March 14, 2013
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC) Ojai service area customers will get their election.
August 27 will be the day Ojai voters decide whether they keep GSWC or try kick it to the curb in favor of Casitas Municipal Water District’s (CMWD). Voters will be asked whether they support a 30-year property tax bond to fund the buyout.
After listening to nearly three hours of public comments, the Casitas board voted unanimously to approve the three resolutions necessary to form a community facilities district and hold the election.
Of the approximately 45 speakers, more than two-thirds were in favor of holding the election. Of the remainder, three were heavily opposed to the buyout, six others questions aspects of how the bond was apportioned or wanted the CMWD board to postpone action and do more research.
Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, speaking as a CMWD customer, talked about holding an election when frustration levels have reached where they are in Ojai. “It is appropriate to go to the voters and ask the voters to weigh in. Certainly,” he added, “some risks have been identified, but that is what elections are all about. Do you want the advantages and the potential disadvantages of one action or the other action.”
Ojai resident Janet Bolton was a little more blunt. “I don’t want the dividends for their shareholders on my back anymore.”
Jerry Camarillo Dunn concurred. “I am tired of Golden State having a pipeline to my wallet.
Michael Shapiro echoed Bolton and Dunn’s statements. “The bottom line is that Golden State is accountable to its shareholders. We want that to end. We want humble public servants, such as yourselves, who run for election every four years.”
Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) member Bob Daddi remarked that if Golden State Water was concerned about Ojai, they could help avoid a potentially costly legal battle by signing over control of the company to Casitas.
Bill Horne, an Ojai resident for 51 years, thanked the CMWD board and Ojai F.L.O.W. for not “going along with Golden State’s money grabbing tactics” and said the Public Utilities Commission and GSWC are attached at the hip.
One speaker said whom the community trusts to provide its water is one of the most important decisions it can make. “Trustworthy doesn’t describe the poor service, poor maintenance and high rates we have been getting from Golden State,” noted Jerry Kaplan.
To those who feel the bond isn’t apportioned fairly, Kathleen Richards said, “Taxes are rarely apportioned fairly. I don’t have children but I have been paying for public education my entire adult life.”
Michael Daily offered a bit of financial advice. “If your property taxes increase, you can deduct that on your income tax. You can’t deduct your water bill.”
Camille Crock said she fears losing property that has been in her family since 1964 because of the tax increase the bond would trigger. “If you can’t pay your water bill, they send it to a collection agency. If you can’t pay your tax bill, they can automatically take your house. It’s far better to owe the water company than the tax collector.”
Jim Finch, an East End farmer, told the board he was concerned that property values would decrease after the tax was added. “Do the valuation, do the homework and sit down with Golden State and try to work something out,” he said.
Nearly all who expressed a preference between a walk-in and mail ballot said they preferred the former. “We want a walk-in vote because we don’t trust Golden State,” explained F.L.O.W. member Ryan Blatz.
If two-thirds of those voting want the change, CMWD would have up to $60 million to make an offer for the GSWC infrastructure and equipment and to fund much-needed repairs to the system.
Because GSWC officials have repeatedly said that portion of the company is not for sale, CMWD would likely have to invoke the eminent domain clause in GSWC’s franchise agreement with the city of Ojai. A court would then decide if the sale can go forward and, if so, what the fair market value of Golden State’s assets is.
If the bond does not pass, CMWD will not be reimbursed for its acquisition costs to that point.
If the bond passes but $60 million is not enough to fund the purchase, as was GSWC’s contention at the meeting, CMWD could decide to walk away from the buyout, but property owners in the community facilities district would still be responsible for the bonds issued to that point.
During the 15 minutes allotted for a presentation regarding its position, GSWC’s legal representative Steve Amerikaner, from Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck LLC, said the Casitas proposal was “fundamentally flawed” and warned voters to be “deeply skeptical.”
“The District is asking the voters to bear the cost without doing the research,” Amerikaner noted. If you don’t approve these resolutions tonight, do a full appraisal including water rights and do an independent feasibility study, Golden State will sit down with you.”
Casitas board member Bill Hicks took exception to Amerikaner’s comments. “You are well worth $500 an hour,” Hicks remarked. “You gave a good presentation but I’ve got to say how ironic it is that you are going to try to use the CEQA card on us. You don’t have water rights. Let’s sit down and negotiate. Let’s get this thing done.”
After the meeting, Pat McPherson, Ojai F.L.O.W. steering committee chair, said “We are very pleased with the Casitas board voting unanimously to put the matter before the voters on Aug. 27 using the traditional election process. The Casitas plan provides a way for Ojai to have local control of its water while saving the residents, schools, city and businesses millions of dollars in the first few years.”
The first phase was to get the petitions signed by 1,900+ Ojai Golden State Rater Payers, which we did in record time. The next phase was to encourage Casitas to accept our request to buy Golden State operations in Ojai, create a buy-out plan, and vote to let the Ojai Golden State Rater Payers vote to create a CFD and authorize the Bonds to acquire the system either through negotiations or eminent domain as specified in the franchise agreement. The next phase will be up to the voters Aug. 27, where we are very confident we will receive well over the two-thirds vote required for passage. Ojai is a very special little town that puts politics aside and sticks together whenever an outsider abuses any one of its citizens. I am very proud to live here.”