City authorizes water system purchase with unanimous vote

The Claremont City Council unanimously adopted two resolutions of necessity during a public hearing on Tuesday evening, authorizing the city’s proposed acquisition of Golden State Water Company’s Claremont District Water System by eminent domain to move forward.

Two resolutions of necessity were prepared for the council’s consideration; one governing the interests of the Claremont system located within the city, and a second for the small portions of the water system located outside of the city in portions of Montclair, Upland and Pomona as well as a small, unincorporated portion of Los Angeles County.

Special council Ken MacVey, Paeter Garcia and John Halloway from Best Best & Krieger were on hand to explain the nature and scope of the public hearing and to answer any questions brought forth by the council.

“There are certain findings that have to addressed in the resolutions of necessity to be considered,” explained Mr. MacVey. “The first finding has to do with whether the public interest of necessity require the project. The second finding is whether the proposed project is planed or located in a manner most compatible with the greatest public good and the least private injury. The third finding is whether the property to be acquired is necessary for the proposed project. And the fourth findings relates to whether the offer required under the government code section 7267.2 [offer of just compensation] has been made.”

After the city clerk confirmed a proof of mailing for the hearing, City Manager Tony Ramos provided some history and background on the process and demonstrated how each of the findings brought forth by Mr. MacVey had been fulfilled by the city.

Those with an interest in the property were then given the opportunity to respond.

As promised, Golden State Water delivered a representative to the public hearing following their written request to be heard. Attorney George Soneff with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips addressed council, indicating that a letter was sent on behalf of Golden State Water on November 19, 2014, setting forth a number of objections to the resolutions before them. He also stated for the record a few additional objections, all of which were later addressed and dismissed by Mr. MacVey.

Immediately following his testimony, Mr. Soneff left the building.

The hearing then opened for public comment, with a dozen supporters congratulating the council on a job well done and encouraging them to move forward with the resolution of necessity.

Claremont resident Jim Belna addressed council; concerned they may be confused the resolution of necessity was some sort of formality. Mr. MacVey would later state the resolutions of necessity before the council was never presented as such.

“What you are about to do is something no other city has done before which is defend your resolution of necessity in a court of law because Golden State Water has a statutory right to take you into court and make you demonstrate your findings,” he said. “There is no case law that governs this…this has never happened before so you have no way of knowing whether what you’re doing is going to be effective or not.”

“There’s no obvious necessity for doing this,” Mr. Belna continued. “The standard here is not that this is something you want to do. The standard is not even that this is a good thing for Claremont. The standard is this is something you need to do.”

“It’s foolish for Claremont to try and do this, let some other city with a better case, Ojai or Apple Valley, go first. Let them set the precedent. Why should we waste hundreds of thousand, even millions of dollars chasing this?”

Councilman Opanyi Nasiali answered Mr. Belana’s question when the matter came back to council before the vote.

“I’m not afraid of going first,” Mr. Nasiali said. “There’s a need for us. We must do this. We must gain local control now and for future generations. The drought just signifies we need to do it.”

Following the council’s adoption of both resolutions, city staff reminded residents that the California Public Utilities Commission will hold two public hearings in Claremont on December 8 at Taylor Hall to accept public testimony on the proposed rate increase. The hearings will be at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

More information on the acquisition process and general rate case protest may be found on the city’s website at www.ci.claremont.ca.us.

—Angela Bailey