In the letters to the editor on Friday, February 7, Jack O’Connell, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, tries to scare the citizens of Claremont by arguing that a “Water Fight hurts Claremont public schools.” Mr. O’Connell was a fine legislator in Sacramento and a competent state superintendent of public instruction. However, he does not live in Claremont and is misinformed on local water issues.
Mr. O’Connell says acquiring Golden State’s water operation is simply a “turf battle.” He may not care that outrageous water rate increases are stressing family budgets, as well as impacting local businesses and depressing the real estate market. He does not know that our water usage rates doubled for the average customer in five years, 2008 to 2013, plus another 14 percent increase in 2013, with more increases approved for 2014 and 2015.
The truth is: Claremonters cannot afford not to by that expensive water company. We not only pay for water we use, when we save water we pay the company extra WRAM rates to compensate them for us saving water—for water we do not use. Or under district rates, for water our neighbors use. With drought already overtaking us, we all need to learn to conserve water, but Golden State will increase rates if we do.
Furthermore, Claremonters now contribute $8 million a year to Golden State for fabulous executive salaries and payments to stockholders in their New York based corporation. That money, paid by water users, could be purchasing the water company.
Mr. O’Connell suggests the city sit down and confer with Golden State and settle the matter. That is exactly what the city has tried to do for the last 8 years, under changing city council members and three different city managers. Golden State refuses to sell, or to be reasonable. The only alternative is to use eminent domain proceedings, the accepted method of cities settling disputes with private water monopolies who refuse to sell.
Rates are not our only problem. We need long-range planning. (There’s a drought already declared by the governor!) We must enlist the public in water conservation. We need forward-looking plans for improving storm water storage, for looking ahead to reclamation or desalination to augment local supplies. Those actions are necessary for the public benefit. They will not be taken by this distant company.
True, Golden State will do everything they can to raise the price—like hire two PR firms from the Bay area to wage a campaign against the city, or engage a Nevada firm to conduct a Golden State-written, very biased survey, or pay “experts” for newspaper articles to prove their case in local newspapers. True, they want to make this process as difficult and costly as possible—with us paying the bills! But we have been misled and abused long enough. Procrastination has proven it solves no problems where water is concerned. Claremonters cannot afford not to own their own water company. Local control is the only answer.
Furthermore, I have served two terms on the local school board. There is no direct connection between school financing and city funds. High water costs are hard on schools also. Schools could use the money, although Claremont school finance is in good shape. Claremont residents and school staffs and faculty value their schools. They can be trusted to see that our schools continue to be excellent exemplars of modern education. We need to put this water-ownership problem to rest now.