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VIEWPOINT: Clearing the air on Measure W

by Joe Lyons, Claremont Mayor

On November 4, voters in Claremont will be asked whether to approve Measure W, the local water bond, which would authorize the city of Claremont to borrow up to $135 million to purchase the Claremont water system currently owned and operated by Golden State Water Company.

You’ll remember last June, the city council unanimously voted to place a revenue bond measure before voters for the purpose of acquiring the water system. The revenue bond is the end product of years of research and work done on behalf of the city council exploring alternatives to a privately-owned water system in Claremont.

In advance of the General Election, the city of Claremont embarked on a robust public education effort geared at providing residents with the factual information they need to make an informed decision on Measure W. After months of hearing and reading about sensational and wildly inflated values for the Claremont water system at or above $200 million, some Claremonters may be confused by information they are receiving from opponents of Measure W as to the purchase price of the system and cost to residents. I’d like to take a moment to clear the air.

First, if Measure W passes, that does not mean the city will offer Golden State $135 million to purchase Claremont’s water system. In fact, there are procedural and legal constraints placed on the amount public agencies can actually offer and pay for a fixed asset like a water system.

Additionally, as has been previously discussed, the city commissioned the only certified appraisal of the local water system, which determined its value to be $55 million—the exact amount offered to and rejected by Golden State. The city’s experts also conducted a financial feasibility study that determined the city could fund an acquisition amount up to $80 million without increasing current water rates.

A bond issuance amount of $135 million, the average household using 27 CCF per month would see an increase of approximately $28 per month. Remember, this is the worst case scenario.

To reiterate, the city council has not discussed and is prohibited from making an offer greater than the certified appraised value of $55 million, unless made during negotiations with Golden State.

If financing is secured through the passage of Measure W for a potential acquisition, the city council may hold a public hearing to gather input from the community on a possible eminent domain action. Eminent domain proceedings require specific actions by the city council to initiate court proceedings. Through eminent domain court proceedings both parties—the city and Golden State—would present evidence supporting their positions then a jury would decide the purchase price of the system based on this evidence.

From the beginning, nearly three years ago, the city council has worked diligently and cautiously, exploring alternatives to a privately-owned water system in Claremont, and has considered the available options that best suit our residents’ needs and that are in the public’s interest.

I would like to think that those who engage in public dialogue about matters on which the public will exercise their right to vote do so with a sincere and abiding acceptance of the underlying principle that “a properly functioning democracy depends on an informed electorate.”

However, while everyone might agree in principle with such an affirmative declaration, it is regrettable that in practice we seldom experience adherence to this cornerstone of our democracy. Instead, we have become quite accustomed, if not accepting of political practices and “dialogue” that intentionally attempt to promote fear, uncertainty and doubt.

The city remains confident in our appraisal and the water system valuation. We have remained committed to informing the public by every available means possible. I have every confidence that my fellow Clarmonters welcome the facts. Interested residents can find detailed financial information on the city’s appraisal, financial feasibility study and factual information on Measure W on the city’s website, www.ci.claremont.ca.us.

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