Sally White: Fight the water rate explosion

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

Santa Clarita Valley water users are being subjected to yet another boondoggle. Castaic Lake Water Agency, the valley’s water wholesaler, wasted not a single moment following legislative approval of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency bill to, first, announce plans to raise the water rates for the Santa Clarita Water Division that it owns, and second, to quickly follow with similar plans for the Valencia Water Company whose stock it owns.

The elephant in the living room is the fact that one of the major purposes of this Senate Bill 634 was supposed to be saving ratepayers dollars; it was promised that there would be no impact on rates.
Here are some examples of the tales we were told:

1. It was on Feb. 17, 2017, that Senator Scott Wilk discussed his bill, Senate Bill 634, which called for the formation of a new water district by merging water wholesaler Castaic Lake with water retailer Newhall County Water District. Wilk’s words: “Ensuring residents have a high-quality, reliable source of water at a reasonable price is a priority for me. That’s why I’ve introduced SB 634 to establish a new water agency in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“A valley-wide agency will provide better management of our water resources through integrated planning and connected infrastructure. Furthermore, it will end expensive litigation and potentially save ratepayer dollars by eliminating redundancy.”

2. On the questions-and-answers page of the November 2016 Community Report on the proposed new public water district, published by Castaic Lake and Newhall County Water District, this question was asked: Will it impact my rates, service or reliability? The answer was: “No. The study finds roughly $1.62 million in savings annually, which comes largely as a result of staffing reductions over time. However, the district conservatively estimated reductions to ensure customer service, water reliability and other day-to-day conveniences would not be impacted.”

3. In the financial evaluation prepared by MF Whipple and Associates and presented at a public meeting at Castaic Lake Water Agency offices, the public was reassured that: “Combination (of the agencies) would reduce costs, and the savings would be used to either accelerate capital improvements or reduce water rates.”

Something is quite sadly wrong with this whole picture. And now, on top of all of this, we learn from Consumer Watchdog that Kathleen Brown, the governor’s sister, was paid $122,667 in 2016 as a member of the board of FivePoint Holdings LLC, which owns the Newhall Ranch project.

Newhall Ranch would benefit from SB 634 due to an agreement made when Castaic Lake Water Agency purchased Valencia Water Company to assure water for that huge project.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the Senate bill; if he fails to act it automatically becomes law.

It appears there is a significant memory problem here, that the Castaic Lake Water Agency team has already forgotten its rhetoric and “campaign promises” made to the ratepayers.

In addition, it appears a stratagem has been developed to disallow a comparison of the proposed Valencia Water Company rate hikes with current rates by changing the way various bill-generation information is put together. Rather than being able to compare “apples to apples,” the water company will have grapes, peaches, and bananas thrown in for good measure.

Furthermore, since Valencia Water is wholly owned by the wholesale water agency, there is no agency oversight on things such as rates. So Castaic Lake can potentially add to the current profit of $800,000 annually which it receives from Valencia Water, neatly provided by its ratepayers.

What can we do? Will this Valencia public meeting on rate increases Nov. 14 have the same results as the last one? At that September 2016 meeting many members of the public expressed opposition to the raise and asked for substantial reasons for it.

The water company’s board members listened politely, then retired to the back room for half an hour or so to “consider the comments.” When they returned their vote was taken and the increase in rates was passed.

No public agency provided oversight at that time, either.

The governor hasn’t even signed the bill yet, but this new public water agency is acting in a grotesquely selfish manner. Please bring your thoughts and ideas forward for the Valencia Water Company board special public meeting Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Valencia High School Multi-Purpose Room.

The behavior on the part of Castaic Lake Water Agency is absolutely not acceptable! Speak out with loud voices; it is your money and your water that are up for grabs.

Sally White is a Valencia resident.

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