Congratulations to Claremont voters who took the first urgent step on the journey toward ownership of our water system. Seventy-one percent told the city council we support using a $135 million line of credit for purchasing it. What are the next steps?
1. The city has once again extended an offer to GSW to negotiate a purchase price, and the company did not accept it.
2. The next step is a public hearing on adopting a Resolution of Necessity declaring that public ownership of our water system is a necessary.public benefit. The issue is on the agenda of the Tuesday, November 25 city council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Interested citizens are invited to attend. If adopted, the resolution will be filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County for approval. The right of a city to own its public utilities is not usually a contentious issue in court.
3. If the court approves the Resolution of Necessity, Claremont can file eminent domain proceedings. Eminent domain is the legal right of a public agency (the city) to acquire land or facilities necessary for public well-being. In filing for eminent domain, a city has the right [Civil Code Sec. 1255.410] to ask the court for possession of the property by depositing the amount of a court-approved appraisal as “just compensation” into the county treasury even before judgment has been entered. If the court grants early possession, the owner will have approximately 90 to 120 days to vacate the property.
4. A final price will still be set by the court. Either side may request a jury trial. It is assumed this case will be heard before a jury. The court will consider documents and testimony to determine “fair market value” of the system. Each side must present an appraisal by a state certified appraiser. The value is usually a compromise between two contending appraisals. Claremont’s appraisal is for $55 million; GSW has not yet provided an appraisal. [In Felton, Cal-American Water settled “out of court” just as the trial went to the jury. One cannot count on such an easy settlement.]
How long will the eminent domain process take? It depends on court schedules, on what suits are filed and on what delays encountered. We residents will have to be patient but persistent with our long-term goal firmly in mind: acquiring local control of our own water service.
We are on our way, friends! Have courage! We will yet own our own water works!
Marilee Scaff, PhD