Locally-Owned Water for Claremont—Where Do We Start?

After the ballots were counted on November 4, 2014 Claremont citizens  stood  tall.  By a 71 percent   majority, voters approved a  measure authorizing the city to spend up to $135 million to ac-quire its water service from Golden State Water  Company.  Where does this stand now?

The week following the election, the city filed its Resolution of Necessity with the LA County Superior Court, accompanied by eminent domain documents to move ahead in buying the water service from Golden State. The court assigned the case to one of the judges accustomed to handling eminent domain cases. This assignment was considered good news. Judge Richard Truin approved the Resolution of Necessity, ruling that Claremont has this right and that eminent domain proceedings may go forward.

The case is now in what is called the “discovery” stage, which means that both sides are asking for the others’ detailed and technical information about the property to be exchanged. The city is now working to assemble its requested material, and Golden State is similarly assembling material and making it available to the city. We assume that Golden State will soon order an official appraisal for the total system. The city of Claremont has made public its official appraisal, which valued the water system at $55 million. Golden State protested that, of course. But the estimate they announced last year was not made by a state-approved appraiser and did not specify the basis for its calculations. Therefore it is not an official appraisal, which state law requires.

The discovery will provide each side with the information it deems necessary to make a case before the judge hears arguments. He will then determine the value of the system. Either side may request a jury trial. We assume the case will next proceed with jury selection and the customary procedures of the Superior Court. It is expected the trial will be under the judge now assigned to the case. How long will all this take? Months. A year plus months! When the city of Felton was using eminent domain proceedings to takeover their water company, just as the case went before the jury, the company (which was not Golden State) decided to settle out of court. Oh, that we could be so lucky! But we cannot count on that.

There is another alternative possibility for the city to pursue. While the case is in Superior Court, the city of Claremont can lay an official appraiser’s valuation money on the table, specifying the date on which they propose to take possession of the water operation. Under this system, the take-over can be more immediate. The judge and/or jury will still determine the final cost, and the city must pay that price.

Measure W specified revenue bonds as the financing measure. Revenue bonds are repaid by local water customers. The League of Women Voters has long insisted that repayment must be based on water consumed.

Meanwhile, the city manager has been negotiating with the city of LaVerne to set up management for our water company, though not to combine it with their local service. As La Verne has been operating its own company successfully for over 100 years, we have no question they will be able to lay out an efficient way of managing Claremont’s wells and pumps, meter reading and billing and any other procedures needed for operating an efficient water company. Final decisions will be made by Claremont’s City Council in open public meetings.

Many residents of this valley and beyond are following the vicissitudes of Claremont’s water service as this process goes forward. We’ll try to keep the public informed. Keep reading.