Switzer added that proposed costs in Region 3 for 2013-2015 include more than $89 million in capital investments with more than $10 million taking place in Claremont. Projects include installation of almost 6 miles of distribution pipes primarily to reduce leaks, repair of wells and old infrastructure.

Many remained unsympathetic to Mr. Switzer’s claims, citing unnecessary financial gains to the company and its shareholders while its customers suffer. American State Water, Golden State Water’s mother company, reported a net income of $15.6 million this year.

“That is more than double net income in one year,” said Marilyn Cummings of North Tustin, comparing the latest figure to its $6.7 million net income last year. “What other company has such astounding financial figures to report to shareholders?”

One thing is certain for the people of Claremont present at Tuesday’s meetings: residents can no longer afford the rate increases.

“It’s the same song and dance. It’s time to take control of our own water,” said Sandra Maldonado to shouts of encouragement from those in attendance.

City officials added their voices to that request, stating unanimous support from the city council for taking over Claremont’s water system.

“We are frustrated. We have been to this rodeo before, and we think that the system is unjust,” said Mayor Sam Pedroza addressing Judge Smith. “We don’t like the rate, we are going to change that. We are part of a community that’s going to join other communities to change the system.”

Those unable to attend the hearing can still send their comments to the Public Advisor’s Office at 320 West Fourth St., Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90013 or by email to public.advisor.la@cpuc.ca.gov. Please refer to Golden State Water Company’s application No. 11-07-017 in the subject line. Judge Smith, CPUC commissioners and other divisions assigned to review the proceedings, will review all comments.  

Those interested in getting involved in Claremont’s grass roots campaign against water spikes can visit Claremonters Against Outrageous Water Rates on Facebook or e-mail claremontoutrage@gmail.com.  

—Beth Hartnett


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