Readers comments 9-5-14
Too many unknowns
I want to thank Marilee Scaff for her reply (“Inaccurate Assumptions,” August 29) to my earlier letter, in which I had outlined a number of significant obstacles to the city’s takeover of the water system via eminent domain.
I believe that Claremont is long overdue for a serious discussion that focuses in detail on the particular costs and risks of this venture.
Ms. Scaff is incorrect in her contention that the city has the right to take over the water system merely by approving a resolution of necessity. Unlike ordinary eminent domain seizures, where the resolution is a mere formality, the proposed taking of utility property can be challenged in court. I am sure that the city attorney would be pleased to verify this for anyone who cares to ask.
As I mentioned in my letter, there is no precedent for such a legal challenge. In the Felton case, the utility waived its trial rights and voluntarily agreed to sell the system to the local water district. Golden State has made it clear that it will oppose Claremont’s resolution of necessity in court, and neither Ms. Scaff nor anyone else can predict the outcome.
Ms. Scaff is undoubtedly correct that “any figures of value are merely guesswork,” which was the point of my letter. The bond measure is on the ballot precisely because our city officials understand that the ultimate price can and probably will be much higher than the city’s $55 million appraisal—and quite possibly more than we can afford to pay. The only thing we can say with certainty is that it will cost us millions of dollars just to find out how high the jury’s verdict will be.
As to Ms. Scaff’s assertion that investors will be eager to buy our revenue bonds, I would note that the Casitas Municipal Water District (which is trying to take over the Ojai water system from Golden State) decided not to use revenue bonds due to cost, timing and tax issues, all of which are equally applicable to our situation.
The acquisition attempt will fail if investors refuse to buy our bonds on favorable terms, but so far the city has not even bothered to seek the opinion of qualified underwriters and rating agencies as to their prospective marketability.
Having said all that, I have no doubt that Ms. Scaff sincerely believes, as she said in her letter, that “we cannot afford not to own our water system.” But according to the city’s own projections, the status quo would actually be a far more favorable outcome for residents—as the immense cost of repaying $135 million of debt will immediately and significantly raise our rates for the next 30 years.
I am not affiliated with or supported by Golden State or any other group or organization. I am simply a longtime resident who appreciates the unique charms of Claremont and cares deeply about its future.
For the past two years, I have patiently and persistently urged the council and staff to take a hard look at all of the things that can go wrong with this venture, and the serious consequences if they do. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been done. In fact, at the town hall meeting last November, the city staff explicitly warned the council that we cannot afford to spend millions of dollars from the general fund to pursue this venture. They went ahead and did it anyway.
There is not a single example of a California city that has successfully consummated a hostile takeover of a water utility, but there is a long list of cities that have blown up their budgets and credit ratings pursuing poorly thought out schemes. I don’t think we should take the chance of that happening here.
Water is not a commodity
Why should Claremont have control of its water supply?
As a community, we are responsible for preserving our life-sustaining environment. Not just for ourselves, but also for those who will live here after us, and for the wildlife, trees and plants that make Claremont a wondrous place.
That’s why Claremont residents should vote YES on Measure W. All of us should support the city council, which is acting responsibly on our behalf in seeking public control of the Claremont water system.
Corporations claim that private ownership and management of water resources will be more efficient and less costly than public control. Yet, paying high returns to stockholders and sky-high compensation to executives confirms that corporate ownership of water is all about profit.
Corporations that sell commodities, such as cars and coffee, provide a public service even as they make a profit. Competing with other commodity sellers encourages efficiency and keeps the price down.
But a corporation with exclusive rights to a community’s water supply lacks the competition that keeps costs and prices low. And without competition, there’s no incentive to be more efficient. A corporation with exclusive rights to a community’s water can simply claim that rising costs justify higher rates.
Private ownership of a community’s water supply is wrong, because water is not a commodity. Water is nature’s priceless gift and the life-sustaining pulse of a community. Public control of the Claremont water system will allow us to conserve and share this treasure responsibly.
Water is life
The Pomona Valley Chapter of Progressive Christians Uniting (PCU) voted unanimously at its June meeting to support the effort of the citizens of Claremont to take ownership of their water system. For those of us representing different expressions of the faith community, water has significant and multifaceted meanings.
Through the water of the womb we all come into this life. Water is the outward and visible sign of new life as in the sacrament of baptism and rites of purification. In the desert wilderness, water used in the act of foot washing is a sign of hospitality. Indeed, water is a metaphor for life itself in the sacred texts and practices of many of our religious traditions.
Water is a part of the commons we all share. Like the village green of a New England community, water belongs to all. Water, like grace, is freely given from the heavens, flowing pure and clear, bringing the verdant spring and the autumn harvest. Like the air we breathe, it ought not to be owned for profit by anyone.
Now, the city of Claremont seeks to reclaim this vital resource from a private concern whose major responsibility is to benefit a select group of stock owners and fund an outrageously overpaid management. We wish to say unequivocally that we stand with the people of Claremont as they seek to reclaim this public resource for the commons. Water ought not to be treated as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.
We of the Pomona Valley Chapter of Progressive Christians Uniting wish to go on record as supporting the representatives of Claremont’s City Council in their efforts to secure this vital resource for the future generations of their citizens. We wish them Godspeed. And we urge a “yes” vote on Measure W on November 4.
Pomona Valley Chapter Convener, PCU
John C. Forney
Pomona Valley Chapter Organizer, PCU
As the wells run dry
In the city of Claremont, immigrant gardners and landscapers weave in and out of city streets unnoticed as water ratepayers and the city council pound the drums of a November election battle in a takeover effort of Golden State Water Company while the rest of California is in a severe drought. Once the battle is over, perhaps things can get back to being normal in affluent Claremont.
The superintendents in Los Angeles took drastic measures to deal with the water crisis in California and on July 22 took steps to impose mandates handed down from water officials in Sacramento. Fines of $500 will be enforced for those caught red-handed using excess water. It’s a step being taken to get things back to normal after being misinformed by Metropoltan Water District and member agencies that water conservation efforts were a sucesss these past two years but turned out to be a pompous lie.
In the LA region, where there are more water districts then Jimmy Carter has peanuts, there is a water shortage of a different kind. Water agency board seats are not being challenged, while a watered down water bond measure set for November has caught the deaf ear of Governor Jerry Brown.
Meanwhile, back in affluent city of Claremont, the city council pinched the city’s general fund $1 million for campaign purposes in a water takeover of Golden State Water Company as the wells in the hills run dry.
Check your own bill
I recently assigned myself a challenge; review my Golden State water bill and see if I can make sense of all of the various charges. In other words, see if I can come up with the same bill total as Golden State.
First off there’s “Service Charge.” Well, that’s pretty self-explanatory.
Then, the water usage by tier. So, I multiplied my usages by the listed tier rates. Okay, that checks out.
And now it’s on to that ever-mysterious grouping “Surcharges, Fees & Credits,” which includes such well-known line items as “CARW,” “WRAM,” “MCBA,” and the ever-ubiquitous-and-not-to-be-overlooked “Other.”
Fortunately(?), on their website, Golden State furnishes a guide to help us called “Surcharges and Surcredits” (yes, you read that correctly)—all 14 pages of it. So, I launched into it, confident that I could unscramble this whole mish-mash.
Alright, “CARW,” usage times the rate. That’s okay.
“WRAM/MCBA?” Yes, MCBA, the old Modified Cost Balancing Account, how could I forget? The calculation for WRAM checks out, but I’m still $5.08 short of the total for this line, and unable to find any help in the 14 pages online.
And, last but not least, $5.18 in “Other surcharges/credits.” For this item as well, I found no aid or guidance in the 14 pages online.
So, in total, that’s $10.26 that I can’t explain or verify, which leaves me with the thought that if Golden State is going to screw us, the least they could do is explain the details—for the sake of transparency, don’t you know. Or, then again, perhaps they just don’t want to, so I can’t find mistakes or figure out what is keeping my water bill is so high.