With Measure W, Claremont could continue private-company water revolution

The city of Claremont could upend how its residents get water after voters there approved a measure aimed at combating escalating water bills.

Measure W empowers Claremont to sell revenue bonds to finance the purchase of the city's water system from the current provider, the investor-owned private company Golden State. Over 71 percent of ballots supported the measure, in an unusual, high-turnout vote.

The result makes Claremont the second area to launch a public effort to pull control of water away from that company in the last two years.

The Claremont water system, run by Golden State under regulation from the California Public Utility Commission, serves that city as well as parts of Pomona, Montclair, Upland, and unincorporated Los Angeles County. City leaders in Claremont put Measure W on the ballot in March, in response to residents’ complaints about sharp rate hikes.

One reason for those higher bills is the drought – and conservation. The CPUC permits investor-owned utilities including Golden State to maintain their incomes, even when water usage drops. Ratepayers have complained that the system doesn’t incentivize lower water use.

Customers have also seen a 14 percent increase in rates over the past three years, a continuation of a long-term trend of CPUC-approved double-digit rate increases. Nine years ago, the Claremont League of Women Voters concluded that the city’s rates were as much as twice as high as those in surrounding areas.

Golden State Water Company invested heavily to defeat the measure, with a strong emphasis on mailers in the ramp-up to the vote. Golden State serves dozens of other Southern California areas, including San Dimas, the San Gabriel Valley, Culver City, southwestern L.A. including Inglewood, and the central basin of L.A., which includes cities like Bell, Bell Gardens, and La Mirada.

Last year, Ojai customers of Golden State passed a similar measure hoping to end that community’s relationship with the private company. Golden State has challenged the effort; it remains tied up in court.

Molly Peterson