The history of Claremont’s outrage over water

The outrage over Golden State Water Company didn’t happen in the last few months, it has been long-earned.We didn’t wake up one day and say, “Our water rates are too high, let’s band together to buy a utility company.” We have families, jobs and other ways to spend our time.

We weren’t saying we need cheap water; we were trying to understand why our rates were so much higher than neighboring cities and why longtime residents were leaving Claremont because of the water prices. Over 50 residents attended a Golden State Water Company open house at the Claremont University Consortium in November 2011. Through that experience, Claremont Outrage was born.

We educated ourselves on how rates were set—after all, it’s the California Public Utilities Commission that approves the rate increases. More than 700 people came out in December 2011 to make statements to a PUC Administrative Law Judge, who remarked after the hearing that he never saw such an outpouring and promised to take the 100-plus comments under advisement. Fifteen months later, we learned that the PUC awarded Golden State 16 of the 24 percent increase they had requested. Claremont hadn’t seen a rate increase that high in recent memory. The takeaway was that the process wasn’t working. As we’ve recently seen in the news, the president of the PUC stepped down after being caught rubbing elbows with the utility companies he was supposed to be regulating.

Back then, we received a water bill every other month. Now, we pay the same in a one-month bill that we used to pay in a two-month bill. Remember the first time you heard of a WRAM surcharge? Remember trying to explain WRAM to friends who don’t live in Claremont? A neighbor recently told us that his water usage has decreased 53 percent from four years ago, but his bill is 42 percent more. Now that is getting WRAM’d! It didn’t take long to realize that the “G” in GSW also stands for greed. Golden State’s CEO compensation was $1,100,000when we got started in this David vs. Goliath fight. Since then, annual increases of about $400,000 have him earning $1,900,000. Other executive compensation packages have increased to the point that they’ve said publicly, “I honestly don’t know how much the company pays me.” (Claremont COURIER, November 21, 2013).

Golden State reps have proven to be masters of deceit and truth-spinners as they take from our community.Golden State supporters—who the company pays for—have called Measure W a tax when, in fact, it is a revenue bond to be repaid by all water users. A state-certified appraiser gave the city a $55 million value of the system, while Golden State paid an engineering firm for an estimate to build the entire water system from scratch. Again,more deception.

History has shown how Golden State operates, which is why nearly 1,300 people have endorsed Measure W. The no side says there are only eight of them, and we’ve noticed that even those names have changed over the last few months. Not one FLOW committee member has left. What does that tell you? The yes side is one of the most diverse groups of Claremont residents assembled for a ballot measure—south, north, liberal and conservative—all with one agenda: Claremont. And, for the first time, we have a city council that is united 5-0 on gaining local control.

As a corporation, Golden State’s obligation is to its shareholders and to maximize profits. Golden State recently sold Chaparral Water in Arizona, reportedly due to the unfavorable regulatory environment. Come to find out, Arizona’s equivalent to our PUC is an elected body,not appointed, which provides better accountability.We’ve heard people on the no side say, “I’m pro-business and therefore against bigger government.” We are not aware of a private business with a guaranteed rate of return. It is the only private enterprise that we are aware of that goes to a government regulated-commission not elected by the people to secure revenue increases. With the added benefit of the WRAM, Golden State even has a method to bill-back losses to customers when usage is reduced.

We’ve listened to the no side and have heard that they don’t like Golden State, that they hope one day Claremont will take over the water system (just not now) and that they wish they had more resident support. Hardly compelling arguments. On top of all that, Golden State management has gone missing. Where are they? It’s our money doing their talking. When you pay your water bill, it’s your money funding the no side to keep this monopolistic business model alive.

The yes side has been endorsed by a wide mix of supporters including the Claremont COURIER, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, many Claremont churches and 1,300 residents on the ClaremontFLOW.org website. In addition, KFI radio, KNBC TV and the Los Angeles Times have recently chronicled the true story of Measure W.

The no side acknowledges they only have eight people and they admit that Golden State has funded more than $300,000 to get more no votes. The no side never received a single donation from a resident. Not a dollar. The yes side endorsers have donated $30,000 from their personal income. Come Election Day, we will see if Claremont voters can be bought. Despite the $11,831 the Claremont COURIER received in advertising, we know they can’t be bought off.

It’s been a long road. We’ve worked alongside great people and made many friends; for that we are appreciative. Our Claremont friends and neighbors are what this is about. We live in a great town and a for-profit company should not be able to bully us for the almighty dollar.We’ve tried to work with Golden State and have gotten nowhere. This is for local control and for our children. We ask you join us in voting yes on Measure W on Tuesday, November 4.

Randy Scott and Hal Hargrave, Claremont Outrage