Readers comments 1-6-17
No Nobel for Vera
I see in the news that physicist-astronomer Vera Rubin died on Christmas day. Her passing, without ever having received the Nobel Prize in physics, says less about her than it does about the irrelevance of the committees in Stockholm.
Her work on straightforward measurements of galactic rotation opened up the field of dark matter about which we hear so much and know so little. The quantity of research in that area has gone beyond flood-stage in the past decade or so. Her work made questions in this whole new field of physics respectable.
I’ll leave questions about the relevance of the Nobel committees to others, but can you name any of the the Nobel Prize recipients in the past five years, except for Bob Dylan? Me neither.
Ludd A. Trozpek
City of Trees, PhDs and insolvency?
The first obligation of any municipal government is to maintain a safe, well-functioning, and financially stable community. This ought to be easy enough to do in a town like Claremont, which is blessed with many advantages—a strong tax base, a vibrant business community and engaged, civic-minded citizens, to name just a few. And yet our city council, through its ill-conceived decision to attempt a hostile takeover of our local water system, has managed to bring us to the brink of insolvency.
Last month, Judge Richard Fruin of the Los Angeles Superior Court determined that it is not necessary and not in the public’s interest for Claremont to take over the system, and he dismissed our eminent domain lawsuit against Golden State Water. To date, the city has spent $6.3 million on our own legal and consulting fees, and we will have to reimburse Golden State for its litigation expenses. The company has already submitted a $7.4 million claim to the court.
Whether we want to admit it or not, this takeover attempt has proven to be one of the costliest mistakes a city of our size has ever made. We have wasted almost $14 million and have absolutely nothing to show for it but a massive hole in our budget. To put that number in perspective, it is more than half of the projected cost to renovate the police station.
Remarkably, our city council is seriously considering an appeal of the decision. It is important to understand that there is no legitimate basis for an appeal. Judge Fruin took great care to address all of the city’s arguments, and the evidence against our claim of necessity was overwhelming.
At the trial, City Manager Tony Ramos testified that he had never represented to the council or the public that water rates would be reduced. That may come as news to longtime Claremont residents like me, who received city mailers and heard presentations that certainly gave the impression that the city planned to reduce water rates. The court found that under city ownership our rates would have to be raised above what Golden State would charge us, at any acquisition price.
There was also shocking evidence produced at the trial about the competence and integrity of the La Verne water agency, which Claremont has chosen as the prospective operator of our system. The court found that La Verne residents were exposed to unsafe levels of lead in their drinking water from August 2006 through June 2013—and that La Verne misrepresented the results of water quality tests to the public on several occasions.
Most importantly, we cannot afford to appeal. It would cost us at least another million dollars just to try—and even if the appellate court ruled in Claremont’s favor, we would have to start all over again with a new trial in the Superior Court that would set us back millions of dollars more. Where will that money come from? There is just enough spare cash in the general fund to cover our existing obligation to Golden State, so any new legal costs of this magnitude will have to come out of currently budgeted items, perhaps even the police department and other essential services.
In any event, there is no longer any way to “win” this case. As the trial evidence demonstrated, the best Claremont can hope for if it manages to take over the system is to borrow tens of millions of dollars just to end up with more expensive water service provided by a substandard operator.
While I am sure that some members of the public and the city council would prefer to delay the final demise of this endeavor for as long as possible—and that the city’s lawyers would be happy for us to keep shoveling money at them—Claremont’s sole priority must be to restore our now-empty reserves as quickly as possible. Every dollar that is spent on a meaningless appeal just makes the hole we are in a little deeper.
We should learn from the experience of other cities that it is usually not the failed pursuit of a project that creates a financial crisis, but rather the decision to keep throwing good money after bad in the hope that it can somehow be saved. Claremont is at that decision point right now—and however strongly you may have supported the city’s efforts to take over the water system in the past, I hope you agree that it is not worth gambling Claremont’s future over now.