New bill makes water companies open their books to public

The California State Senate will soon review a bill requiring water companies and agencies to be subject to the same review and audit process as other public utilities.

Senate Bill 1364, introduced by California Senator Bob Huff—who represents the 29th district, including Claremont—aims to give ratepayers more involvement in the water rate adjustment process.

The legislation was passed unanimously out of the Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee last week, calling for a modification to the Public Utilities Act. The changes are part of an effort to make the financial records of water companies more transparent. If approved by the senate, it will likely have an influence on future rate case applications for Claremont’s provider, Golden State Water Company.

According to the bill’s language, it would give the public access to “inspect the accounts, books, papers, and documents of any business that is a subsidiary or affiliate of, or a corporation that holds a controlling interest in, a water corporation.”

The bill will now move to the appropriations committee and, if approved there, eventually to the senate floor and State Assembly. An exact date is unknown, according to City Manager Tony Ramos. Claremont city officials including Mayor Larry Schroeder and Councilmember Sam Pedroza visited Sacramento last week to speak with assemblymen about the passage of the bill in hopes of its success.

“It went very well,” Mr. Pedroza said upon his return from the State Capitol. “From what we have heard so far, [the bill] is being well-received from both sides, Republicans and Democrats.”

“It’s neat to see that our city is taking a lead along with other cities in addressing water issues through this bill,” he added.

Bill 1364’s proposed changes regarding transparency include how a rate increase will affect a customer as part of the agency’s general rate case with the CPUC, and required notification about those increases sent to customers, if approved. It will also ensure that those served by private water companies are provided with proper general rate case notification information necessary to protect them from regularly rising water rates.

The bill not only addresses concerns with companies like Golden State Water, but with the CPUC, according to Mr. Pedroza.

“This bill really addresses the sheer frustration that we have with our water company,” Mr. Pedroza said, adding, “Our CPUC—the organization that ought to be keeping a check on our rates, isn’t doing their job. That’s what this bill is intended to do.”

Supporting a bill of this kind is one step within a 3-pronged approach the Claremont City Council is taking to help its residents with increasing burdens caused by Golden State Water’s rate spikes.

Advocating legislation relating to water corporations, fighting rate increases and evaluating an acquisition of the water system are top priorities for Claremont, according to Mr. Ramos, who is “pleased” Senator Huff’s bill is moving forward. Mr. Ramos joined Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Pedroza in Sacramento to help educate legislators on the importance of the bill to Golden State Water’s Region 3 ratepayers, which include Claremont residents.

Though Golden State Water remains neutral on Senator Huff’s Bill, company representatives insist that they are doing what they can to make their rate application process more transparent.

“We support [Mr. Huff’s] vision for transparency and accountability,” said Mitch Zak, public and media information liaison for Golden State Water. “It’s consistent with our approach. While we don’t have a position, we certainly are supportive of what he is trying to accomplish.”

Mr. Zak says that Golden State Water has been in contact with Sen. Huff, providing him with any necessary information requested.

“We 100 percent share his commitment…and value his leadership,” Mr. Zak added.

As Golden State Water works toward further transparency, the company’s latest request for rate increases, proposed to take effect in 2013, begins the next step of the approval process this week. Evidentiary hearings will begin tomorrow, May 3, as moderated by the California Public Utilities Commission. Representatives from Claremont, Placentia and 3 other cities were selected as active participants in the hearing process.

While legislation moves forward, and the city prepares for the CPUC evidentiary hearing, Claremont staff is still working through the analysis portion of the city’s potential water system acquisition, according to City Manager Tony Ramos. The data will be presented to the city council in coming months.

Bills and letters of protest continue to be taken at Claremont City Hall, 207 Harvard Ave. For more information, call 399-5466. Further information on and a timeline of the CPUC evidentiary hearings can be accessed on the city’s website at www.ci.claremont. ca.us.

—Beth Hartnett

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