Claremont Insider: Watery Vision

Monday, April 23, 2007

Watery Vision

You may have caught our notices of charitable events going on around town and seen that a good many Claremont 400 people are members and leaders of these organizations--the League of Women Voters, the Claremont Community Foundation, Friends of the Library, the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis, the Claremont Educational Foundation, etc....

As we've pointed out in the past, these people and these organizations do many good works. The problem is when the prejudices of the 400's social networks collide with the challenges of managing a city and a school district where the constituents may have different ideas about how they'd like things run. The problems arise when the Claremonsters assume that they have every solution and are incapable of making a mistake.

Looking back at Claremont's proposed purchase of the water company ($100 million and counting), one of the complaints the city and Claremonters have is the fact that our current water provider, Golden State Water (GSW), has lumped Claremont's rates together with high desert towns like Apple Valley and Barstow, where GSW has to pay to install the water infrastructure for a rapidly growing area--a cost we in Claremont help underwrite. This combining of different towns into one rate schedule is called regionalization.

But if we examine the roots of regionalization, we see that Claremont, under then-City Manager Glenn Southard and a City Council wholly owned and controlled by Claremont 400ers like Diann Ring, Al Leiga, Paul Held, Suzan Smith, and Karen Rosenthal, contributed to the problem.

In 1998, Claremont was also in negotiations with the other agency members of the Six Basins Watermaster, which resulted in Claremont receiving 535 acre-feet in water rights annually. Claremont's water company at the time was Southern California Water Co. (SCWC), which later changed its name to Golden State Water after being bought out by American States Water.

On 5/26/98, the Claremont City Council received a staff report by Scott Miller (now working for the City of Beverly Hills), who at the time was the Assistant to the City Manager. Miller's report outlines a proposed water deal the city wanted to make with SCWC. The deal would lease Claremont's 535 acre-feet of water rights to SCWC (now Golden State Water) for 30 years. In exchange, the city would receive annual payments amounting to $123,000 based on 1998 rates. In addition, SCWC would give the the City of Claremont a 50% rate reduction, amounting to $177,000 in annual savings at that time.

Miller's report recommended making the deal because Claremont stood to benefit by $300,000 a year. What the report didn't mention was that Claremont also agreed not to oppose regionalization when SCWC applied for its next rate increases in 1999. The City of Claremont, in effect, signed off on regionalization and in return got a nice yearly water rights payment and now only pays half of what the citizenry has to pay for water.

Oh, and the city also benefited when the water company was allowed to raise its rates and instituted regionalization. You see, higher rates means higher utility tax revenue for Claremont. It was a win-win for the city, and a lose-lose for the citizens.

How did the debate go before the city council? See Item 17 of the Council Minutes. Here are some excerpts:

Councilmember Ring thought the proposal was historic and that many such agreements take twenty years to final[ize]. Mayor Smith agreed and thought it set a good tone for the future.

Moved by Ring, seconded by Leiga, and carried 4-0 to approve the agreement for execution by the mayor.
(Absent: Rosenthal).

Incidentally, the only person on record questioning the agreement was Jackie McHenry, who "asked how citizens would save money. It costs the city less, may cost citizens more." (Who's the one with vision?)

Like so many problems in Claremont, the city council and staff long ago sowed the seeds for water rate woes by going along with SCWC and by not mounting a coordinated effort to lobby the state Public Utility Commission to oppose regionalizing our water rates.

Ironically, at the same 5/26/98 meeting, the matter of the Claremont Wilderness Park came up (Item 14). Mayor Smith inquired about the fire and vegetation management plan. The city's failure to implement that plan fully became a central argument for the plaintiffs in the Palmer Canyon fire lawsuit (settled in March, 2007, for $17.5 million). Smith was assured by staff that fire safety in the park was under control. We know what happened in October, 2003, when the Grand Prix fire swept through the area.

All of this really argues against any notion of competence under Southard, Ring, Held, et. al. It really argues for the need to avoid at all costs going back to that sort of mismanagement and to hold those people accountable for the bad their incompetence has inflicted on our community. It's simply folly to fail to see how all the good the Claremont 400 has accomplished is counterbalanced by a large body of incredibly boneheaded decisions for which they refuse to accept responsibility.

When you turn on your tap, when you pay your water bill, or if your house burned down in 2003, think of Diann Ring; in fact, call her up and thank her personally for her "vision."