Utility seeking another double-digit rate hike
By Logan Hall
Imagine turning on a water faucet only to find that there is no water flowing out. In this day and age it is easy for most people to take the things we need to survive for granted. People need water to survive. Does that mean that those who are in control of vital resources such as water can charge whatever exorbitant amounts they want, knowing that the people will pay?
Golden State Water Company (GSWC) is putting that theory to a test with proposed rate increases for the Ojai Customer Service Area that will total almost 45 percent by 2012. In a statement in their public participation hearing notification, GSWC claims that the new rates will cover increasing costs to operate and maintain the local water system, and fund capital investments critical to providing reliable, high-quality water to the area.
Some local experts aren’t so sure about Golden State’s agenda. “The problem with GSWC, is they put in these old pipe lines about 75 years ago, and they’re wearing out,” said valley resident Jim Coultas, former longtime Casitas Municipal Water District board member and agricultural rancher. “They continue raising their rates year after year, but they spend the money on something else and never do the things they say they will.”
Over the years, according to Coultas, local ranchers have had to use heavy equipment to dig up and repair the failing infrastructure that GSWC claims to be putting funding into. “These guys that rely on GSWC are constantly having to get the backhoe out and repair these pipes,” said Coultas, who has been an Ojai Valley resident for more than 60 years.
GSWC district manager Ken Petersen countered in an e-mail response by saying funds from a rate increase will go directly into various aspects of the water management. “When we file a new rate plan, it supports the top objectives of a statewide water action plan created by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). These top objectives include maintaining high standards of water quality, strengthening our water conservation programs, and promoting infrastructure investment.
“The major capital improvements in this filing include, but are not limited to, replacement of 11,000 feet of leaking, undersized and aging pipelines, enhancing local water storage with the installation of a new 500,000-gallon tank, and drilling and equipping a well.”
Experts like Coultas and some GSWC customers have said that these claims have been made before, and that the failing system has yet to be addressed by Golden State.
“They haven’t done anything that they said they would do,” said GSWC customer and Ojai resident Dan Cole. “Where’s all this master plan stuff they said they were gonna’ do. If it doesn’t stop here, what’s gonna’ happen in another three years when they raise the rates again?”
The city of Ojai is also up in arms over the rate increase, and the powers that be vow to fight for their citizens’ need for clean, affordable water.
“From my point of view, the rate increase is obscene,” said Ojai Mayor Steve Olsen. “The city needs to do what it can to protect citizens from these increases. We will be very aggressive in dealing with CPUC in trying to fight this rate increase. GSWC has not provided an upgrade to our infrastructure. We expect better from them, and citizens can’t afford the rate increase. If necessary, we will go back up to San Francisco and appear in front of the CPUC during the public comment hearing and express our grievances. I think that’s where we were successful last time.”
In order to give the public a chance to be heard, the CPUC will hold a public participation hearing in Ojai tomorrow at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. in the Chaparral Auditorium on Ojai Avenue. All parties involved strongly suggest that people from the community attend the hearing to have a chance to voice their thoughts, and become better informed of the situation.
“The CPUC usually sends a neutral person that’s not on the GSWC’s or the citizens’ side,” said Olsen. “Public documents will be available. People should definitely come to the hearing.”