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La Verne dips toe as potential Claremont water partner

The La Verne City Council voted unanimously at its Monday, March 3 meeting to move forward with a study analyzing the feasibility of potentially becoming Claremont’s new water system operator.

La Verne’s decision comes a week after the Claremont council’s approval of the study. All local council members voted in favor of the inspection with the exception of Councilmember Corey Calaycay, who abstained because he is already a paying customer of the La Verne utility.

While the agreement begins the next step in the water system acquisition process, there is still a long road ahead before any new operator is selected. Golden State Water Company, Claremont’s current operator, maintains its intent to continue operating the water system.

“The city cannot match Golden State's level of drinking water quality, infrastructure maintenance and customer service; and the water system is not for sale,” Denise Kruger, senior vice president of regulated facilities, said in a previous statement to the COURIER.

Claremont officials have made it clear they will not give up the fight, even if it means obtaining the water system through eminent domain proceedings.

There also remains a lot of work to be done in finding a suitable replacement should the city inherit the system. The approved feasibility study does not commit La Verne as the water system operator should Claremont obtain its system from Golden State, insists City Manager Bob Russi.

“It just outlines the parameters to allow us to do the analysis we need to consider if we can operate this system should Claremont acquire it,” Mr. Russi said.

A report released by Claremont administration last month notes the city’s acquisition team is still reviewing the possibility of other local public water suppliers who may be interested and able to serve as the operator of the Claremont system. These prospects include the city of Upland, Pomona, the Monte Vista Water District or even another private third party operator.

As per the terms of the agreement, Claremont officials will not be able to use the approved feasibility study, being conducted by the city of La Verne’s Public Works Department, to negotiate with another possible operator. Further, should Claremont decide not to operate its water system in conjunction with La Verne, Claremont will need to reimburse La Verne's costs. Until then, each city will be in charge of its own costs involved in the study.

The feasibility study is being conducted by La Verne’s Public Works Department, led by Director Dan Keesey, and is estimated to be complete in the next three to six months, according to Mr. Russi.

“It really depends on the coordination. We still need to meet with Claremont staff and outside consultants. There is a lot involved,” he said.

The Claremont City Council will hold a public hearing on potential water system operators on Tuesday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting has been moved from the council’s usual venue to Taylor Hall, 1774 N. Indian Hill Blvd., to allow for a larger attendance.

As the city moves forward with acquisition pursuits, officials continue efforts to fight a lawsuit filed by Golden State Water Company. The water company filed the suit last November, alleging the city has not complied with the California Public Records act, which declares all public records in the state of California to be open and available to anyone. Last week, the Claremont City Council approved the use of $150,000 of the city’s unassigned General Fund money for its defense against Golden State Water.

In a statement last week, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho maintained Claremont officials have the right to refuse disclosure because of claimed attorney-client and work product privileges as well as allowed exemptions in the California Public Records Act.

“I see no other alternative in this situation unless the city were willing to completely jeopardize its position in this acquisition,” she said.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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