Water rates showdown hearing in Sacramento – SoCal water group to take on “four corporate monopoly providers” – get involved!

14 Mar
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James Marvin Bouler

My friend Jim Bouler passed away last week, his funeral is today in Santa Rosa. 

I met Jim through the water rates coalition I worked with, trying to keep a check on Cal Water’s and other private for-profit water companies’ rapacious rate increases. He represented a group from Sonoma County, and drove hundreds of miles to meet with others, as well as to rate hearings all over the state. He worked very tirelessly trying to rally us all together, he was very motivating. He will be missed – he was just a darned nice man.

Jim was such a force in the water rates group I was afraid nobody would rise up to take his place. Then yesterday I got this announcement from the group in Lancaster – The Coalition for CPUC Water Rates Reform

A Showdown Hearing in Sacramento! These citizens are driving all the way up from SoCal to meet the CPUC and take on “four corporate monopoly providers”. 

SACRAMENTO, CA – Caught in the middle of a consumer rebellion against the state’s highest water prices and four corporate monopoly providers demanding more profits, the California Public Utilities Commission is faced with a showdown decision here Thursday, March 15.

The hearing is in response to an administrative law judge’s proposed decision to give San Jose Water, California Water Service, California-American and Golden State water companies lower cost of capitol increases than were sought in the consolidated case. The judge’s decision was supported by the CPUC’s Office of Ratepayer Advocate, which is tasked with protecting the public’s right to reasonably priced and affordable water. 

The decision to grant a lower amount didn’t satisfy either protesting consumers or the companies. But the California Water Association, the investor-owned water utilities’ trade association demanded that the five appointed commissioners take the unusual step of throwing out the judge’s findings and granting the full increase.

In a strongly-worded six-page letter to commissioners on March 9, water association official John K. Hawks claimed the CPUC is unfairly favoring consumer interests over those of for-profit utilities, and stated, “CWA acknowledges that the Constitutionally Independent Commission is under political pressure from the legislature, the media, and certain activist groups (dominated by affluent and high-volume water users) to appear responsive to ratepayer interests.” He added, “The (proposed decision’s) stunning failure to apply the record in this proceeding suggests that external pressures played a large role in shaping this unjust outcome.”

Response to Hawks’ letter from leaders of the activist group was summed up by Lauren Karnstedt of Lancaster, who said: “Finally, we’re starting to get their attention after six months of trying to get people in authority to understand there are 6.2 million Californians who are being gouged on pricing with the full approval of the CPUC.”

The Coalition for CPUC Water Rates Reform was launched in Lancaster in early September 2017, and quickly aligned with its largest partner, Water Rate Advocates for Transparency, Equity and Sustainability (WRATES) in San Jose. Currently, the coalition claims supporters in nine California counties, all focused on not only their local issues, but on convincing their respective legislators to reform the CPUC’s methods in granting water rate increases to monopoly providers.

Thursday’s 3 to 4 p.m. public session of the Public Utilities Commissioners in the State Personnel Board Auditorium follows a series of private meetings between CPUC commissioners and their advisors and Class “A” water utility executives, attorneys and lobbyists.

Rita Benton of WRATES said the companies fighting the proposed decision on return rates for the Cost of Capital application requested an 80-minute oral argument meeting, but commissioners scheduled an all parties meeting. She said, “The commissioners have allowed the IOUs to turn this proceeding into a circus and disrespect the judge and the process by allowing these many ex parte meetings and letters after the presiding judge has rendered his decision.”

As to the California Water Association’s claim that the reform movement is led by “affluent, high-volume water users,” Benton said, “We, the ratepayers, do not have the benefit of high powered attorneys, lobbyists, special interest groups and/or executives to advocate for us. We rely on the CPUC and the ORA to advocate on behalf of the ratepayers and it is the statutory obligation of the CPUC to ensure the protection of the ratepayer and that rates are just and reasonable.”

Benton added, “There appears to be a double standard. It is OK if the water monopolies and their lobbyists influence the commission, but it’s not OK if the ratepayers speak out. The private water utilities are saying the administrative law judges should not be trusted to do their job.”

Karnstedt said, “This statewide coalition for reform started in a middle-income area of Lancaster, and includes partners in such communities as Chico, Bakersfield, Oroville, suburbs of Sacramento and Clear Lake. We met our 30-plus percent water conservation goals every month and continue to save water because we’re being charged more for using even less.”

She called the consumer uprising a classic David vs. Goliath rematch.

See  that, they named “Chico” as one of their partners!

So let’s give them some partnership – go to their website and Get Involved!

https://www.waterratescoalition.com/get-involved

They’re working hard, and like Rita Benton says, it’s all volunteer, they don’t have a big lawyer to do their bidding.  When I wanted to mount a protest here, the CPUC rep advised me to get a lawyer, because, he said, the process is very complicated, and any mistakes will get your protest thrown out. I tried to get both the county of Butte and the city of Chico to mount formal protests but they wouldn’t do it. So this group is willing to make a stand – I say, stand behind them. Get  ready to write letters, write letters, write letters.

 

 

 

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