Jan. 24, 2013
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
The day that Ojai water customers have been waiting for during the last five years could well arrive next week.
The Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) Board of Directors announced Wednesday that it will hold a special meeting Tuesday to take public comment on the proposed takeover of Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC) Ojai service area. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Nordhoff High School cafeteria.
At that meeting, the Board is expected to vote on a series resolutions that would, among other things, establish guidelines for the establishment of the community facilities district (Mello-Roos District) and show CMWD’s intent to move forward with the takeover process.
Depending on the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, the Board could have another public hearing within 45 to 60 days to vote on whether to move forward with the bond election, explained CMWD General Manager Steve Wickstrum.
Whether CMWD will have the money necessary to complete a buyout will hinge on the outcome of a bond election that would place a parcel tax on properties within GSWC’s current Ojai service area. Registered voters within that area will be eligible to vote and it would take a two-thirds majority of those voting in the election to approve the bond. Current CMWD customers will not be eligible to vote in that election because they will not be charged the parcel tax.
“What our Board members have been hearing from the people in Ojai is that this is an opportunity for them to decide who they want to provide their water service,” Wickstrum added. “This is about what they want, it’s not about what the District wants.”
Several of GSWC’s 2,800 ratepayers began efforts in 2007 to oust the privately-owned subsidiary of American States Water citing poor service and rates that are significantly higher than those of water suppliers in nearby communities. The group Ojai Friends of Locally-Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) has been leading the effort to convince the city of Ojai and CMWD to buy out GSWC.
“This is what we have been waiting for,” explained F.L.O.W. member and GSWC customer Pat McPherson. “It is the culmination of our efforts.” He added that Tuesday’s votes by the CMWD is phase two of a three-phase effort. The next phase, he said, will be for GSWC customers to vote yes on the bond measure.
Ojai residents are not the only ones who will voice their opinion however. Denise Kruger, GSWC’s senior vice president of regulated utilities said Thursday, “We look forward to providing our input to the Casitas Municipal Water District Board and the residents of Ojai on this very important topic.”
GSWC officials have also said they are not interested in selling their Ojai operation, which means if the bond vote passes, the city of Ojai would likely have to undertake eminent domain proceedings in court. Section 8 of the city’s franchise agreement with Golden State allows for this process should the city ever decide to look for a new provider. It would, however, be up to the court to determine a fair market value for the water system.
If the bond vote does not pass, CMWD stands to lose up to $100,000 it has spent researching the issue. If the court sets the fair market value above the approved bond amount the District would have to fund the overage itself if it wished to continue.
That potential risk is part of the reason why “we mulled this thing around for as long as we did,” Wickstrum noted. “We wanted to make sure it was right.”
He added that incorporating smaller water providers into the Casitas District is not unprecedented. “Oak View used to be served by a couple of smaller companies that are now part of the Casitas District.”
If the takeover occurs, however, it will be the first time the eminent domain process has been used.
Wickstrum encouraged those in the current GSWC service area to visit the rate calculator on the District’s website (http://www.casitaswater.org/lower.php?url=monthly-water-rate-calculator) with a copy of their current water bill and the parcel tax information that will be provided at Tuesday meeting. This, he said, will allow each customer to determine if changing providers will save them money.
Editor’s note: This story was revised Jan. 24 at 4:30 p.m. to include comments from Golden State Water Company and Jan. 25 at 8:12 a.m. to correct the number of voters required to pass a Mello-Roos bond measure.