Readers comments 11-29-13
Oust Golden State
We moved to the City of Trees and PHDs three years ago, after having lived in three other cities that had water delivered to residents via public municipal water agencies. I see our Claremont water situation as a huge problem with a simple solution. Oust Golden State as the water provider.
We may have less money to water our trees but, as the November 19 town hall meeting proved, Claremont is not short on educated residents. The GSW presentation and their poor answers to residents’ questions were simply an insult to our intelligence.
Golden State is pompous and arrogant, and the COURIER captured that in the photo of Denise Kruger. Her body language said it all!
Excellent service from Golden State Water Company
I would like to tell you about the encounter I had with Golden State Water Company on Saturday, November 23. I called the 1-800 number to report a leak at the meter on the street side.
The service tech arrived within a few minutes and corrected the problem in about an hour. Having done some irrigation contracts myself, I appreciated his beautiful work. The tech was courteous and cleaned up around the meter. This was reported in a second call to the company to be forwarded to his supervisor.
It occurred to me that a private company has a strong motivation to provide good service, while a tax-supported entity may not. We might ask how our neighboring cities are doing. Golden State Water has the expertise, equipment and resources to keep our city water running.
Where’s The Colleges’ community spirit?
After reading Peter Weinberger’s observations on the closing of the Claremont Golf Course [My Side of the Line, November 22], I have to admit that my sentiments parallel those of Mr. Weinberger to a remarkable degree.
It does seem odd that a college consortium, which appears routinely to find millions of dollars for one sort of project or another, cannot find any funds to assist in maintaining a resource which benefits the local community as a whole.
In that regard, the thought that keeps coming back to me is, where is their community spirit? To cite another example, a few years ago access to the Honnold Library was closed to all non-Colleges’ people who hadn’t paid an annual fee. Happily, that policy was reversed. We can enter the library now, but we can’t check out books unless a fee is paid.
Now, the Consortium has decided to close down what could be a (mostly, at least) self-supporting enterprise—the golf course.
So I return to my initial thought. Where’s their community spirit? Where’s their sense for just being a good neighbor?
Thank you, city of Claremont for rejecting the expansion plans for the property on Baughman Avenue [COURIER, Friday, November 15]. I would hope if we learned anything after the monstrosity approved and built on Claremont Heights Drive, it’s that severely large homes do not belong on streets with smaller traditional Claremont homes.
The homeowner—our immediate neighbor—was approved for a “remodel” three months prior to the signoff of Claremont’s mansionization policy. This policy now restricts exactly the same “remodel” from ever occurring.
All along, the neighbor told everyone on the street he was “just adding a second floor.” In the end, this became a tear- down rebuilt house. Shadows cast over half my property most of the year, barely missing our solar panels and insrugin we cannot add additional panels to our home. The house is so large the contractor couldn’t reach the upper levels to finish painting the wall.
We tried to get the construction reconsidered after ground was broken but lost—unless we were willing to go forward with thousands of dollars in legal fees. The homeowners on Baughman Avenue and the vicinity need to insure this never gets approved.
We learned through a lawyer that the size of the “remodel” violates our property deed, which the city of Claremont does not review while approving construction plans. We have property deed restrictions—as do all homeowners—affecting construction limits on the other side of the property line. However, the city feels that such deed restrictions are akin to what goes on inside townhome or condominium complexes, therefore they are not involved. Although the city also approves the exact same plans which violate our property deed.
We also learned of inverse condemnation, where an absurdly large structure condemns land along the property line. Without due process, condemned land is not supposed to happen but it does when such overtly large “remodels” are approved in neighborhoods where the homes are much smaller. We see firsthand the condemned square footage on our property as it is now being taken up by trees to try to hide that monstrosity.
By proceeding with threatening letters to the neighbors, the Kuribayashis only make matters worse. In the end, why would they even want to live in a neighborhood where they slap the faces of their neighbors? Is that a neighborly attitude to even have in Claremont? If the house is ever even finished, do you really want to be an island on the street? Everyone says “that’s the guy who built that big monstrosity!” Or “That’s the guy who wanted to sue everyone on the street!”
I beg the city of Claremont and the architectural committee to continue holding their ground. Do not approve this or any absurdly large reconstruction project. Revise the mansionization policy even further to insure its intent is never violated.
When someone feels their home is radically unsuitable for their needs, it is simply time to move.
First do no harm
All medical students are taught to “first do no harm,” which is to say that given an existing problem, it may be better to do nothing at all than to risk causing more harm than good. This is excellent advice for the rest of us as well.
As a Claremont resident with a front lawn and a swimming pool, I welcome any reasonable steps that can be taken to lower my water bill, and I believe that the efforts by the Claremont City Council to explore the purchase of the city’s water service from Golden State Water have been a well-intentioned response to a very real problem. However, now that the city has publicly released the assumptions and financial projections that this initiative is premised on, it should be apparent to everyone that the very substantial risks of this proposal far outweigh the very modest potential rewards.
Even if the acquisition was perfectly executed—if Golden State accepted our $55 million offer, the bonds were issued at current interest rates, and the city was able to immediately create an efficient water agency—the net savings to the average residential customer, according to the city’s own projections, would be less than 15 percent. Using a more realistic $80 million cost, the projected savings are barely 5 percent—$11 on a monthly $199 bill. At a $120 million acquisition cost, which is much less than Golden State will be arguing for, it would take 17 years for residents to see any savings at all.
And, under the worst-case scenario, in which the city is ordered by a court to pay Golden State substantially more than it had planned, interest rates spike upwards and residential water usage is drastically reduced—the city could face a crippling financial crisis.
At this point, no one is arguing that the acquisition is going to significantly lower our water bills. The city’s new narrative is “local control” and liberation from PUC regulation. But there is a flip side to that coin. A regulated private utility is compelled by law to set rates to cover the full cost of operating and maintaining the water system and to provide for an adequate emergency reserve.
Municipal utilities are not subject to PUC oversight, and must rely on elected politicians to approve unpopular but necessary rate hikes. If the expected savings from the acquisition do not materialize, and Claremont’s water service continues to be substantially more expensive than in Upland and La Verne, the council will be under enormous pressure to lower rates by shortchanging maintenance or shifting funds from other accounts.
I would be less concerned if there was a history of successful transactions of this type that Claremont could emulate, but it seems no other city in California has ever attempted to purchase a private water utility and replace it with a newly-created municipal one. We still do not know the answers to the most fundamental questions about this deal:?how much the system will cost, who will operate it and what condition the physical assets are in. And the council apparently does not intend to find out until after they have committed us to buying it.
California is littered with the wreckage of municipal budgets that were blown up by the actions of well-intentioned city councils that failed to seriously consider all of the things that could go wrong. Here in Claremont, we have had a number of projects—most recently the Village Trolley and the Bikestation—that looked good on paper but proved to be costly failures in practice. We cannot afford to incur tens of millions of dollars of debt to fund projects with any risk at all, much less one as hazardous as the hostile acquisition of a water utility. If anything, the council should be looking for ways to prudently reduce the city’s obligations and strengthen our reserves.
I respect the council’s genuine desire to slow the rising cost of water, and to champion the principle of local control. In a perfect world, or even in a slightly more healthy economy, this acquisition may have been worthwhile. However, in the current environment, the risks are too high, the rewards too low and the cost of failure too catastrophic for the council to reasonably proceed any further. Claremont is a wonderful place to live—let’s not take any chance of doing it harm.