Tag Archives: water rate increases

Thomas Elias: The cow has already got out of the barn on public utility rate reform

6 Jul

I found this article by columnist Thomas Elias on the Marysville for Reasonable Water Rates Facebook page, but I never found it in the ER. He is going over the recent reforms made by the state legislature following the scandal involving California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey. Peevey was in the pocket of PG&E for years, as revealed by e-mails he’d sent them, advising them in various legal matters. He was supposed to protect us, but all the while plotted with PG&E and probably other for-profit utility companies to screw us. 

I agree with Elias – these reforms are no-brainers, but may be too late to help.


It’s the same with the state Public Utilities Commission these days as with almost everything else: By the time state legislators notice something is a problem, things are so bad, so extreme that other people and agencies have already acted.

Just now, almost six months after state and federal investigators executed search warrants on the homes of former PUC President Michael Peevey and a since-fired Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executive for whom Peevey would apparently do just about anything, lawmakers are finally ready to act.

 Unfortunately, their action is redundant, coming long after the cows have left the barn.

Dollar bills, often rolls of 100-dollar bills, are equivalent to the cows in this metaphor. And the barn is the equivalent of the wallets and bank accounts of tens of millions of customers with gas, electric and water companies regulated by the utilities commission.

For many years before scandal broke, the PUC under Peevey and several predecessors maintained a steady pattern favoring the interests of regulated, privately-owned corporations over those of the consumers they serve.

This pattern extended from pricing to maintenance and safety concerns, from easy OKs of power plant siting to lack of concern over nuclear safeguards at the now-closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power station. It has cost consumers billions of dollars over decades, costs that climb each day.

This has been achieved via a sort of kabuki dance, where utilities routinely ask far more in rate increases than they know they’re entitled to. The PUC responds by cutting the requests, still giving utilities larger increases than reality justifies. Then both the commission and the companies brag about being “consumer-friendly.”

The dance went on unchecked for decades, legislators paying virtually no heed. The lawmakers also routinely rubber-stamped appointees to the commission named by current Gov. Jerry Brown and predecessors like George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Each commissioner then served a six-year term without even the possibility of being fired for one-sided rulings.

Now, long after this column exposed the corrupt pattern and with a federal grand jury working on this case, at long last comes a state legislator to “do something” about the PUC. That’s Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Rendon of Lakewood. One of his bills would set up an inspector general at the commission, empowered to investigate its activities.

Another would outlaw secret contacts among commissioners and utility executives by requiring publication of all communications between them during rate-setting proceedings. Such “ex parte” contacts have long been illegal, but no one paid attention. So phone calls and private dinners like those documented involving Peevey, current Commissioner Mike Florio and executives of PG&E and Southern California Edison continued with impunity until earlier this year, when scandal broke.

The Rendon bills are too little, too late. Far better to give the commission’s existing Office of Ratepayer Advocates some real power to fight and expose the ongoing misdeeds of the PUC. Rather than set up a new inspector general, why not make the existing advocacy office independent?

And with no ability for consumers to protest PUC decisions anywhere but in appeal courts, it’s now far too difficult to do anything about wrongheaded, one-sided commission rulings. Why not allow consumers to sue in trial courts, where they could present evidence rather than being confined to working with evidence developed during the PUC’s own proceedings, where administrative law judges have been exposed lately as subject to occasional bias?

Those are simpler, less expensive changes than what Rendon proposes, the only legislative fixes for the PUC now proposed.

Even more important to cleaning up this long-corrupt agency would be for legislators to put a spotlight on any appointee proposed by any governor. Also, if lawmakers would hold meaningful, thorough hearings on the PUC’s questionable actions. This is already within their power, but even with the scandal in progress, it still does not happen. Lawmakers show no appetite for contesting any proposed commissioner or any commission actions. That’s how consumers got stuck with Peevey, a former Edison president whose corrupt practices were easy to foresee.

So, yes, the Legislature can and should do something about the PUC, but the best thing it could be is wake up and perform the watchdog duties it has neglected for decades.

How far will people be pushed in this drought?

29 Jun

ER letter writer Daniel Courtice of Chico complained recently that even though his household had used less than their budgeted water amount, they got no “credit” in their “water bank.” He reports, “We put buckets in our shower, tubs in our sink, flush our toilets much less, take navy showers and our lawn is half dead” but received no kudos in their subsequent bill.

“I contacted Cal Water to discuss this discrepancy and was told that during the first month no one was getting credits for the water bank.” 

He asks “We all need to do our part in this drought crisis but how is this right that Cal Water is not living up to the agreement that was promised at the community water meeting?”

I had seen in my notice, they wouldn’t be giving that credit up until the July bill. My husband called it – use all you can until the end of May, or they’ll cut you off that much more next year. He was right.

I wonder if Courtice knows about WRAM – the “water rate adjustment mechanism” by which water companies manipulate the price of water each month to cover costs. If we use too little water, they are allowed to charge more to cover their salaries, pensions and benefits – “fixed costs”.  They explained exactly how much they needed to fund their salaries and pensions – hundreds of thousands of dollars a year –  in the first notice  I received, I think, three years ago?

  I can’t fault Courtice, Cal Water sends so many of these GD notices, who in their right mind is able to keep up with all the twists and turns. 

I am on pins and needles waiting for my next water bill. It better be good, is all I’m saying. We already led a pretty water wise existence, but we’ve cut back further. For one thing, we filled our Intex pool every June, and now that’s gone. We’ll see if that even makes a blip on the radar. 

It’s always frustrating to see how far people will be pushed before they get mad about something that’s not right. Cal Water posted big profits this year.


According to Yahoo Finance in the April 29, 2015 article, “California Water Service Group Holding (CWT) on Wednesday reported first-quarter net income of $1.6 million, after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier.”

Furthermore, “The San Jose, California-based company said it had profit of 3 cents per share.  The results beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of three analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 2 cents per share.”

How can they post a profit and still collect a WRAM charge every month? How can we let a for-profit corporation control our water?


NEWSFLASH! Juanita Sumner ready to support a bond!

7 Oct

I will admit I had almost lost hope of stopping the proposed Cal Water rate increases when I heard the good news a couple of weeks ago that the state Ratepayers Advocate (DRA) had stepped in. They suggest the increase be cut in half. 

This all due to people in Oroville, Marysville, and Yuba City,  who kicked up a fuss, made a formal complaint, wrote letters, put signs on their lawns, etc.  If you go to the Oroville Mercury Register, or the Marysville Appeal Democrat, you will  find lively chatter regarding such topics as municipally owned water companies, eminent domaining a utility company, etc.

That’s right – in Oroville they’re actually  talking about eminent domaining Cal Water. One council member says this will require a bond to pay for the purchase, but he thinks the time is right to go to the voters . Look at what people are paying, just for household water. In Oroville people are already paying $200 or more to keep their lawns and landscaping alive.

I’ll say it – I’m ready to pay a reasonable bond with limits and a sunset date if it means we could own our own water, instead of a for-profit corporation that enriches itself not only off our rates but government hand-outs as well. We can ask that the bond money be used exclusively for the purchase of the water company holdings. We can pass an ordinance that requires a publicly elected board of directors and manager, and public input regarding employee contracts. I realize, it’s a big conversation – let’s have it!

 Read about Oroville and Marysville’s efforts here: