Readers comments 10-10-14
The common good
Seldom if ever has an issue received more press than Claremont’s proposed water company purchase and Measure W. Advocates pro and con have weighed in with each side supplying “facts” to support their position.
We have no additional information to share. We do have a question: What is the motivation behind opposing or favoring public ownership of the water company?
Most if not all of the campaign literature opposing Measure W is sponsored and paid for by Golden State Water. One can only conclude that owning Claremont’s water system is good business for Golden State, profitable and worth fighting for, nothing unusual for a successful business. Nevertheless, the motivation for opposing Measure W is private profit.
Support for Measure W begins with the Claremont City Council’s unanimous decision in favor of purchase and in favor of placing Measure W on the ballot. The motivation for our elected officials and our city staff who serve at the council’s pleasure is public service.
There’s a difference between profit for a private company and public service for the common good. Supplying water, a commodity necessary for life itself, belongs in the realm of public service and ought to be publicly owned and managed.
Please join us in voting yes on Measure W.
Butch and Rosemary Henderson
A bright idea
The city of Claremont would like to purchase the local waterworks. At a price of at least $135 million, that works out to $10,000 per household, before taking into account interest.
This is a lot of money by any measure and it’s worth considering what else we could do with that amount of cash. Here’s one idea. The sum of $135 million is more than enough to put solar panels on every rooftop in Claremont and make us the first city our size to rely entirely on renewable energy. In the process, we’d save ourselves a lot of money and produce more than 150,000 tons less of CO2 every year.
In short: Option number 1) Spend $10,000 plus interest and receive the same water you receive today but pay more for it or Option number 2) Spend the same amount or less and receive free electricity that doesn’t happen to endanger the planet.
Ghost Walk thanks
We’d like to thank all who dared to come out after dark this past weekend to walk the streets of the Village and learn about its history and hauntings.
The Girl Scouts of Troop 109 are appreciative of those who made the event possible, providing us with the opportunity to serve our community with ghostly stories of the past and present.
Our thanks go to The Village Marketing Group and Mindi Meader for promoting the Ghost Walk; Barbara Cheatley and staff for selling tickets; the COURIER’s Kathryn Dunn for sharing her own spooky encounter to include in our tour repertoire; Sonja Stump and Bob Fagg for rich Depot history and the lending of a cool train messenger hoop; and tdo Vicky Raus, Maureen Reinig, Chuck Ketter, Margaret Aichele and Brian D’Ambrosia-Donner for volunteering as docents and storytellers.
And, most importantly, thank you to Joan Bunte for supporting us, cheering us on and trusting in our troop of girls to pull it all off. She spins magic and builds confidence with all she becomes involved.
The Scouts of Troop 109
Numbers don’t lie
Golden State Water is an absolute joke! Step back and see how they operate. They have seven names that GSW promotes and funds in their ads and mailings. Several of the names have changed in the last few weeks, which I find, let’s say...curious. Compare that to the hundreds of names on the Claremontflow.org website who are supporting the city to finally get rid of GSW.
Yes, $222 million is a big number. I worked in the auto industry and it’s no secret that if you add up the cost for each part of the car, it far exceeds the market price of that car. GSW is playing a shell game with the residents of Claremont. Their strategy seems to be, “Since we don’t have hundreds of supporters, let’s just take the seven names and send hundreds of ads and mailings.”
Golden State, you have provided a new low for the term junk mail. I support our city and will vote yes on Measure W.
Larry and Sue Goodman
Yes on Measure W
This weekend, we saw the future of California water costs. It’s the pipes. We will be paying for fixing forever. There are opportunities to buy California municipal bonds for raising money to do the fixing. What we shouldn’t be paying is shareholders or fees for under-usage or salaries for company folks who have nothing to do with Claremont.
We’ll pay, and so will lots of Californians, but it will be ours to direct.
While I was chairman of the Planning Commission, the question of the city’s purchase of the water company came before us on March 19, 2014. We were asked to make a finding that the purchase would be consistent with the General Plan and promote fiscal sustainability. I voted no.
Since then, I have followed the back- and-forth on Measure W. I have been amused by the “my PhD trumps your PhD” arguments and the offense taken to corporate spending on a Claremont election by many of the same people who took no offense to it when it was done in support of a school bond. However, nothing I have heard in the intervening six months has convinced me that this is a good idea. Therefore, I strongly oppose Measure W.
The debate focuses on whether the current revenues will be enough to support a bond to buy the water company. I question the assertion that current rates support an $80 million purchase price.
How does this square with the city’s sustainability plan which calls for residents to reduce water use by 30 percent in the next four years? Has the desire to purchase the water company resulted in our casting aside the goals of the sustainability plan? Doesn’t the assertion that “current rates support” mean we need to continue using at least as much water as we use today in order to generate the required revenue?
Proponents will argue that because there are no profits to be made, high executive salaries to support and surcharges to be paid, using less water will still generate what is needed to buy the water company but, a 30 percent cut in the use of any product does not appear to support the “current rates” argument.
Furthermore, even proponents admit that they don’t know what the final purchase price will be. $55 million? $80 million? $135 million? More? Even the Claremont FLOW website says “nobody knows.” All a positive vote on Measure W means is a long court battle over whether 1) the city can purchase the water company via eminent domain and, if that is allowed, 2) the purchase price. Nobody knows the outcome.
Even if the city prevails, we face the ongoing cost of operating the water company. Ownership of the water company is a potential fiscal albatross for the city beyond the purchase price.
Proponents of the purchase have tried to assure voters that Claremont will not be setting up a new agency with all of the attendant employees, pensions and facilities.
However, at the March 19, 2014 meeting, when I asked what the costs would be to pay someone else to operate the system for us, I was told it would be “negotiated.” I asked if there were any examples we could look at to get an idea as to ongoing costs. I did not get an answer. Again, nobody knows.
Even if we contract with another municipality to operate the system, this increased workload would likely require expanding their department. This is a cost that would have to be borne by Claremont ratepayers. How much? Nobody knows.
Then there is the cost of the infrastructure. Recent water main breaks have caused millions of dollars of damages. Some will say insurance covers that. That may be true to an extent, but municipalities often have to bear a certain percentage of any costs and damages (similar to a deductible) as well as pay a premium for the insurance and claims administration. The ultimate cost? Nobody knows.
When this idea of buying the water company first started to gain traction over the past few years, the argument was rates are too high and this will reduce them. Now, even proponents of Measure W admit that nobody will be paying less anytime soon. What we don’t know is how much more we will pay? Nobody knows. For that reason I’m voting no on W.
From Felton FLOW
We gather our successful 75 percent vote for public water in Felton, Califronia has become a topic in the Claremont effort for public ownership of your water system. We’d like to clear up a few misconceptions.
We calculated that CalAm paid $2 million for our system. We never said the water system would cost us $2 million. In our very first doorhanger around 2002, we said the system might cost us $8 to $12 million. And it did. That included legal fees and buying over 100 acres of watershed land.
We said the bond to buy the system would cost each household $600 per year. We’re now paying $466 per year. We worked hard to be sure people could trust our numbers, and I think we succeeded.
Public ownership has worked out better than we forecast. When we started, the private water company was charging us over 40 percent more than the public entity in the same watershed. For 2008, CalAm already had an approved rate that was more than twice the public water cost for the average user. There have been regular rate increases here, but even with these increases, we’re paying less now than we would be paying under CalAm, including the bond cost!
With public ownership of our water system. We get to vote for the local board members (and see them in the grocery store!) We don’t have the outrageous bureaucracy and expense of the CPUC. We don’t have the excess cost of private profit on a life necessity. And we can protect our local watershed.
Twelve years after starting, and six years with public ownership, it has absolutely proven to be worth it!
Member, Felton FLOW
Yes on W
The situation seems clear to me. Claremont’s water system is owned by a private, for-profit company that pays its executives very large salaries and delivers healthy dividends to its shareholders.
Golden State, enabled by the California Public Utilities Commission, charges ever-increasing rates to Claremont’s water-users. Public ownership by the city of Claremont would eliminate the expenses of excessive executive salaries and shareholder dividends.
If Claremont buys its water company, it would finance the purchase with revenue bonds, which would be repaid by part of water users’ payments. Claremont would contract with a neighboring city to operate the water system.
Reasonable rates would be set by the Claremont City Council in a public process with residents’ input. Although it is likely that the city would need to go through a legal process to buy GSW, which would involve a judge or jury deciding the purchase price, I believe it is worth going through such a process to achieve public ownership and control of our water supply.
The first step in buying the water company is authorizing the revenue bond measure, Measure W, at the November 4 election. Please vote yes.
The meter is yours
You own your water meter!
When your home or condominium construction was built the developer or you paid for the water meter, the one-half, three-quarter or one-inch connectors, the water lines in the street (your purchased right of way), as well as your fire hydrant.
This water system was built to city standards, developed by us, the taxpayers. The local water company signed off on this to meet water quality requirements. This ownership continues to future owners and goes up with inflation. Our property taxes pay for the upkeep of the right of way, which enables all of our utilities to serve us.
If 20 feet of water line has to be replaced by the water company, they do own that amount of their installation, not the property. That is the only money the local water company has committed or should be reimbursed for.
The bond is not a tax
I want to thank the Claremont Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring a panel discussion regarding Measure W, a water revenue bond placed on the November 4 ballot by a 5-0 vote of our Claremont City Council. The panel was made up of pro and con speakers.
The city’s position was represented by Mayor Joe Lyons who, as an elected member of the city council, could not give personal opinions about the water bond. Mr. Lyons could only state facts and figures, such as the $55 million formal appraisal of the value of the water system that the city had done prior to deciding to have Claremont voters decide whether or not we should proceed with steps to take over the water company.
On the pro side of the issue was Freeman Allen representing Claremont for Local Water (FLOW). Golden State chose to have Rodney Smith, a former professor, state their opposition of the argument. CAWA chose an economist, Mark Sterba, to present their opposition to Measure W.
Despite the fact that the opponents continue to refer to Measure W as a “tax,” Measure W is a revenue bond, which will be paid off in time by the users of water in Claremont. It is not a tax, no matter how many times the opponents call it that. Revenue bonds are a special form of municipal bond distinguished by its guarantee of repayment solely from users of the system.
In this period of horrible drought, we must all be careful of our water use. Many community members are already conserving water by taking shorter showers, by replacing large paths of lawn with drought-tolerant plants and watering plants with recycled water.
I was very confused when Mr. Sterba highlighted the drought and the serious need of water conservation, yet he failed to mention that Golden Stated Water has added WRAM fees (user taxes) to local bills of those who have conserved water.
For those Claremonters who weren’t able to attend this full panel discussion, you can see and hear it on the Claremont Chamber of Commerce website. Time ran out at the panel discussion and the questions that did not get responses will also appear on the website with answers submitted by each side.
The fiction of equal opportunity
This week, at my 50th high school reunion, I’m being interviewed by history students at my old high school about what has changed since I graduated in 1964. On reflection, I’m struck by how concentrated wealth (much of it inherited) is now a defining characteristic of our American capitalistic system and our politics. As a result, for the first time in our memory, most of our children are not likely to have a better life than our own.
In less than 50 years, the growing wealth of the United States has been concentrated in a smaller number of hands (over 40 percent of all wealth owned by the 1 percent today, versus 19 percent in 1980), our public schools have gotten much worse compared to our competition and quality university education has become a privilege of the rich and a lucky few.
Real wages for workers have been stagnant for 40 years and unions have been weakened, while record bonuses and profits now flow to corporate stockholders. The rich pay a much lower portion of their total income in taxes than workers, so the concentration of wealth is continuing. For example, 95 percent of all income gains since 2009 have gone to the 1 percent.
When you concentrate wealth in a country (or a state), the quality of life gets worse. Watch “Wealth Inequality in America” on Youtube or read The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson for details of our rapidly growing inequality. This is a major reason for our poor rankings on such things as health, education, crime, suicide, teen pregnancy, obesity, incarceration rates, access to mental health, pensions and life expectancy.
A surprising number of people don’t realize that we, as a society, have chosen leaders and tax breaks to concentrate wealth and accept a lesser quality of life for most of our fellow citizens.
The fiction of equal opportunity and upward mobility based on merit has become an ironic and cruel joke to most Americans. The right to vote is again being discouraged among our poor and working class. No wonder Washington is gridlocked and work to address climate change, women's rights, our crumbling infrastructure, or access to mental health and prison reform is losing traction.
It’s no coincidence that one of our major political parties is working hard to block any reforms, further tax breaks for the wealthy and cut the social safety net for the poor and working class. Yes, the America we knew in 1964 has changed - and not in a good way. Unless we ask for tax fairness and get big money out of politics, this distructive trend will continue.
No water savings with the city
Lately, there has been no end to the amount of useless information regarding the purchase of Golden State Water. Most of it is ridiculous like the former council persons recommending the approval of Measure W.
Over the years, there were opportunities to buy Southern California Water, but “city hall” took no effort to pursue it. Now, with a much higher cost, they say buy it. Where was their effort before? Also, some of the signers no longer live in Claremont—buying GSW is no issue to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pleased with GSW rates but our monthly cost is manageable. We average 13 CCFs, approximately $80 a month, including the utility tax on one-third an acre. Our landscaping is low-water and drip irrigation has been used extensively for more than 35 years. Our avereage is about half of the Claremont average (27 CCFs), which is 20,196 gallons per month. That is about one full swimming pool a month. Some households use an unbelieveable 50 CCFs per month.
I believe, per capita, Claremonters use more water than our surrounding cities. How can this continue in a severe drought? Why would GSW want to sell a “cash cow” like Claremont? Is city hall eyeing this revenue, also?
I’m against the purchase because my current costs are manageable and I see no savings to me in the future. There are also a lot of unknown costs, for example:
What will my monthly cost of water be at 13 CCFs and what will be my bond cost? Voting for Measure W without this information is giving city hall a blank check. Every voter needs this information before voting. The city receives over $500,000 per year from the water utility tax. If GSW is purchased, this revenue goes away. What does this money now cover?
Eminent domain takeover is a long and costly process and can take years to complete, with lots of legal fees. Also. there is absolutely no assurance a court will accept Claremont’s $55 million appraisal. If that is the case, why is the bond for $135 million? Measure W appears to be a user-fee and most likely is not tax deductible.
The city’s effort to buy GSW is like owning a boat (I’ve had four) it is something that makes a hole in the water that you keep pouring money into it. The city has spent over $2 million on this issue and they keep pouring more into the “hole.” This council has taken forever to solve the Wilderness Park squabble. What makes me think they can manage a water company?
And you can forget the La Verne proposal to run it—the ultimate responsibility rests with city hall.
Regardless of the outcome, there is no question we will have more dry lawns and wilted trees, especially if every household and business has $30 or more added to their water bill in addition to paying for their water use for the next 30 years.
Schenk’s facts, Smith’s fiction
Having Sue Schenk’s enlightening viewpoint and Rodney Smith’s expensive letter in the same issue of the COURIER? Serendipity. Ms. Schenk’s facts provide needed reality from Mr. Smith’s letter, which begins with the heading: “Measure W–the Water Tax.” As defined by state legislation, a revenue bond is not a tax; calling it that, however often, does not make it so.
The first paragraph of Mr. Smith’s letter says his studies show Measure W would add “more than $1000 per year” to a current water bill. As Ms. Schenk points out (Fact #2), until the final price is established, no one knows what the cost will be—inconvenient, perhaps, but clear. Under any reasonable assumptions, we won’t pay $100 per month more for water.
The second paragraph of the letter says, “City studies...concluded that Measure W would not save any money for at least 17 years.” Knowing when the break-even point will occur depends on knowing the final price; no one yet knows the final price. See, again, Ms. Schenk’s Fact #2. There was an “if” clause that Mr. Smith omitted.
In paragraph three, Mr. Smith claims the group behind Measure W “admitted it would actually cost you money.” There is compounded misleading here. No one yet knows what it will cost; there is no way to “admit” anything else. If the $55 million appraised value prevails, current water revenue would provide more than enough money. Again, Mr. Smith omitted a qualification and tries to mislead as many as he can.
There are other inaccuracies: numbers are inflated, savings are overlooked and, despite Mr. Smith’s claim, it is not the “water company” that Measure W addresses; it is only the Claremont water system. Until the last two paragraphs, it is difficult to find a sentence in the letter that is not misleading or less than precise. The potential of future city councils to increase the water surcharge is noted; that Golden State and the CPUC do that now is not mentioned. With local control, we elect the decision-makers and can be heard.
The people who use water in Claremont do, should and will pay the costs of supplying that water. Yes, we pay for maintenance—we do now, we will later. What we needn’t pay are high rates of return to investors, high salaries to executives, profit added to expenditures and (annoying to me personally) the cost of propaganda, directed to me, paid for by me, unwelcome, misleading.
Mr. Smith features his past association with Claremont McKenna College. FLOW membership and its endorsers list are awash in professorships, PhDs and other unmentioned accreditations. Years ago, I also was a professor at CMC but I don’t feel it is pertinent. Does Mr. Smith want us to blame CMC for his misstatements or overlook his misrepresentations because CMC once hired him? I certainly don’t.
Access to water should be a right. Voting yes on Measure W will help to make it so.
Water for the people
As a third-generation Claremonter and descendant of indigenous First Nations Peoples, I humbly express my concerns regarding the Claremont water issue.
With respect, I speak for the Hokan and Uto-Aztecan speaking peoples who were the original inhabitants of Claremont. I speak for the voiceless and powerless of our ancient creation stories. I speak for our Earth Mother, the tree and plant people, the birds, the swimmers and our four-legged relatives. We are all related.
We are a reflection of our Earth Mother. Our earth is 70 percent water. Our two-legged human body, likewise, is also nearly 70 percent water.
Water is a powerful natural force, like the air and sacred fire. We humans cannot hold it tangibly in our hands. That is why Creator made water that way, because Creator wanted no creature to own and control a sacred gift and natural element that is to be shared by all creation.
Our Earth Mother is crying. She is crying because she is dying. She is dying because there is a cancerous virus that is destroying her and preventing her to love and nuture her children. This virus that is roaming our Mother Earth is called the human race. It is a deadly virus because of the selfish greed of money and profit, a human sickness.
We First Nation Peoples continue to see ourselves as caretakers of Mother Earth. We must understand that we cannot own the earth. The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth. We cannot buy and own the air, because the air must be shared with all of Creator’s creations. We cannot own the water, because water is the life giving source of all life on earth. It is God’s most sacred gift. Water is revered as so sacred before the eyes of the Creator that it is used in Christian baptisms and Native American sweat lodge purification ceremonies.
Native Americans do not view water as a commodity to be bought and sold for profit, but used and shared among all human nations and all of creation. As caretakers of Mother Earth, our efforts to preserve our lands and water rights have been brushed aside as impediments to personal fortune and “progress.” In our indigenous culture, water belongs to the earth and all species for all times. It is a basic human right and a common good to be protected by all peoples, communities and nations.
Water must not be left to shareholders of the private market, because no person or entity has the right to profit from it. Every human being has a right to clean and affordable water. City government cannot transfer its responsibility of providing the sacred gift of water to the private sector. People living in Claremont who rely on water for their lives must control water as a public trust and an inalienable human right.
Lakota Medicine Wheel prophesy teaches that it will be the common person from all four nations (black, yellow, white and red), not principalities and powers, that will come forth together in harmony to solve Mother Earth’s problems and heal the human virus of greed.
As a Claremont community, we have to embrace, respect and honor water as sacred. If we don’t, the water spirit will go away and never return. Nature and its elements are merciless and unforgiving.