Nov. 29, 2012
Angelique LaCour, OVN correspondent
Now that the presidential election is history, Ojai’s Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) hopes to rally the community to get out the vote and pass a bond to buy Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC) Ojai operation and turn over its operation to Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD).
Confident that the CMWD board of directors will pass a resolution to create a community facilities district and establish a dollar amount to fund the purchase, F.L.O.W. held a campaign kickoff event Wednesday at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.
F.L.O.W. director Ryan Blatz encouraged the approximately 100 attendees to sign up to “put boots on the ground” and educate their neighbors with the “simple facts why we must buy Golden State Water Company.”
Blatz also took issue with a full-page ad in Wednesday’s Ojai Valley News claiming, in part, that Food and Water Watch, a national organization, “trains and organizes local activists under the banner of Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.).”
The ad — paid for by the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights — does not, however, specifically claim that Ojai F.L.O.W. members were trained by Food and Water Watch.
“I can tell you unequivocally that there is no person in our group who has even heard of or been trained by this organization,” Blatz said. “These big corporations think they can come here and spread their lies — that’s why we need help to counter the misinformation Golden State is going to spend a lot of money to put out in the community.”
The Inn donated the use of a meeting room in support of F.L.O.W.’s campaign.
“We are fully behind this effort and thankful you are here since half of our 650 employees live in Ojai, and many are suffering from the high water rates,” said Pete Ells, the Inn’s managing director. “If our golf course was on Golden State water like the rest of our property, we probably wouldn’t have a golf course because we couldn’t afford the water.”
The big unknown is the cost of acquiring GSWC. That number is still being crunched by Casitas officials. But F.L.O.W. director Richard Hajas claims that no matter what that cost turns out to be, people need to understand that the issue is simply about water costs.
“Last year, Golden State took $5.3 million from the Ojai community for water service,” Hajas said. “If we had Casitas service we would have paid $2 million for the same water.”
Hajas emphasized that the difference in water cost alone between Casitas and Golden State leaves $3.3 million a year to buy out Golden State right now. Over the next 15 years F.L.O.W. expects that the difference in cost between the two providers will rise to approximately $10 million per year.
The impact of high water rates in Ojai is beginning to affect both property values and quality of life, said real estate agent Joan Roberts.
“When I show properties, I’m asked what water company serves the property,” Roberts said. “Real estate agents have so much on their shoulders already with disclosures, but now we have to let buyers know that their water bills are going to be high if they choose to live in Ojai.”
Golden State customer Elana Daley and her husband attended Wednesday night’s meeting. They own a commercial property on Bryant Street and a home on Grandview Avenue.
“We’re paying property taxes to support Casitas while paying Golden State’s high rates for water, and it just doesn’t make sense,” Daley said. “Another issue I have is that Golden State owes us $1.2 million in surcredits from a lawsuit more than a year ago, and we haven’t seen a penny of that yet.”
Many of the “Farewell to Golden State” partygoers signed up to host community education and outreach events in their homes, and go door to door in their neighborhoods to distribute F.L.O.W.’s “The Simple Facts” door hangers.
“When I was knocking on doors during my recent (city council) campaign, the No. 1 thing people wanted to know was if I was supporting F.L.O.W.,” said newly elected City Council member, Severo Lara. “I fully support the great grassroots work F.L.O.W. has been doing for several years now.”
Nov. 29, 2012