What they’ve spent (May 29, 2015)

According to a TOAV Facebook post dated May 28, 2015:

What AVR says the town has spent on water study: $900,000 What we have actually spent: $325,000. We tell the truth.

Included is a link to this page: avh2ours.com/2015/05/what-weve-spent/

What We’ve Spent

Apple Valley Ranchos claims the Town has [spent?] $900,000 of taxpayer money to study and promote the takeover of a well-run, local private business. This simply is not true. In fact, we’ve spent about a third that amount on this case, or $325,000. What the company doesn’t point out is that the Town has been forced to spend another $282,000 in legal fees simply fighting their excessive rate-increase requests over the past four years — which points to another important difference between community ownership and their private business operation: We’re transparent about what we spend.

The Town’s spending on legal fees associated with Apple Valley Ranchos has proven to be a good investment. Assuming the proposed decision in the current water rate case is approved, ratepayer bills in 2015 will increase by roughly 9.85 percent compared to the 14.88 percent requested by Apple Valley Ranchos. In addition, the Town successfully removed $8.5 million in proposed new facilities from Apple Valley Ranchos’ requested spending plan. Likewise, the Town is still fighting to ensure that $7 million is not spent on unnecessary main replacement projects.

Let’s look at these two items.

In March 2015, Town Manager Frank Robinson assured everyone that the TOAV had spent less than half of $500,000 on its move to seize control of AVRWC. Two months later, that figure seems to be up by nearly $100,000. Maybe this is one of the reasons why TOAV is looking for money to support the Sunset Concert Series. Considering that TOAV has been bent on seizing AVRWC since mid-2008 (when it hired Robinson and current legal firm Best Best & Krieger on the same day), at this rate of spending TOAV would have spent in the neighborhood of $3.8 million so far, with the real costs still to come.

The easiest way to find out is for TOAV to release to us a detailed break down of all expenses related to AVRWC, but there’s the rub. TOAV has not been forthcoming with those documents, which are supposed to be available to the public, and when sued for their release, TOAV’s attorney vowed to oppose the suit vigorously. So, while we might not know the actual amount, we do know that before, during, and after its purchase of AVCC, TOAV pulled so many financial shenanigans that it would take a Federal investigation with forensic accountants to unravel the mystery of where all the money went.

So much for the money angle.

Now, TOAV assures us that it tells the truth. Only, we know that it doesn’t. TOAV representatives, including councilman Scott Nassif, Robinson, and Assistant Town Manager Dennis Cron, have consistently lied and misrepresented virtually every aspect of the town’s hostile take-over attempt. If the town really were engaged in a good-faith effort to provide for its citizens, there would be no need for them to form a bodyguard of lies for their actions. Nor would it be necessary for them to refuse to provide documentation, or redact documents that it does turn over. Only a politician would have the temerity to claim to be transparent while spending your tax dollars fighting the release of public documents.

So much for the truth and transparency angles.

TOAV claims that it was forced to spend tax dollars over the past four years to fight rate increases. First and foremost, there is no evidence that anyone ever needs to force TOAV to spend tax dollars. More to the point, however, AVRWC has been doing business in Apple Valley for 65 years. As with other regulated utilities, rate increases have to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), with another state agency, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA), chiming in. I don’t have access to all 65 years of records, but I’ll bet that for the first 61 years there were very few (if any) instances in which AVRWC requested a rate increase, and the CPUC gave full approval. From what I can see of the process, AVRWC requests one rate, and the CPUC approves a different, lower rate.

Looking at it another way, for 61 years TOAV was apparently utterly unconcerned about this arrangement, as I have seen no record that indicates so much as a peep from town representatives in response to rate increase requests. What I have seen is that TOAV has spent a lot of money the last four years sending attorneys to Sacramento ostensibly to argue against rate increases, during which time AVRWC has requested one rate, and the CPUC has approved a different, lower rate, just like always. This doesn’t stop TOAV from attempting to take all the credit, at the same time deriding CPUC for rubber-stamping rate increases.

But let’s say that TOAV’s efforts against the twin evils of AVRWC and CPUC/ORA actually did account for a 5 percent reduction in the rate increase. What does that mean to me? Well, our last water bill was $68. In the desert. In the midst of a drought. If it went up 9.85 percent, we’d be paying around $75, or $3.50 more per month. This means that for the hundreds of thousands of dollars (well, that we know about) spent by TOAV to oppose a rate increase that almost certainly wasn’t going to be approved in full anyway, we stand to save a whopping $1.50 per month. Whoo-oo! With that much in savings, I can almost afford to pay the increase in the sewer bill we get from TOAV. Almost.

The TOAV fighting main replacement provides a glimpse of how bad things would be with them in control of our water system. Even with its aggressive main-replacement program, AVRWC still has around 150 miles of really old mains that need to be replaced. AVRWC is trying to be proactive in mains replacement, not only to prevent water waste from broken mains, but also to avoid the damage that can be caused by flooding. Apparently, TOAV feels that this is unnecessary, preferring the DWP approach, which is to let the pipes rot in the ground until disaster strikes.

In another Facebook post, TOAV claims that, Your council is proceeding slowly and carefully as it considers this major decisions. [sic] In fact, it is increasingly obvious that the decision was made years ago to condemn AVRWC and seize its assets, and that TOAV is moving toward this goal as quickly as it feels it can. There is nothing balanced nor cautious about the town’s approach, nor its mendacity in reaching its goal. This is precisely why it asks only for support for this seizure, while discounting all opposition.

Greg Raven is Co-Chair of Apple Valley Citizens for Government Accountability, and is concerned about quality of life issues.

Update: The latest numbers from TOAV show $1.4 million in spending, although the numbers don’t go back to 2006 when this process really began.