Fight the wa­ter rate ex­plo­sion

The Signal - - OPINION - Sally White is a Valencia res­i­dent.

Santa Clarita Val­ley wa­ter users are be­ing sub­jected to yet an­other boon­dog­gle. Cas­taic Lake Wa­ter Agency, the val­ley’s wa­ter whole­saler, wasted not a sin­gle mo­ment fol­low­ing leg­isla­tive ap­proval of the Santa Clarita Val­ley Wa­ter Agency bill to, first, an­nounce plans to raise the wa­ter rates for the Santa Clarita Wa­ter Di­vi­sion that it owns, and sec­ond, to quickly fol­low with sim­i­lar plans for the Valencia Wa­ter Com­pany whose stock it owns.

The ele­phant in the liv­ing room is the fact that one of the ma­jor pur­poses of this Se­nate Bill 634 was sup­posed to be sav­ing ratepay­ers dol­lars; it was promised that there would be no impact on rates.

Here are some ex­am­ples of the tales we were told:

1. It was on Feb. 17, 2017, that Se­na­tor Scott Wilk dis­cussed his bill, Se­nate Bill 634, which called for the for­ma­tion of a new wa­ter district by merg­ing wa­ter whole­saler Cas­taic Lake with wa­ter re­tailer Ne­whall County Wa­ter District. Wilk’s words: “En­sur­ing res­i­dents have a high-qual­ity, re­li­able source of wa­ter at a rea­son­able price is a pri­or­ity for me. That’s why I’ve in­tro­duced SB 634 to es­tab­lish a new wa­ter agency in the Santa Clarita Val­ley.

“A val­ley-wide agency will pro­vide bet­ter man­age­ment of our wa­ter re­sources through in­te­grated plan­ning and con­nected in­fra­struc­ture. Fur­ther­more, it will end ex­pen­sive lit­i­ga­tion and po­ten­tially save ratepayer dol­lars by elim­i­nat­ing re­dun­dancy.”

2. On the ques­tions-and-an­swers page of the Novem­ber 2016 Com­mu­nity Report on the pro­posed new public wa­ter district, pub­lished by Cas­taic Lake and Ne­whall County Wa­ter District, this ques­tion was asked: Will it impact my rates, ser­vice or re­li­a­bil­ity? The an­swer was: “No. The study finds roughly $1.62 mil­lion in sav­ings an­nu­ally, which comes largely as a re­sult of staffing re­duc­tions over time. How­ever, the district con­ser­va­tively es­ti­mated re­duc­tions to en­sure cus­tomer ser­vice, wa­ter re­li­a­bil­ity and other day-to-day con­ve­niences would not be im­pacted.”

3. In the fi­nan­cial eval­u­a­tion pre­pared by MF Whip­ple and As­so­ci­ates and pre­sented at a public meet­ing at Cas­taic Lake Wa­ter Agency of­fices, the public was re­as­sured that: “Com­bi­na­tion (of the agen­cies) would re­duce costs, and the sav­ings would be used to ei­ther ac­cel­er­ate cap­i­tal im­prove­ments or re­duce wa­ter rates.”

Some­thing is quite sadly wrong with this whole pic­ture. And now, on top of all of this, we learn from Con­sumer Watch­dog that Kath­leen Brown, the gov­er­nor’s sis­ter, was paid $122,667 in 2016 as a mem­ber of the board of FivePoint Hold­ings LLC, which owns the Ne­whall Ranch project.

Ne­whall Ranch would ben­e­fit from SB 634 due to an agree­ment made when Cas­taic Lake Wa­ter Agency pur­chased Valencia Wa­ter Com­pany to as­sure wa­ter for that huge project.

Gov. Jerry Brown has un­til Oct. 15 to sign or veto the Se­nate bill; if he fails to act it au­to­mat­i­cally be­comes law.

It ap­pears there is a sig­nif­i­cant mem­ory prob­lem here, that the Cas­taic Lake Wa­ter Agency team has al­ready for­got­ten its rhetoric and “cam­paign prom­ises” made to the ratepay­ers.

In ad­di­tion, it ap­pears a strat­a­gem has been de­vel­oped to dis­al­low a com­par­i­son of the pro­posed Valencia Wa­ter Com­pany rate hikes with cur­rent rates by chang­ing the way var­i­ous bill­gen­er­a­tion in­for­ma­tion is put to­gether. Rather than be­ing able to com­pare “ap­ples to ap­ples,” the wa­ter com­pany will have grapes, peaches, and ba­nanas thrown in for good mea­sure.

Fur­ther­more, since Valencia Wa­ter is wholly owned by the whole­sale wa­ter agency, there is no agency over­sight on things such as rates. So Cas­taic Lake can po­ten­tially add to the cur­rent profit of $800,000 an­nu­ally which it re­ceives from Valencia Wa­ter, neatly pro­vided by its ratepay­ers.

What can we do? Will this Valencia public meet­ing on rate in­creases Nov. 14 have the same re­sults as the last one? At that Septem­ber 2016 meet­ing many mem­bers of the public ex­pressed op­po­si­tion to the raise and asked for sub­stan­tial rea­sons for it.

The wa­ter com­pany’s board mem­bers lis­tened po­litely, then re­tired to the back room for half an hour or so to “con­sider the com­ments.” When they re­turned their vote was taken and the in­crease in rates was passed. No public agency pro­vided over­sight at that time, ei­ther.

The gov­er­nor hasn’t even signed the bill yet, but this new public wa­ter agency is act­ing in a grotesquely self­ish man­ner. Please bring your thoughts and ideas for­ward for the Valencia Wa­ter Com­pany board spe­cial public meet­ing Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Valencia High School Multi-Pur­pose Room.

The be­hav­ior on the part of Cas­taic Lake Wa­ter Agency is ab­so­lutely not ac­cept­able! Speak out with loud voices; it is your money and your wa­ter that are up for grabs.

Speak out with loud voices; it is your money and your wa­ter that are up for grabs.

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