Readers comments 2-14-14
O’Connell’s interest is a mystery
The city’s purchase of the water system may be up for debate. The excellent partnership between the city council and the school board is not.
Ex-State Superintendent Jack O’Connell may appear as if he is speaking for the school board or trying to portray himself as knowing what is best for our students and community but, the truth is, he submitted a letter to the COURIER without input or agreement from the Claremont Unified School District Board.
Sadly, Jack O’Connell himself is, to use his words, picking a “political fight” over the water system by trying to insert himself and his opinions into the issue. While his assertions may or may not hold water, what is true is that he is not speaking on behalf of the school board.
As locally elected officials, we are well aware of the needs our schools and students face. We also know the financial requirements of the district, the revenue we may expect from the sales of surplus property, and the community’s commitment to education.
What we don’t know is why Jack O’Connell writes about the water issue expressing concern about Claremont schools when he did not do so while he actually was responsible for what happened to our students.
His talk of upcoming local school bonds is surprising. The school board has not had an agenda item to even discuss a local school bond in over three years. As for a statewide school bond, he is more aware of that possibility than I am. However, expressing worry over a statewide school bond while conflating it with the local water issue is inappropriate.
Unified School Board
Guess who’s coming to town?
Well, we shouldn’t be surprised. It seems like Golden State Water will spare no expense when it comes to protecting their water monopoly in Claremont.
Recently, Jack O’Connell, the former California Superintendent of Public Education, wrote a letter that was published in the COURIER. Mr. O’Connell opined about how our children will be harmed if we, the community, owned our water system.
I would suggest that Mr. O’Connell, who lives in northern California, knows absolutely nothing about our community nor is he in any position to tell us what is best for the schools in Claremont and community. That is why there is a Claremont Unified School District—because we believe that our community should be in charge of educating our children, and we are doing a terrific job.
However, there was one issue that Mr. O’Connell failed to mention in his letter to the COURIER. Since leaving public office in 2010, he has been employed by one of largest lobbying firms in Sacramento.
Now you know who’s coming to town.
Dr. Anne K. Turner
Water vs. schools, it’s not that simple
Something struck me as suspicious in Jack O’Connell’s comments on Friday, February 7. Did the water company ask him to scare us from a takeover using our children as pawns?
The way I see it, his suggestion would be a double dip into our pockets with continued increases in water costs and a bond for schools. With all the riders I hear about in federal law, it would be interesting to know if we could create a bond for both water and schools? This could address long term water rate issues and tap into state matching funds for schools.
I’m hoping this will help clear up some misunderstandings about the possible purchase of the water company. Currently, Golden State Water asks for large increases in our water rates every three years. We conserve, and they profit.
As I understand it, the proposed mechanism for the possible purchase is a revenue bond. The revenue bond would be paid back using the money Claremont citizens pay as water rates. It would not be an additional tax or be tied to property values. If we pay for water at our current rate, with increases over time similar to those that GSW has been awarded recently, we can afford to pay up to $80 million for the water company without having rates any higher than we would if GSW continued to provide our water, and the bond would be repaid after 30 years.
It is like the choice between using your money to pay rent to a landlord forever or using the same amount to pay off a mortgage to buy the house. GSW includes the cost of infrastructure repairs and administration in the rates we pay, as well as considerable additional money for a profit.
A city-owned water company would not be adding in profit. If the cost of the purchase went up to $120 million, then rates would be a bit higher and the pay-back point a bit later, but the costs to Claremont citizens would stop increasing at the breakneck pace of current years, and we would have control over our water supply.
There was a recent letter suggesting that Claremonters wouldn’t approve a school bond as well as a revenue bond for purchasing the water company. I personally would vote for both. Water and schools are both important to our future. It does not have to be an either/or choice.
In general, Claremonters are very supportive of our schools and I believe the last bond failed not because we didn’t want to spend more money but because there was not a good accounting of how the money from the previous bond was spent, and because the district asked for the maximum possible with not enough clear information about how the proposed bond money was to be spent.
Many people felt there was insufficient accountability and transparency, which made them hesitant to approve the bond. I’m sure the next bond proposal will take that into account.
Rates are not the only problem
In the letters to the editor on Friday, February 7, Jack O’Connell, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, tries to scare the citizens of Claremont by arguing that a “Water Fight hurts Claremont public schools.” Mr. O’Connell was a fine legislator in Sacramento and a competent state superintendent of public instruction. However, he does not live in Claremont and is misinformed on local water issues.
Mr. O’Connell says acquiring Golden State’s water operation is simply a “turf battle.” He may not care that outrageous water rate increases are stressing family budgets, as well as impacting local businesses and depressing the real estate market. He does not know that our water usage rates doubled for the average customer in five years, 2008 to 2013, plus another 14 percent increase in 2013, with more increases approved for 2014 and 2015.
The truth is: Claremonters cannot afford not to by that expensive water company. We not only pay for water we use, when we save water we pay the company extra WRAM rates to compensate them for us saving water—for water we do not use. Or under district rates, for water our neighbors use. With drought already overtaking us, we all need to learn to conserve water, but Golden State will increase rates if we do.
Furthermore, Claremonters now contribute $8 million a year to Golden State for fabulous executive salaries and payments to stockholders in their New York based corporation. That money, paid by water users, could be purchasing the water company.
Mr. O’Connell suggests the city sit down and confer with Golden State and settle the matter. That is exactly what the city has tried to do for the last 8 years, under changing city council members and three different city managers. Golden State refuses to sell, or to be reasonable. The only alternative is to use eminent domain proceedings, the accepted method of cities settling disputes with private water monopolies who refuse to sell.
Rates are not our only problem. We need long-range planning. (There’s a drought already declared by the governor!) We must enlist the public in water conservation. We need forward-looking plans for improving storm water storage, for looking ahead to reclamation or desalination to augment local supplies. Those actions are necessary for the public benefit. They will not be taken by this distant company.
True, Golden State will do everything they can to raise the price—like hire two PR firms from the Bay area to wage a campaign against the city, or engage a Nevada firm to conduct a Golden State-written, very biased survey, or pay “experts” for newspaper articles to prove their case in local newspapers. True, they want to make this process as difficult and costly as possible—with us paying the bills! But we have been misled and abused long enough. Procrastination has proven it solves no problems where water is concerned. Claremonters cannot afford not to own their own water company. Local control is the only answer.
Furthermore, I have served two terms on the local school board. There is no direct connection between school financing and city funds. High water costs are hard on schools also. Schools could use the money, although Claremont school finance is in good shape. Claremont residents and school staffs and faculty value their schools. They can be trusted to see that our schools continue to be excellent exemplars of modern education. We need to put this water-ownership problem to rest now.
Don’t vilify us, Mr. Pixley
In John Pixley’s Observer column published Friday, February 7, “Are we one kind of community or another?” Mr. Pixley states that “…there have been people upset about the idea of low-income housing in Claremont” is blatantly misleading in this particular situation.
In this situation, the City’s Planning Commission is suggesting to use a parcel that the city does not own because it is considered “underused.” The planning commission also listed the property at the northwest corner of Towne Avenue and Base Line Road as a proposed site. That site is also not owned by the city.
Certainly, we have properties in all areas of the city—from south Claremont, to the Village, to the Heights and beyond—that are either underused or in need of paint, landscape, etc. If the planning commission can propose using private property owned by Golden State Water and LA County, what’s to keep them from proposing the use of private residential properties they deem “underused/ tired” in the future?
Those of us whose homes outline the perimeter of the Mills Avenue site in question bought here with full knowledge that the property is currently zoned for four houses per acre, should building commence. The overlay zoning that the commission proposes would allow for 30 units per acre and, according to the commission, most likely a three-story structure, which is contradictory to the aesthetics of the majority of the city—a city that emphasizes new construction uniformity with existing structures.
The question to be asked is, why would the commission consider 30 units per acre, rather than continue their relationship with Habitat for Humanity at four houses per acre? Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Pixley, that this is a “creative, uniquely Claremont way to accommodate the well along with housing?”
Mr. Pixley, we not complaining about north or south of Foothill Boulevard; we are concerned about the impact of having third floor residences overshadowing our right to private yards; we are concerned with losing the mountain views realtors showcased to procure sales; we are concerned with the impact on a working water well; we are concerned with impacted on roads near an elementary school.
Perhaps no one informed you that this proposed site, which is “conveniently located near transportation,” is only true for those homeless or low-income people who own vehicles and are able to access the freeway. The Foothill Transit stop once located at Mills Avenue/Chaparral Park was moved further north to Base Line Road/Mills Avenue, running very few times per day.
Perhaps no one informed you of the several times our diligent school crossing guard at Mills and Chaparral has forcibly moved children out of the way of drivers who either assume the red light is a suggestion or were too busy texting to notice children in the road.
Perhaps no one informed you that at the January 21 city council meeting, Councilman Corey Calaycay said that of the 22 letters the council received, none suggested to relocate low-income housing south of Arrow Highway.
The bigger picture here is that the planning commission has known for years that they do not meet the state housing requirements for low-income residents. With that knowledge, ask yourself Mr. Pixley, why was market-value housing allowed to trump low-income housing?
Mr. Pixley, stop vilifying those of us who live north of Foothill Boulevard; stop and get the facts right; stop making excuses for the city’s planning commission who “was only trying to identify land that could be used for such a project.” Looking at this from all sides—that is what observing is all about.
Former State Superintendent and politician Jack O’Connell’s argument in the Friday, February 7 edition of the COURIER is based on some mistaken assumptions. This is a common error for most of us when heavily invested in a system of beliefs and trying to take an objective view of a problem.
The first mistaken assumption is that we need to pass a school bond in order to have a good educational system. Is the present system not doing a good job of educating our children? Are our teachers and the education they are providing our children sub-standard because the previous school bond did not pass? I think not.
I have had opportunity to observe hundreds of hours of instruction in different school districts’ classrooms, many of them in Claremont, over a period exceeding two decades. In all instances, the quality of education provided by Claremont teachers has been consistently first-rate.
The second mistaken assumption is that Mr. O’Connell is treating two dissimilar situations as one, black-and-white, simplistic issue. Quality of education is a complex, multifaceted subject often as strongly influenced by culture as it is by economics. US students are notorious for performing well below students of other developed countries even while the amount being spent on those US students often far exceeds that being spent on the students who outperform us.
We appear to have a mind set that if we just throw more money at something it will improve it. Unfortunately, this constricted approach is often encouraged by those who have become entangled in the system.
The issue of who controls our water resources is more clear. The goal of Golden State Water is profit. They have clearly demonstrated this. There is no doubt. They have repeatedly manipulated the system to maximize their profits—and the consumer has nowhere else to go because GSW is a protected monopoly.
The goal of the city of Claremont is to provide water to its citizens at a cost that is reasonably comparable to those of surrounding cities whose water supplies reflect local control rather than private for-profit revenue.
If the city owns the water supply their primary goal will be to provide a reliable and safe source of water to their constituents, not to continue to milk as much profit out of the system as possible. And the city’s target is to do this through a process that is more in control of the voters, not by slipping hidden benefits under the table to highly paid executives who ramp up company profits. Yes, public bureaucracies can be as error prone as private, but they are more accountable to the citizens.
In fact, it seemed somewhat incongruous that Mr. O’Connell was arguing for local control of school resources but against local control of water resources. It appears logical to Mr. O’Connell that we should have the right to vote about promoting energy efficiency in schools but not logical that we should have the right to vote about penalizing ourselves for reducing water consumption.
As others have pointed out, and which I won’t belabor here, there are disadvantages as well as advantages to the city acquisition of the water system. But the issue should not become misdirected as one between supporting our schools or supporting control of water. The issue is that citizens have a right to make a choice about where and how their money is to be spent and what freedoms or restrictions they feel are necessary.