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City of Lancaster issues a resolution in support of the Statewide Coalition to End Water Rate Abuse

2 Dec

Larry Grooms of the Water Rates Coalition sent me this news from the city of Lancaster in Southern California. 

See other news at their website here:  https://www.waterratescoalition.com/updates

RESOLUTION NO. 17-58

A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF LANCASTER, CALIFORNIA, IN SUPPORT OF A STATEWIDE COALITION OF COMMUNITIES, UNDER THE WORKING TITLE OF COALITION TO END WATER RATE ABUSE, CALLING FOR THE INTRODUCTION AND PASSAGE OF STATEWIDE LEGISLATION TO REFORM THE RATEMAKING PROCESS FOR INVESTOR-OWNED, FOR-PROFIT WATER UTILITIES IN CALIFORNIA

WHEREAS, the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) Water Division regulates 113 investor-owned water and sewer utilities, servicing 16% of state residents, with 95% of that number being served by 9 large water utilities, each serving 10,000 or more connections, with annual revenues of $1.4 billion; and
WHEREAS, these investor-owned, for-profit water utilities charge water customer rates that are often three to five times higher than those charged by publicly-owned utilities, often directly adjacent to privately-owned systems; and
WHEREAS, in its rate cases, the CPUC is charged with protecting both the fiscal stability of the for-profit water utilities and the interests of ratepayers; and
WHEREAS, the CPUC’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates consistently favors the interests of investor-owned utilities over the interests of California residents and ratepayers; and
WHEREAS, this institutional and systematic imbalance has resulted in excessively high water rates, annual double-digit rate increases in water bills, and financial hardship to residents and homeowners throughout the state; and
WHEREAS, over the past decade, many cities and communities, including Lancaster, have sought relief for their residents through the CPUC, legislature, and/or courts, at significant cost and with little meaningful success.

NOW, THEREFORE, THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF LANCASTER, CALIFORNIA, DOES HEREBY RESOLVE, DECLARE, DETERMINE AND ORDER AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. That the Lancaster City Council supports statewide legislative reforms to the CPUC ratemaking process to achieve fair, equitable, and financially affordable rates for California customers of investor-owned, for-profit water utilities.

SECTION 2. That the Lancaster City Council supports the statewide Coalition to End Water Rate Abuse in its efforts to achieve fair and equitable protection for the rights of all ratepayers served by investor-owner, for-profit water utilities through legislative relief and/or class action litigation.

SECTION 3. That the goals of the Coalition to End Water Rate Abuse are consistent with the Lancaster City Council’s more than two-year-long effort to pursue equitable and fair relief for its residents served by the investor-owned, for-profit water utility, California Water Service Company.

PASSED, APPROVED and ADOPTED this 14 th day of November, 2017, by the following vote: Unanimous

Look at the WRC website link – State Senator Scott Wilk and Assemblyman Tom Lackey have written a letter questioning rate increases and WRAM – the “water rate adjustment mechanism” by which Cal Water punishes us for conserving too much. 

We’ve been asleep here ever since Cal Water’s bid to stick us in a district with Marysville and Oroville – raising our rates to cover their long-neglected infrastructure – was overturned by protests from the cities involved. Yes, City of Chico actually raised a finger to that maneuver, although, the public was never allowed in on that conversation.

 My family and our tenants have drastically cut our usage but our bills are still higher than they were two years ago. 

So, it’s time to write to your state representatives and ask them to join in on this inquiry. Quote the letter from Wilk and Lackey, and add some figures from your past water bills. 

Assemblyman Jim Gallagher – https://ad03.asmrc.org/

Senator Jim Nielsen –  http://nielsen.cssrc.us/

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PG&E seeks to charge ratepayers for fire fees

28 Oct

From the San Jose Mercury News:

http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/26/pge-pushes-for-ratepayers-to-pay-millions-in-california-wildfire-costs/

In a 30-minute meeting on Oct. 17, Meredith Allen, PG&E’s senior director of regulatory relations, told Travis Foss, an adviser to PUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen, that PG&E and other California utilities are in “an untenable situation,” according to a record of the meeting that PG&E sent to the PUC as required under state lobbying rules. PG&E should not have to pay “a disproportionate” share of the costs of wildfires because of the growing risk and a tough insurance market, Allen argued.

The utility companies want ratepayers to pay instead of their shareholders.

A share of PG&E stock is worth about $57 today, having reached a three year high of $70.63 a share just last month. Then the wildfires hit, and PG&E was found liable. 

http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/PG-E-cited-for-late-maintenance-work-more-often-12303697.php

California regulators auditing Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s work in the field cited the company for late repairs and maintenance jobs far more frequently than any other electric utility in the state, according to documents made public in the wake of this month’s deadly Wine Country fires.

This isn’t the first time PG&E has been found to be negligent of their infrastructure. Up in the hills that means dead trees standing right under and alongside power lines, here in Chico it also means un-maintained gas lines. 

http://www.krcrtv.com/news/pge-emergency-repairs-underway-for-gas-leak-in-chico-dam/11441480

“Emergency repairs” for a leak they’d known about for a year?  Read this recent article from CNBC –  look at all the fires that have been caused by PG&E negligence, and the bills PG&E has received.

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/13/pge-plunges-on-concern-its-power-lines-may-have-started-california-wildfires.html

Shareholders got nervous, causing the stock price to “plummet” to $57.  But, shares have risen steadily despite the “plummets”, worth $10 more than they were in 2013. Why are shareholders nervous? Because they’re afraid they will have to pay.

Of course, in the San Bruno deal shareholders were awarded $90 million? This article is confusing:

http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/04/21/court-oks-90-million-pge-san-bruno-explosion-settlement/

Why do we allow utilities to be publicly traded for profit? That seems to be the whole problem, one court declaring PG&E “placed profits ahead of safety…” the San Bruno disaster having been caused by ” a combination of PG&E’s shoddy maintenance, flawed record-keeping and the PUC’s lazy oversight, according to an official investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.”

The utility companies should be run strictly for the benefit of the ratepayers. 

Recently I heard from a group in Silicon Valley that has “united in supporting non-partisan, bi-partisan legislative reforms in how consumer rates are set for investor-owned water utilities.”

They have recently put up a website:

https://www.waterratescoalition.com/

I’m glad to hear from these people, I’m glad somebody is still fighting these outrageous utility rate increases. I also find the Lucerne group is still having meetings.  Here’s their facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/LucerneFLOW/

As you can see, we in Chico are not getting as badly screwed as other towns, but my bills continue to inch up, even though I’ve drastically reduced my water usage. 

It’s time to get on board and fight. 

 

What does Cal Water have planned for the properties the tanks are sitting on?

13 Jun

Cal Water has announced that Chico’s old water tanks – located at three different sites surrounding the old city grid – are not earthquake rated and must be torn down. They say retrofitting is pretty much out of the question – “estimated at $800,000-$1.2 million each, compared to $150,000-$200,000 each for removal.”

Some people are upset at the loss to Chico’s historic skyline, but today I got a comment from Leonard Costa, who is skeptical of the cost and reasoning behind the removal.

“someone trying to justify their job condemned our water towers. An earthquake at that magnitude would level our town so the towers would be the least of our worries. So why waste our tax dollars taking them down?”

Good question Leonard, I have to wonder myself. While I hate to be capricious about safety, I have to ask – what kind of event would it take to knock over those towers? What magnitude earthquake or storm would be able to do that? 

I ask because I’m not convinced Cal Water is worried about that. I think they really want to sell the property the tanks are sitting on.

They mention that Dan Gonzalez of the Meriam Park development group would like to buy at least one of the tanks for it’s historical value. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised of the Meriam Park group would like to get a hold of at least one of the lots the tanks sit on. They’ve been wanting to build Downtown – live/work units – for years, first proposing a complex located at the city parking lot that hosts the Saturday Farmer’s Market, and then another at the site of the old Petersen building on East First Street, bordering the section of Chico Creek front known as “Lost Park.”

Both of those proposals were shot out of the saddle. We found out how much political clout the Saturday Farmer’s have and we also found out that section of Chico Creek at “Lost Park” is contaminated from years of dry cleaning activities in that building. Meriam Park principal Tom DiGiovanni tried to convince the city to clean it up, but given the city’s financial situation that didn’t go anywhere. 

So  now, I’m going to make my guess, the Meriam Park group has been wheedling Cal Water to tear down those old towers and make that land available for development.

Watch and see.

 

Next time you see a Cal Water truck driving by give them your middle finger

27 Apr

I’m listening to the Reverend Horton Heat. He says, “I’m mad, I’m mad out to here! I’m mad!” 

Think he attended the water rate hearing last night? 

I didn’t – I’m done with those stupid hearings. Like I told Judge Jeanne McKinney – they aren’t “hearings,” she wasn’t there to hear what we thought. She was there to provide the legal notice required before her utility company friends raise the rates. 

I was glad to see that Third District supervisor Maureen Kirk attended and spoke against the rate increase. She spoke very firmly, like your mom, my mom – she had that “I’m just about fed up” tone. 

But I didn’t hear much mention of the really important issue in this rate increase – they want to consolidate us with Willows, Marysville and Oroville – towns with major infrastructure repair needs. When Cal Water tried to raise rates a couple of years ago to cover their needs, the CPUC said the increase was way to onerous. So, they want to spread it over Chico too, and make us pay for improvements in those towns.

Not that I don’t feel for those towns, but I’d rather see them pick up torches and pitchforks and take care of their problems themselves. I’d like to see some folks riding out of Marysville on rails, covered in tar and feathers. 

Cal Water has not been taking care of infrastructure because they’ve been using ratepayer money to feather their retirement nests.  The ratepayers need to rise up. Next time you see a Cal Water employee, rise up your middle finger, wave it at them cheerfully and holler, “Pay your own pension, Leech!“. 

 

This is why taxpayers get cranky

5 Apr

Where have I been? Where have you been?

I’m still waiting to hear back from Enterprise Record editor David Little regarding the disparity between the public salaries he reports in his “newspaper” and the figures reported by the state controller. For example, Laura Urseny reported that CARD director Ann Willman makes $111,000 a year, the state controller reports $124,000 – just in salary.  I wrote the editor the usual polite note, and he promised to check into it and get back to me.

And the crickets chirped.

I am also waiting to hear back from my Third District supervisor Maureen Kirk regarding a joint Cal Water and PG&E “hearing” scheduled by the CPUC for April 26. Maureen sent me the notice, and I asked her what the county’s strategy is for opposing these rate hikes. 

And the crickets chirped.

I’m still waiting to hear the outrage of the public over all these rate hikes and tax increases, but, again, chirping crickets.

What is wrong with people in this town? I think it’s that everybody sits in their little houses, hiding, telling themselves it’s more important to watch American Idol. 

PG&E tells us they want to put us on “time of use” rates. That means, if you use power between 10am and 7pm, you pay whatever electricity is selling for on “the market.” Think back, think hard, think ENRON.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enron_scandal

Hey, here’s something I never knew – CalPERs current situation has a lot to do with questionable deals they made with Enron (from Wikipedia):

In 1993, Enron established a joint venture in energy investments with CalPERS, the California state pension fund, called the Joint Energy Development Investments (JEDI).[28] In 1997, Skilling, serving as Chief Operating Officer (COO), asked CalPERS to join Enron in a separate investment. CalPERS was interested in the idea, but only if it could be terminated as a partner in JEDI.[29] However, Enron did not want to show any debt from assuming CalPERS’ stake in JEDI on its balance sheet. Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Fastow developed the special purpose entity Chewco Investments limited partnership (L.P.) which raised debt guaranteed by Enron and was used to acquire CalPERS’s joint venture stake for $383 million.[26] Because of Fastow’s organization of Chewco, JEDI’s losses were kept off of Enron’s balance sheet.

In autumn 2001, CalPERS and Enron’s arrangement was discovered, which required the discontinuation of Enron’s prior accounting method for Chewco and JEDI. This disqualification revealed that Enron’s reported earnings from 1997 to mid-2001 would need to be reduced by $405 million and that the company’s indebtedness would increase by $628 million.

The wheeling, and the dealing – it’s enough to give you motion sickness, doesn’t it just make you want to barf? Here’s what the whole thing was really about;

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/enron-traders-caught-on-tape/

And who do we have to protect us? The CPUC? It was CPUC judge Jeanne McKinney who made the decision to consolidate a PG&E hearing with a Cal Water hearing for later this month. She also decided to consolidate the  Cal Water hearings for Chico, Marysville, Oroville and Willows on the same night, here in Chico.   Write her a note, and ask her why she would expect people from these towns to drive to Chico for a 6pm meeting.  Ask her why the PG&E hearing was scheduled for the same night.  While you are at it, ask her for her salary and how much of her own benefits she pays. There’s a phone number, if you find that more convenient.

Jeanne M. McKinney

Administrative Law Judge

California Public Utilities Commission

jmo@cpuc.ca.gov

(the address on the e-mail exchange was  jeanne.mckinney@cpuc.ca.gov  – I would use both )

Or give her a call at   (415) 703-2550 

 

Where will the taxpayer find shelter?

29 Mar

At 3:22, I found myself too awake to lay in bed, but not quite awake enough to do anything.  I got up and followed the glow of light to my coffee maker, and I pushed the little button. I always set myself up a cup of coffee for these mornings when I wake up ahead of Me.

The moon was hanging so bright outside – not even full, but lighting up my driveway like a flashlight. The wind has scoured the sky very clean, the planets and stars look very bright too. 

As I wandered around the house in the dark, I could hear the 3:20 train, a few minutes late, screaming it’s way across town – GET THE HELL OFF THE TRACKS!  

I have a couple of things screaming their way across my head, I guess that’s why I can’t sleep. 

First are the rate increase notices I’ve got – not from Cal Water or PG&E, but from the California Public Utilities Commission. CPUC is having a hearing for both rate increases in April, on the same night, giving the public one hour to discuss the PG&E hike and then opening the floor to ratepayers from Willows to Marysville regarding the Cal Water hike. 

CPUC does not work for the ratepayers, they work for the utility companies. This is not really a “hearing,” it’s a “telling.” Our CPUC judge will explain to us that in 2018, PG&E will switch all ratepayers to “time of use” rates – meaning, your smart meter will keep track of the market price on the hour, and as you go along using your electricity through the day, you will be charged whatever power is selling for on the open market at that very moment. 

After the PG&E “telling” the judge will explain to us that Cal Water is merging Willows, Oroville, Chico, and Marysville into one district so Chicoans can help pay for “improvements” in those towns. When Cal Water asked for rate increases in those towns to cover the cost of long-neglected repairs to their infrastructure, CPUC said the increases were not reasonable. So, CPUC sat down with Cal Water to work out a system by which the costs for those districts will be handed over to Chicoans. 

Here’s the thing – those towns have all suffered from a lack of development. Here in Chico, we have development out the ass, so we get a lot of new water stuff. Right now Cal Water is getting ready to put a new water tower in at Fogarty’s new subdivision on Hwy 32, held up arguing over who will pay for it. Meanwhile, Willows, O-ville and Marysville (named for a survivor of the Donner Party, omigosh!) have been sidestepped by prosperity, and their local governments have not held Cal Water up to any standard, so their infrastructure is substandard. I’m guessing those towns have pipes dating back to the time when lead poisoning was considered a fact of life.

What will the ratepayer do?

Meanwhile, I’m being harangued by the director of a local homeless shelter because I criticize the way he runs the shelter and efforts he’s making to get more funding out of the city of Chico. When I said he already gets county funding by way of other agencies that share staffers with him, he really got pissed off. He denies getting public money – I keep explaining, he gets it by way of other agencies. He admitted he shares the staffer position I found, but now denies that agency gets public money. I got sick of arguing with him, but he keeps coming over  to argue, saying the same crap over and over.  

County Admin Officer Paul Hahn says the county spends over half it’s budget on “indigent” services, “including homeless services.” They fund agencies like the Catholic Relief Services, so does the city of Chico. These agencies spend that money on staffers who work at both the Torres Shelter and the Jesus Center. 

We have definitely become a magnet for criminals who use “homeless” like a shield. Just the other day, I read about a couple of guys who were found standing over a sleeping man in his apartment in the middle of the night. They were later found by the cops in the stolen vehicle the victim had described, with not only stolen articles but drugs. When I typed their names into the superior court index, they both came up, multiple arrests over the years, including robbery. 

Again and again, these people are released “OR” – own recognizance – back into the community to commit the same crimes over and over. They seem to disproportionately attack the campus neighborhoods, breaking in even when people are in their homes, stealing electronic items and any other valuables they can grab. They steal cars, they steal from cars.  And they commit strong-arm robberies, using knives and beating their victims.

I believe the services offered by our city and county attract these people. They know they will find sympathy here, they will find people who will shield  them from the law.  We have way too many people that enable the behavior – cries to build “little tiny houses” for the “homeless,” people who clean up their encampments just so they can move back in, etc.  We have too many public salaried voices screaming about the “criminalization of homelessness.”  So we have a regular army of people who don’t have fixed addresses, who wander out of the supervision of the law and turn up six months or a year later, arrested for the same crime or worse.

I have studied the operation of the Torres Shelter, and I feel they attract the criminal element without doing anything to control them. The director admitted that they have strict rules for who they will let in – but when they get turned out, they are only told to leave the immediate property. Right out front of the center you will find a little camp in the street. Then there’s the area between Park Ave and Fair Street known as “The Wedge” – a de facto homeless camp, sprawled out there behind the old Victor toxic Superfund site.

From the Chico Chamber of Commerce “Team Chico” report:

VICTOR SITE Redevelopment of the Victor Site, which is under a state consent decree overseen by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), has been recognized by all interested parties as a key to successful redevelopment of the Wedge. To promote that effort, EPA agreed to allow grant monies to be utilized to hire a local design firm to develop a range of development scenarios for the site that in turn will be used to develop a conceptual cleanup plan for approval by DTSC. This process is involved and the outcome uncertain, but it is intended to lay the framework for the purchase and redevelopment of the property by a viable interested party. The City, DTSC, and local development interests are working together toward that end.

That site has been known to be toxic since the 1980’s or earlier. Here they received money from the EPA, and they used it to hire a design team? What? And now, added to whatever Victor pumped into the  ground, is the toxic mess left behind by these criminal campers – the usual garbage, feces, drug paraphernalia, etc. 

No, I don’t like the Torres, I think it’s run badly, I don’t like taxpayer money supporting it.  I am also sick of Team Chico masturbating our money away with their concepts.

Meanwhile, my tenants and I, working class slobs, trying to pay our bills, trying to keep a roof over ourselves so we don’t end up on the street, get no sympathy – the city, the school district and the rec district are all considering separate tax increases. 

Where’s the angst from all these bleeding hearts? Nobody to cry for the working people? Brad? 

On a positive note, The Wedge is also a great tune by Dick Dale.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbonHS_mONo

We hear from Dwight Grumbles, candidate for Butte County supervisor, District 5

22 Mar

Well, the election is finally starting to materialize on the horizon – I got this note below from 5th District supervisor candidate Dwight Grumbles. That seat is currently held by Doug Teeter. 

Hello, My name is Dwight (DH)Grumbles. I am running for Butte County 5th. District Supervisor election June 7 th. 2016.If elected I have pledged half on the base pay (approx. $28,000.00 per year each year of the 4 year term to go back to the 5th. District in the form of donations to youth athletics, school sports and other campus organizations, music,art dance etc.. Also to community service organizations. It’s a start.The pay package for supervisor is $90,000.00 plus. The average household income in Butte County is approximately $33,000.00. If the people of the 5 th. District are not happy with my job after my term, at least they will have gotten back $112,000.00 and if they are happy with me and I’m reelected I will do it again. dhgrumbles@gmail.com Ph # 530-520-1010

Thanks Dwight, and I look forward to a couple of months of intelligent conversation between now and June. If that seat is not decided in June, the candidates will have the summer to debate their qualifications and come back to the ballot in November. 

I’m sending Dwight some information about upcoming rates hikes by PG&E and Cal Water, and hope he will jump in and help us protest these onerous grabs.