With Measure W, forget about the numbers

By Peter Weinberger

There have been so many viewpoints and letters published on Measure W, it can be difficult to figure out who or what to believe. But one thing is certain: any figures quoted on the cost of purchasing the water company, including future water rates, are only estimates and guesses.

Claremont’s road to water independence is fraught with unanswered questions. That’s why I’m not getting caught up in overblown Golden State Water (GSW) figures. It’s important to remember that our elected officials are confident that in the end, common sense will prevail and the price for the city’s water system will be significantly under the maximum Measure W amount of $135 million.

But let’s talk about one significant ownership issue that often gets lost with all these numbers. Control. If Measure W passes, Claremont residents will have the ability to impact real change in how their water is managed. The people overseeing city water live with us. They must and will listen. They cannot hide in corporate offices. I like the idea of electing political candidates who are committed to lower water rates.

There is real accountability. Think that would ever happen with Golden State Water?

If Claremonters reduce water consumption over time (which is clearly going to happen), it will be reflected in lower water bills. No more creative billing for profit-taking. We can control our water destiny. And in this day, that’s priceless.

Currently, the city of Claremont and Golden State Water are so far apart on the value of Claremont’s water system, it gives voters no clue as to what the real cost will be. That’s both frustrating and worrisome. Measure W must pass before we find out the actual purchase price in court.

In a viewpoint in last week’s COURER, Donna Lowe and Bruce Cathcart made several claims about the cost increases residents would face if Measure W passed. That cost would be $101.42 per month over the next 30 years, they said, with their assertions based on a $135 million purchase price. One could argue that if the water company costs $55 million, which is the city’s estimate, there clearly could be cost savings for ratepayers.

So for a moment, let’s put cost aside and accept the fact water rates will increase as drought and other factors make water an exceedingly difficult issue to manage, regardless of ownership. This is precisely why we need to vote yes on Measure W.

How long will it take GSW to increase our water rates to $101.42 per month? One year? Five years? In the COURIER endorsement two weeks ago, we said GSW has proven they will work the system and be unstoppable in implementing significant rate increases should?Measure W not pass.

This will be a double-whammy for ratepayers—an owner with a water monopoly, matched with an aggressive profit mentality from a publicly-owned company.

Does any person in Claremont really believe GSW puts ratepayers over profits? Their parent company, American States Water, has enjoyed a streak of dividend increases for 60 consecutive years. That includes a third quarter 2014 increase of five percent, 14 percent increase in 2013, and a 27 percent increase in 2012. That’s quite ambitious for any company.

Should Measure W fail, there’s a guaranteed future of creative billing, with no way to fight it. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has only been a small speed bump on the road to higher rates. That’s precisely why Claremont is trying to buy the water company now.

On the other hand, Claremont will have to borrow a lot of money. Right now, with city budgets on solid ground, all is good. But things change and so does the economy. It’s safe to say water pricing under city control will be a challenge to manage over time, too. Even with this uncertainty, city ownership is still preferable to our only other choice.

I realize all this is messy. We are being asked to approve a water bond measure without really knowing the actual price. But in the short term and long run, don’t we want to work with fellow Claremonters who are motivated to reduce rates instead of squeezing our wallets?

Don’t let Golden State Water intimidate you with big numbers, gloom-and-doom predictions, lawsuits and other strong-arm tactics. Water prices will not stabilize under their control…but profits surely will. When it comes to water, a necessity for life, people come first. Claremont comes first.

By voting yes on Measure W, at least we have a chance to keep it that way.




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