By Sondra Murphy
About 50 community members interested in forming a public water company attended an Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) meeting Thursday night. Fed up with paying the highest water rates in the valley and their water company’s current attempt at increasing rates again, residents thirsting for relief came to listen and learn.
In response to Golden State Water Company’s application to the California Public Utilities Commission for a rate increase of about 44 percent, organizer Kathy Couturie began researching other options and found Food and Water Watch online. Based out of Washington D.C., FWW works with grassroots organizations around the world to stop corporate control of food and water. It also lobbies to increase funding for upgrading water systems and keeping federal funds for public utilities out of the pockets of private utility providers.
Golden State notified customers of its rate increase application to CPUC six weeks after applying. “I was outraged,” said Couturie, who organized Ojai F.L.O.W. to explore the possibility of deprivatizing the water system, which services most of Ojai and some of the unincorporated areas.
Food and Water Watch representative Adam Scow was at the F.L.O.W. meeting to talk about the process involved with turning a private utility into a public one. “It has become a hot topic in the last 10 years as water becomes an increasingly scarce commodity,” said Scow. There is a lot involved and can take years of cooperative efforts to accomplish.
Scow addressed the PUC process with rate increase applications. He said that utility companies ask for one rate, but CPUC usually agrees to 50 percent of the requested increase. “The company then says, ‘see, we’re a regulated company and got a 50 percent decrease in our rate increase.’” In relating this information, Scow confirmed a suspicion raised by angry customers at Golden State’s first town hall meeting in March.
By Sondra Murphy