Readers comments 2-7-14
The drought and the city
Thank god Governor Brown declared the drought. Now Golden State has a “legitimate” reason to raise our rates.
A PhD for the trees
I am a relative newcomer to Claremont, one of those retired PhDs who is here largely because of the trees! The wonderful spectacle of beautiful, well-nurtured trees spreading their lush canopies over the roadways displays to all that this is a community that cares about esthetic and environmental values.
My interest in the trees eventually led me to join the Tree Action Group (TAG) of Sustainable Claremont, which has recently submitted recommendations for the coming revision of the Street Tree Policy Manual.
One of the major areas of our concern has been the topic of proper pruning practices. The city’s current manual already includes guidelines for maintaining the natural appearance of our trees by limiting the proportion of a tree’s canopy that can be pruned, and prohibiting practices such as “topping,” which produces trees that are unattractive, unhealthy, vulnerable to disease and forces them to produce unsightly growths of “suckers” in a desperate attempt to compensate for the loss of crucial food-producing canopy. Unfortunately, trees on private property are not legally protected from such abuse.
A very disturbing case in point is the recent macabre spectacle of mutilated sycamores (I think they are…hard to tell from what’s left!) lining the Claremont Club’s parking area on Monte Vista Boulevard, as well as the marvelous large heritage sycamores near the stone clubhouse. Did the Club employ the services of a certified arborist for this project? I’m certain that, private property or not, a responsible professional arborist would never have approved such massive overpruning of these magnificent trees.
I’m also a recent member of the Club, and am disappointed to see that their wonderful concern for the health of their human members does not extend to the health of their trees and their value to the community’s appearance and ecological health.
I hope they will see the error of their ways, and not continue inflicting such abusive damage to our treescape.
Ben Wise, PhD
What to do about drought
We need local control of our water!
That was my immediate thought as I learned 2013 was the driest year for California in more than a century, the driest on record and our third consecutive year of drought.
The snowpack in the Sierras, the source of much our southern California water, is down 20 percent of normal. Governor Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and deliveries from the State Water Project have been cut to zero for this spring. That’s where we get half our water!
Fortunately, the large reservoirs in the southland have enough stored water to get us through the coming year. But if we have another year of drought, and those reservoirs are not replenished, we will be in serious trouble. With a warming climate, droughts will be more severe. Claremont’s ability to manage water in our own best interest will be increasingly important.
Claremont’s best interest is certainly not Golden State Water Company’s highest priority. As we consider going to a municipal water system, Golden State is suing the city and has hired a Nevada firm to conduct a telephone survey with misleading questions about the water system. The survey includes questions about Claremont’s City Manager Tony Ramos and Councilmember Sam Pedroza. Later, will there also be questions about other councilmembers in the hope they can be intimidated?
If we had local control of our water system, our best interests would come first. We would set our own rates based on the cost of supplying water, without paying for legal suits and for self-serving surveys, without profiting a private utility and without the regional rate system where we help pay for other cities’ water, even if they must import all of it.
We cannot survive without water. We shouldn’t be under a private monopoly. Golden State is required by law to encourage water conservation, but as we cut back on water use our rates increase under the “Water Rate Adjustment Mechanism” approved by the Public Utilities Commission. If we owned the system we would not have that imposed on us.
Galling as it is, escalating rates is not the most critical issue. More important is our ability to prepare for coming shortages and conservation alone isn’t likely to be enough.
Every five years, water utilities are required to prepare an Urban Water Management Plan with projections for the next 25 years. Golden State published the last one for Claremont in 2011. Our need for imported water is estimated to increase from 51 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2035. But what will we do if that isn’t available? Conservation is emphasized, but to be prudent we need to do more.
Our neighboring cities provide good examples of what might be done if we owned our water utility. La Verne built reservoirs that will help when there is the need. Pomona has a large water reclamation plant that provides much of their irrigation water. Golden State offers no plans for additional water reclamation, but claims sole right to sell reclaimed water to their Claremont customers. Fortunately, that does not apply to water reclaimed for personal use, so the Claremont Colleges have plans for an on-campus water recycling facility with a state-of-the-art small footprint water reclamation plant that will supply about two-thirds of the water needed to irrigate the campuses. That could cut the potable water Claremont must import by 70,000,000 gallons per year or more; about six percent of what we now import from the state water project.
If Claremont owned its water system we could follow the Colleges’ example, reclaim water throughout the city and substantially reduce dependence on increasingly scarce and costly imported water.
It’s time for local control of our water system!
Water fight hurts Claremont public schools
As Claremont schools enter the spring semester, the last thing they and their families might expect is that a political fight over water would jeopardize efforts to improve the quality of their schools. Students should not have to pay the price for an ill-advised power struggle, but in Claremont, sadly, that could be the case. In the end, children and their parents will be the losers. Here’s why.
Claremont schools are among the finest in California: a team effort of dedicated teachers, involved parents and a community that works together and values the importance of public education. However, like many California school districts, Claremont faces a funding gap to upgrade and modernize its facilities. As of today, Claremont schools are eligible for more than $10.5 million in new construction and modernization funding through California’s School Facilities Program, but local matching funds are required.
In 2010, a local school bond fell short of the necessary votes for a $95 million plan to replace and repair dozens of aging classrooms across CUSD. The bonds would have paid to remove hazardous materials such as asbestos from schools and to upgrade libraries, classroom technology and promote energy efficiency. The need didn’t go away, it’s likely even greater now. Education leaders must build broad-based support for a future bond, whether in 2014 or beyond.
However, a potential acquisition of the Golden State Water Company by the city of Claremont would undermine efforts to pass a local school bond for years, if not decades to come. From decades of experience fighting to provide resources for local school districts, I can say that residents will not vote for water and school bonds. Between the two choices, it’s no contest…public schools must always come first because they provide the academic foundation that ensures our children and the Claremont community will remain strong.
By all impartial accounts, the water company provides reliable service and maintains the system appropriately. Yet, without a vote of the people, the city offered $55 million to purchase the water company. That’s a huge red flag, because an offer is a mandatory first step in California’s eminent domain process.
As an educator who oversaw public instruction throughout California, I am very concerned about the damaging precedent this situation holds for school districts across the state. If every local government started to abuse the eminent domain process to settle turf battles with other local entities like what we are seeing in Claremont, voter approved bonds for schools, roads or other municipal services would be severely impacted.
Newton’s third law of physics tells us that for every action there is an opposite reaction. The physics of the Claremont situation are simple. If the city pushes forward with an eminent domain takeover, local taxpayers will have to repay water bonds of more than $100 million. That will undoubtedly hurt the chances for passing a future school bond.
The reason? The city offered $55 million, but the actual sale amount will be much higher after a jury determines the highest price that a willing buyer would pay. What happens if that number is two or three times higher? Residents would be repaying hundreds of millions in principal and interest payments and likely higher water costs for the same water service. Schools and students, however, lose out on the chance to make critical investments in facilities, technology and other academic needs.
Taxpayers are already being stretched. Voters raised their taxes by passing Proposition 30 and may be asked to pass a statewide water bond this year. There has even been discussion of another statewide school bond. Should Claremont schools need voter approval for a local bond to meet local needs, it will be competing with those issues in addition to other municipal priorities like public safety, roads and parks. If the city advances a campaign to raise taxes for an attempted water takeover, taxes will increase and students and their teachers suffer the consequences.
For the sake of local schools, I believe the city and the water company should work to resolve their conflict instead of continuing down the eminent domain path. Residents can make a difference by demanding that city leaders change course and directly engage the water company to work toward a solution that benefits residents without harming public schools.
Make no mistake, even the possibility of a local water tax will kill a future school bond, and children will be the ultimate losers.
California Superintendent of Public Instruction (2002-2010)
[Editor’s note: Mr. O’Connell spent 20 years as a state assemblyman and senator, and authored Proposition 39, a statewide measure approved by voters in 2000 which lowered the threshold for passing school bonds from 66.7 percent to 55 percent.]