Readers comments 8-8-14
Let’s vote on water
The recent letter, “Something to hide,” mischaracterizes the issues with Golden State Water (GSW).
Donna Lowe asserts our councilmembers “demonstrate a lack of confidence and respect for residents.” The truth is opposite of this viewpoint. Councilmembers are aware their actions regarding this contentious issue will define their tenure on the council. Other councilmembers, in years past, approached this issue but did not demonstrate the same level of commitment in solving this problem.
One could say that the previous councilmembers did not have the confidence required to address this issue in the manner that our current council does. One reason the current council is addressing this issue so tenaciously is the voice of the residents. Claremont residents have been quite vocal in calling for action on the water issue. The actions of our current council demonstrate deep confidence, and are a sign of respect for the concerns of the large number of residents calling for action on this issue.
Ms. Lowe argues “instead of facts, we get promises,” which is a perfect summary of the Memorandum of Understanding she, GSW and CAWA, supports. Ms. Lowe begs, “Give residents details and let them vote,” which summarizes why I support the water system acquisition.
I don’t get a vote with GSW or the Public Utilities Commission. If the city acquires the water system, I do get a vote. All residents will. And if we don’t like the actions of our leaders on the council, we can replace them. Until then, we have no vote.
A win for the city
Kudos to the city council! After declining the unhelpful and unenforceable CAWA/Golden State Water MOU, they got Golden State to sign an agreement giving us a lot more than it gives them!
What did we get?
1. Existing lawsuits related to CEQA, the Public Records Act and the Brown Act have been dropped, saving us huge amounts of time and money.
2. No new CEQA suits can be filed, crucial because you cannot complete eminent domain if a CEQA lawsuit is open.
3. GSW agreed not to contest funding by revenue bonds. This has stalled eminent domain proceedings elsewhere.
4. GSW stopped signature gathering for a competing initiative.
What did GSW get?
1. The bond wording will say “up to $135 million” instead of “up to $55 million.” The total possible was always $135 million (the $80 million that would not raise rates plus the $55 million that was for “just in case”), but GSW hopes we will be fooled into thinking something has changed. If you supported the previous wording, there is no reason not to support this wording. The final cost will depend on the court, not on what the measure says.
2. The city will release parts of the feasibility study used to determine the appraised value of $55 million for the water system, and the $80 million figure at which paying bond debt would be the same as paying GSW. GSW hopes they can contest these numbers, of course.
So we got rid of some serious obstacles—Claremont 1, GSW 0!
More (sur) charges from Golden State?
Golden State Water Company is at it again with their July bill. They have added an “Intervenor Compensation Surcharge” ($.84 for us) with no explanation. I thought I could get an immediate, simple explanation on the GSW website but, silly me, I received prompt emails but no answers until the third person, who sent the following:
“Beginning June 1, 2014, as required by Section 792.5 of the Public Utilities Code, an increase (N) in purchased power of $0.0329/kWh, an increase in purchased water of $0.0714/Ccf, and an increase in Pump Tax of $0.02989/Ccf, relative to the Purchased Power, Purchased Water, and Pump Tax costs adopted by Decision No. 13-05-011, and an associated revenue increase of 2.24 percent, are being tracked in a reserve account.”
This section reads like it might be reimbursement for additional expenses, right? But I thought the increases listed are covered in the WRAM/MCBA surcharges.
In addition, there is also a tiny note on the back of the bill that says “Effective June 1, 2014, your bill includes an increase to offset the rise in supply expenses,” and another, “As of July 1, 2014 your bill reflects a temporary increase to recover the billing system maintenance costs.” Where are these shown on the bill?
So, when in doubt about facts, Google it! Eureka! I discovered that the California Public Utilities Commission has something called the Intervenor Compensation Program. This program provides grants to individuals and groups that participate in CPUC hearings. Upon further digging, I find that this is what our surcharge is—I think. It goes to The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a group that represents utility ratepayers. Apparently, TURN was involved in Claremont’s rate increases disputes at the CPUC hearings. Maybe they tried to help our side.
GSW is allowed to pass on this grant cost, but it would be nice if they informed us and their employees. By the way, the surcharge is based on meter size. We have a one-inch meter, thus $.84. The chart is online.
I did not really want to spend three hours researching another surcharge. Now, if GSW would just tell me why I have two sets of charges on the July bill… Confused,
Sharon Wiley Hightower
Pressure by CAWA forced city to revise water bond
Last week, the city of Claremont’s spin machine went into overdrive when it announced that Golden State Water Company agreed to drop its lawsuits against the city in exchange for changing the November water bond from $55 million to $135 million.
Here’s the backstory you won’t read in press releases or opinion pieces from the city:
Claremont Affordable Water Advocates—comprised of private citizens and residents of Claremont, who have banded together to find solutions to our local water issues—successfully pressured the city to change the bond amount to the true cost associated with its plan, $135 million.
Perhaps the city read the analysis provided by a respected financial expert—former Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Business and State Finance Director Tom Campbell—who concluded that the initial $55 million borrowing was not adequately disclosing the full costs so residents could understand the consequences. Perhaps, the city grew tired of residents asking why they weren’t being given an opportunity to vote on the full plan.
The decision to seek approval on only the last $55 million in borrowing ran counter to calls from the council to ensure the people had a right to vote. In short, the city has proven it was being deceptive about the original bond.
Unfortunately, the ruse hasn’t stopped there. Throughout this process, the city chose to employ sleight-of-hand fiscal chicanery in selling the idea of taking over our water system at any cost: the $176,000 “blank check” contract for PR services and, most recently, the additional $1 million approved with only 72 hours notice. (This, after city staff recommended just last November against spending money in “pre-acquisition” costs from the general fund). Two weeks ago, the city manager told the council that he might need to come back for even more money.
Residents deserve facts and transparency, which is a basic, fundamental tenet of good government.
To that end, CAWA is grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received from the community and will continue to urge the city to consider a comprehensive agreement with Golden State Water Company that will not result in a $135 million debt obligation that we’ll be forced to repay on our water bills for 30 years.
Not only did residents force the city to acknowledge the true cost of its plan, we also forced the city to disclose information it’s been hiding from residents about how the acquisition will be funded and what residents will be asked to repay over 30 years. It shouldn’t have taken an agreement with Golden State Water to make this information public. We’ll continue to pursue the facts and demand the city make all information available to the public so residents can make informed decisions.
Last week’s agreement was good for transparency and good for Claremont residents who have been asking the city to stop hiding information and disclose the full costs.
We look forward to the city’s newly formed ad hoc committee, working with Golden State, to diligently come to a resolution that will take a costly and divisive eminent domain seizure off the table.
Donna Lowe Jay Pocock
Mark Sterba Bruce Cathcart