If Monday night’s Sustainable Claremont meeting is any indication, Claremont residents will overwhelmingly approve the city’s $55 million bond measure slated for the November ballot.
After his presentation on the November water bond measure, Freeman Allen, co-chair of Sustainable Claremont, posed the question, “By a show of hands, how many of you support the city’s bond measure?” Of the approximate 50 people in attendance, 43 indicated they would approve the city’s measure. Only two residents were opposed, with one gentleman adding that he was “on the fence.” An additional six stated they were still undecided.
Mr. Allen, who is a professor emeritus of chemistry at Pomona College and director for sustainability with the League of Women Voters Claremont Area, provided a thorough synopsis of the city’s water history, including Claremont’s water sources and wells.
His report, however, focused on the city’s initiative to get voter approval for $55 million in bonds to go toward the acquisition of the city’s water system. The city, Mr. Allen explained, has stated it can support up to $80 million in revenue bonds based on current charges collected from monthly water bills.
During his talk, Mr. Allen also strived to dispel what he characterized as misinformation being circulated by the Claremont Affordable Water Advocates (CAWA), a local group led by resident Donna Lowe, in the organization’s attempt to thwart the city’s effort to acquire the water system. On behalf of CAWA, Ms. Lowe, who did not attend the presentation, has regularly called the bond measure a “tax” in mailers and advertisements, in addition to suggesting that approval of the water bond will negatively impact public schools and other city services.
“The revenue bonds will not be paid for by taxes. It is not a tax,” Mr. Allen stated. “Such bonds are paid through user-fees only and billed only to water-users.”
CAWA’s Memorandum of Understanding with Golden State Water Company has caught the attention of Claremont resident Marilee Scaff, who co-authored the LWV’s 2010 feasibility study on the city’s water system acquisition.
“You cannot negotiate with a group like this [CAWA],” Ms. Scaff asserted. “You can only negotiate with elected officials.”
With as much as $80 million supported in fees through current water rates, according to city staff, passage of the November initiative is not to approve $55 million more in bonds, but to allow the city of Claremont to procure the bonds only if needed.
“The price of the water system is simply not $135 million,” Mr. Allen emphasized.
The city’s feasibility study, which has not been released for public review, has set the appraised value of Claremont’s water system at $55,094,000. Golden State Water Company estimates a much higher value and has repeatedly said the system is not for sale. When, and if, the city triggers a formal eminent domain process, a judge or jury will determine the final appraised value of Claremont’s water system.
In the event that the judge or jury values Claremont’s system higher than the $80 million, additional bonds would be necessary to pay for the system, and residents would see that reflected in slightly higher water fees, according to the June 10 city council report prepared by city attorney Sonja Carvahlo. In this scenario, it is estimated that the average increase for a single-family residence in Claremont would be roughly $28 per month or $336 each year.
For Mr. Allen and the Sustainable Claremont committee members, the benefits to a city-owned system far outweigh the possibility of a temporary, small uptick in monthly rates. With a municipal system, the city will have access to federal grants to support the water system and there would be no charge for city-used water, which Mr. Allen said could result in a cost-savings for the city that can be applied to maintaining other services.
The presentation at Pomona College’s Hahn Hall also included a side-by-side rate comparison with the city of La Verne, a neighboring city that owns and maintains its own water system. Imported water costs nearly four times as much as local well water. Claremont gets two-thirds of its water from local wells while importing the remaining one-third. By contrast, La Verne draws one-third from local wells, while importing two-thirds of its water.
La Verne has five tiers of gradually-increasing water rates with residents’ fees based on the user’s location, or elevation, to account for the cost of pumping water uphill. Golden State Water, on the other hand, utilizes a three-tiered system and includes additional WRAM and meter-charges which, Mr. Allen says, results in substantially higher rates for Claremonters. Dollar for dollar, a typical $124 monthly bill from Golden State Water would cost a La Verne resident roughly $72.
When you factor in this cost discrepancy, along with Golden State Water’s skyrocketing earnings for shareholders, Mr. Allen believes we’ve long passed the need for a city-owned system in Claremont and hopes residents won’t be distracted by the opposition’s glossy mailers and ad campaigns.
“We need to focus on what the real facts are and not on unsubstantiated claims,” he said.
To learn more about supporting the effort for a city-owned water system, visit www.claremontflow.org. For more information on Sustainable Claremont’s Dialog series, visit www.sustainableclaremont.org.
—Kathryn Dunn, editor