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Claremont City Council got it right regarding GSW agreement

by Valerie Martinez, Claremont resident and business owner

In a community entrenched in dialogue and process, and defined by a never-ceasing desire to promote good government, Claremont and Claremont’s politics can be complicated. 

This was embodied in the recent city council decision to enter into an agreement with Golden State Water. But, after weighing the choices and reflecting on the values of our community, the council made the right decision.

At its core, the trouble with the agreement wasn’t the agreement itself, but rather GSW’s Machiavellian history.

The first part of the agreement said GSW would drop all of their obstructive lawsuits. This will save thousands in legal fees and time. But people know that the origins of the lawsuits were part of a larger strategy by GSW to stall the acquisition process and attempt to drain city coffers.

Next, GSW would drop efforts to get a competing initiative on the ballot. It’s an established ploy of underhanded politics that if you want to kill a ballot initiative, you scare people, enrage them, or confuse them. This was part of that “confuse them” part.  Competing initiatives elevate the likelihood people will get frustrated and just vote “no” on everything.

And finally, GSW promised they will not challenge the funding mechanism if the water revenue bond passes—another ploy they’ve used to undermine acquisition.

 So what did the city have to give up? GSW was granted access to financial documents that were considered legally confidential because they show the basis of the calculations used to determine the financial impact of purchasing the water system at various prices. Obviously, GSW is looking for something.  But council members are confident that information in those documents will only strengthen the city’s position.

The city also agreed to change the ballot language to include an “up to $135 million” cost. Why would the city do that when an official appraisal has estimated the Claremont water system’s worth at about $55 million? It’s pretty clear GSW is hoping that a $135 million price tag could deter some voters. Again, they don’t understand that Claremont voters study ballot language and understand that the cost of the system will be determined by the courts.

That $135 million can best be described as similar to a pre-approved loan—the city isn’t planning to use the full amount, but they have room now to make the deal. The community’s goal, obviously, is to acquire the system at a cost that is as close to the $55 million appraisal cost as possible.

So clearly there is much more public good than bad in this agreement, right? But here’s why it was a tough decision: Discussions over the last week have included statements like, “We’re dancing with the devil,” and “We shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists,” and, my favorite, “Beware of thieves bearing gifts!”

You can’t help but read, and re-read, that agreement to look for hidden landmines. Given their past behavior, it would follow suit that something will surface and will be distorted into another issue that will attempt to scare, enrage or confuse our residents.

To that point, Claremont residents interested in ensuring the public discourse is accurate have created a coalition called Claremont FLOW (Friends of Locally Owned Water). The group is one of the most diverse community organizations this town has ever seen. It is made up of people who think differently, vote differently—young, old, progressive, conservative, you name it. And all of these people have come together to make certain the community is informed, with facts, not distorted versions of the truth.

The next three months are going to be filled with lots of political rhetoric and packaged information.  Rumor has it, GSW has a $1.2 million contract with a large PR firm to win this fight.

In the end, the water debate will rest safely in the hands of the informed Claremont electorate.

But until that time, the Claremont community has been pretty unambiguous that if GSW engages in any unsavory shenanigans, political or otherwise, there’s no question that residents will unite further behind this acquisition and demonstrate our might at the polls on November 4.

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