Jan. 22, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
A Sacramento-based property rights advocacy group recently accused the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) of paying $100,000 to Ojai Friends of Locally-Owned Water (F.L.O.W.), as part of the utility’s effort to take over the operation of Golden State Water Company’s Ojai service area.
In a letter to the CMWD Board, Marko Mlikotin, president of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights (CAPPPR), wrote “According to recent Board Meeting minutes, the board has allocated over $100,000 to an “Ojai F.L.O.W.” fund. Is this appropriate given that Ojai F.L.O.W. is a political action committee (PAC, aka campaign committee) registered as such with the State of California? Is this a gift of public dollars to benefit a political cause?”
Casitas and Ojai F.L.O.W. officials both scoff at the idea.
“No money has gone from Casitas to Ojai F.L.O.W. or any other outside group,” said Ron Merckling, spokesperson for CMWD. “We have funded a study of the takeover idea, which is costing $28,000, and we have spent money on legal research, but it’s all internal.”
“Ojai F.L.O.W. hasn’t seen a penny of support from Casitas, nor have they been asked by F.L.O.W., nor has it been offered,” said Ojai resident Bob Daddi, a member of Ojai F.L.O.W. “I’m sure it’s part of their (CAPPPR’s) disinformation campaign.”
Local officials are not the only ones crying foul against GSWC’s tactics.
Last year, in the California community of Claremont, GSWC asked for a nearly 30-percent rate hike over a three-year period, over opposition from city officials. In response, the municipality launched an effort to take its water franchise from Golden State.
Claremont City Manager John Ramos said GSWC responded by hiring River City Communications, a Sacramento-based PR firm also headed by Mlikotin.
“Mlikotin is claiming that the city is taking over, or, in his words “grabbing water away from Golden State Water,’” Ramos told the Claremont City Council. “Obviously, as you know, this is absolutely a false statement. It’s important that our residents know that these are not local voices and messages. They are from these firms.”
As part of challenging Casitas’ right to take the water franchise, Mlikotin has launched a “Stop the Ojai Water Grab” campaign.
“Regardless of whether one shares our views regarding private property rights, it’s important for residents to know that these rights cannot be acquired without passing on significant costs,” he said. “I’m certain that the issue will be debated in the courts.”
GSWC is a subsidiary of American States Water Company, which according to company statements is worth $765 million, serves one of every 36 Californians and has paid an increasingly large dividend every year since 1954.
Several communities throughout the state are undertaking efforts similar to Ojai’s to remove GSWC as its water provider.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, unlike her predecessor Tony Strickland, supports efforts to bring the issue to Ojai voters.
“Who owns local water supplies is the real question,” she said. “When you put all the procedural questions aside, you have to ask if a local community has a say in the delivery and the cost of their local water. There is a clear attempt in California to privatize the ownership of local water supplies, and Ojai is going to be a key battleground in that fight.”
Jackson, herself an attorney added, “Water in California is precious, and people have gone to war over it. I do anticipate litigation over this issue. My hope is that it moves along as speedily as possible, and that we can get some clarity on the matter.”
A short time before leaving office after losing the November election to Jackson, Strickland sent a letter to CMWD officials supporting GSWC. “As the State Senator for the District representing the Casitas Municipal Water District (Casitas) service area, I am very concerned with the Board’s actions to move forward with forcibly acquiring Golden State Water Company’s Ojai property by eminent domain,” he wrote. “There is no financial, environmental or agricultural benefit and puts current and future residents, businesses and farmers at risk.”
The city of Ojai and several local groups, including the Ojai Unified School District and the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors, are supportive of the concept of taking over GSWC’s Ojai service area.
CMWD’s study is expected to be completed sometime this month.
Depending on its findings, voters in the GSWC’s ojai service area could be asked to vote on a 30-year bond measure that would levy a property tax to pay for the takeover.