VIEWPOINT: CAWA is not your enemy
by Bruce Cathcart
I note in letters to the editor that Claremont Affordable Water Advocates (CAWA) is the target of a lot of vitriolic criticism. As a CAWA member, although I dread the inevitable recriminations, I reluctantly respond as an individual, not as a spokesperson for CAWA or Golden State Water Company (GSW).
I write to rebut assertions made in letters in the July 4 edition of the COURIER. Contrary to comments by John Roseman, CAWA is not a “...thinly disguised Golden State Water public relations shill...” The organization is absolutely not owned, operated, employed by or in any manner compensated by Golden State Water Company. While I do not know all members of CAWA intimately, I am confident that is true for every individual member of CAWA.
I also reject the speculative insinuation by Dan Dell’Osa that CAWA is in any way affiliated with or an agent of the city of Claremont. Unfortunately, our relationship with the city is rather frigid if not outright adversarial. Parker Emerson queried, “Who gave these five people the power to negotiate with anyone on my behalf? Not me!” CAWA, in fact, is negotiating for the benefit of our own members, and not necessarily “on behalf” of others. We feel we have the right to negotiate for ourselves, with or without Mr. Emerson’s permission, and are pleased if others also benefit from our efforts.
Similarly, I contest Arnold Tuason’s contention that “The memorandum of understanding between Golden State Water and Claremont Affordable Water Advocates (CAWA) is worthless.” Our MOU is a major result of our partnership. We continue to believe it is the best alternative and offers the lowest consumer cost option available at this time. Perhaps there is misunderstanding about the usefulness of an MOU. Consider this analogy: if the rate-making process were a dangerous mountain road, the MOU could be considered guard rails; it helps keep negotiations from getting too far off track.
So who are CAWA? We are private citizens, residents of Claremont, who have banded together to find substantive relief from onerous escalating costs of residential water. We seek the optimally lowest combination of rates and other expenses that minimizes our water bills.
How did we come to be? Some of us initially contacted GSW to investigate remedies for and, to some extent, to complain about high water costs. To our surprise, we found GSW eager to work with a citizen group to improve the situation. For whatever reasons you wish to attribute their willingness, they have been much more cooperative with us than has the city of Claremont. Due to these circumstances, CAWA partnered with them to advocate an approach to contain costs while maintaining private ownership of the company.
Besides receiving a rather intense education in water issues, we are able to access unembellished documents of the legal cases presented by both Claremont city and GSW. These are readily available to anyone who wishes to view them by visiting www.gswater.com/claremont and clicking the links under “Golden State Water Urges Transparency from the City of Claremont.” I believe you will find much more transparency there than from the city of Claremont. The city claims to have data but won’t reveal it because it is “exempt” from disclosure or that the documents are “confidential” because of ongoing lawsuits—one of which is a suit to produce those very documents. Regardless, the information is not readily available from the city.
Also, California Public Utilities Commission protocols include provisions for consumer groups (such as CAWA) to participate in CPUC negotiations as “direct interveners.” This means direct consumer participation on a level comparable to both GSW and the city of Claremont. How is that for local control? CAWA intends to serve in that role and encourages other interested consumer groups to similarly participate.
Finally, CAWA strives for the best lowest cost option. If the city of Claremont were to make available data as compelling as that from GSW, and were to produce a credible MOU with more favorable consumer benefits than our existing MOU, CAWA members would certainly rethink their position. I am distressed so many seem to strongly prefer eminent domain to the detriment of exploring other creative options.