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CA Senate rejects Newsom’s “water tax” proposal, but it’s far from “dead”

19 May

I don’t know how many people are aware of Gavin Newsom’s proposal to add a 95 cent tax to our monthly water bill. He says the state would use the money to “help communities clean contaminated water systems.” 

Communities? In most towns here, Cal Water owns the water systems. In fact, they’ve just recently raised our rates citing various projects they need to do, most of them necessitated by new subdivisions. Developers have already or should have paid fees. Why is the general ratepayer expected to pick up the tab for the for-profit, publicly traded utility provider? Shouldn’t infrastructure be what you are already paying for? 

I was happy to hear that the California Senate rejected the idea.

https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article230438084.html

“A Senate budget subcommittee rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water tax plan on Wednesday, instead recommending finding $150 million elsewhere to finance a safe and affordable drinking water fund….”

The Senate instead proposed that the money “be found” somewhere in the state’s projected $22 Billion surplus. That’s $22,000,000,000. 

But, it’s not just a one-time $150 million fix, they want to establish a permanent fund, meaning, they will have to find a permanent funding source. They have ways of getting around the voters.  “’It’s been a big stumbling block when it’s called a tax,’ said Steve Maviglio, a Democratic strategist who worked with water tax backers. ‘That’s the beauty of this. It’ll be in every budget.‘”

Again, why aren’t the water districts, particularly the for-profits, being made to maintain their infrastructure within the boundaries of their ever-increasing rates? They want to raise our rates AND put an additional tax on us. 

The proposal still has to be heard in the Assembly. Contact Assemblyman James Gallagher at james@gallagherforassembly.com or by phone at (530) 420-5066 and tell him to reject this scheme.  Legislatures feel this kind of heat, it really affects their behavior if it’s focused on the seat of their pants.  “A water fee proposal died in budget compromise talks last year as Democrats worried about asking constituents to pay more.”

You may as well contact Senator Jim Nielsen at his Chico office (2635 Forest Avenue), by phone 879 – 7424, or at his Facebook 

https://www.facebook.com/senatorjimnielsen

Tell his staff you’re not happy with the proposal the Senate came up with. Ask them why the district agencies aren’t paying for it. 

And, you might join Reform California’s campaign to pressure legislators to reject this bill. I signed up for their mailing list and received news of this tax proposal in February, and I believe their actions were successful in getting the Senate to reject the original tax proposal.

12 Democrat Legislators Named Targets of Campaign to Defeat the Water Tax

Reform California is working on a number issues to “make California more affordable”.  Check out their website at 

News

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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/

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