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Golden State Water wants to communicate more, but will it lower rates?

About 50 people gathered in front of Golden State Water Company’s Claremont office on Thursday, picketing to demand lower water rates.

The mid-afternoon protest was the latest initiative led by Claremont Against Outrageous Water Rates, a local grassroots movement dedicated to fighting against another wave of water rate increases set to hit Claremont in 2013. Golden State Water filed its application to charge higher prices with the California Public Utilities Commission last July. The process is currently in review and a decision is anticipated late this fall.  

For many, like Richard and Karen Foshay, placing a sign in their yard is not enough.

“Too many people are lethargic,” Ms. Foshay said. “Something has to happen and we have to get the word out. This is a start.”

Protestors sprinkled themselves along the sidewalk in front of Claremont’s Sprouts shopping center, shirts and signs emblazoned with crimson and white, calling for passersby to “Act Now” and “Stop the Golden State Water Rip-Off.” For the Foshays, retired and on a fixed income, rising costs have made them question whether or not they will have enough funds to continue to call Claremont home.

“It’s scary,” Mr. Foshay said.

Local Jan Rainbolt shared similar fears. While caring for her sick father at her Claremont home, Ms. Rainbolt saw her monthly water bill skyrocket past $300. She was able to get a medical baseline allowance from Southern California Edison to help pay for expenses accrued by her father’s need for oxygen and heat. However, she says Golden State Water does not provide medical baselines for those in need.

“We have more laundry, my dad needs to be showered a couple times a day. There is no other way around it,” said Ms. Rainbolt. Her desire to lower rates for those in similar situations drove her to take up her own sign and protest. “People need to be made aware.”

Thursday’s rally was just one of several gatherings the grassroots movement has held in town, making a presence in town with yard signs and shirts, unifying against Golden State Company at November’s CPUC hearing. This week marked the first public protest and visual display of opposition.

Claremont follows in the footsteps of cities like Ojai, Barstow and Felton, who have also gained attention from the media for their efforts fighting against higher rates from the water company. The work of Felton’s grassroots movement even went so far as to aid in the eventual acquirement of its city’s water system in 2008. The same goal lingers at the forefront of many of Claremont residents’ minds.

Golden State representative John Dewey, the company’s community education manager, was present on Thursday to speak with protesters. The company says it is trying to engage in a more open discussion with its customers, according to Denise Kruger, Golden State Water’s senior vice president.

“This [demonstration] tells me that we have to do a better job communicating with our customers,” Ms. Kruger said.

The next step includes the creation of a committee involving Golden State Water employees, Claremont officials, and members of Claremonters Against Outrageous Water Rates, according to Ms. Kruger and Mayor Sam Pedroza, who made an announcement about the committee at Tuesday night’s city council meeting. Golden State Water also plans to start distributing a quarterly newsletter to keep its customers up-to-date.

Protesters seemed unsatisfied with Golden State’s attempts.

“If the newsletter is not send once a week it is not enough,” said Hal Hargrave. “It’s just another way for them to provide us with dialogue that goes nowhere.”

Though the company is making strides to open itself up to customers, Ms. Kruger said Golden State Water does not have plans to lower its water rates and is not interested in selling its system to the city of Claremont.

“We have been serving the Claremont area for a very long time, and our plan is to stay in the community,” Ms. Kruger said. She added, “We know we have to do a better job at communicating.”

In the meantime, protesters plan to remain with the cause.

“We plan to keep protesting until either the city declares eminent domain over Golden State Water or the PUC commission can prove their rates are fair,” Mr. Ford said.

—Beth Hartnett

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