Milk of human kindness (July 2, 2015)

There are three things on which demagogues can count, when using fear, uncertainty, and doubt (F.U.D.) to sway voters.

First, there are plenty of uninformed and prejudiced persons who might simply accept your claims. (Abe Lincoln referred to this as fooling some of the people all of the time.)

Second, you don’t have to be consistent; just throw a bunch of F.U.D. into the conversation, and let it prey on the minds of your audience.

Third, you don’t even have to stick to the truth, not that politicians have much connection with the truth anyway.

For an illustration, you need look no further than the Town of Apple Valley’s (TOAV) latest fright-fest: AVR customers to bear burden of Yermo Water Company acquisition. Alert observers will recognize this as a retread of TOAV’s similar scare piece from December 2014.

After misrepresenting Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company’s (AVRWC) recent rate increases as excessive, the TOAV gets right to it: Citizens of Apple Valley are going to be paying to provide citizens of Yermo with water.

Some brief background: Yermo, CA, is a small desert community east of Barstow. It has an antiquated water system, which was on the verge of complete collapse due to poor management. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) stepped in and placed it in receivership. AVRWC bid $300,000 to buy Yermo Water Company (YWC), on the expectation that an additional $732,000 are needed to keep the system online, with further expenses needed in the future. AVRWC is well suited to take on this challenge, having provided high-quality water to residents of Apple Valley for 65 years.

Instead of being proud that our local water company has the competence and solvency to rescue YWC, TOAV has chosen to fabricate a negative scenario.

Remember, the TOAV’s position is that AVRWC makes huge profits from supplying water to Apple Valley. Immense profits. Obscene profits. Profits so high that the TOAV now wants to reap them for its own purposes.

Where YWC is concerned, though, TOAV claims that not only will there be no profit, but there will be a loss! Thus, TOAV’s position is that AVRWC is not only greedy and profit-grubbing, but is at the same time too stupid to make money running a water system. No wonder AVRWC general manager Tony Penna wrote that we need a new water narrative.

And then there’s this: YWC has somewhere between 250 and 300 customers. AVRWC is going to spend around a million dollars to purchase and refurbish it. TOAV would never tell you this, but it turns out that this is a bargain. Fifteen years ago, TOAV had its own water system (run by the Apple Valley Water District, or AVWD). AVWD had nine connections, seven of which were active. The problem was that the TOAV couldn’t figure out how to make enough money on this water system to afford the electricity needed to pump the water out of the ground. It was in trouble. It turned to AVRWC for help. AVRWC paid more than $2,000,000 to take over AVWD’s water system. For seven customers.

So the TOAV has no problem approaching AVRWC whenever it needs help (including providing water for the Apple Valley Golf Course), but when a neighboring community needs help, the TOAV’s position is what’s in it for us?. You can just feel the love, can’t you?

Just for fun, let’s juxtapose TOAV’s complaint that AVRWC hasn’t accounted for the YWC purchase on its three-year plan, with TOAV’s purposeful concealment of costs it has incurred trying to convince people that seizing AVRWC is somehow an obligation. Even the most recent TOAV budget proposal has no line item or other mechanism for tracking the hundreds of thousands of dollars it has already spent, or will be spending going forward.

TOAV then mentions that it protested this agreement, but again doesn’t tell the whole story. In a back-handed attack not only on AVRWC but on CPUC, TOAV says the transaction was orchestrated out of the public eye. In fact, that very protest by TOAV was in the public eye, in the form of the CPUC, where TOAV lodged its protest. AVRWC is governed by CPUC, so that’s how things work. TOAV knows this, because it’s spent tens of thousands of Apple-Valley-taxpayer dollars sending attorneys to Sacramento to lobby CPUC, and even had CPUC come down for a special meeting on another matter related to AVRWC. TOAV doesn’t tell you this because CPUC rejected TOAV’s claims.

The real issue, of course, is the profit AVRWC makes on its substantial investment in our community. The TOAV wants the profits for itself. All of them. It’s willing to spend hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars just in the preparations to seize control of AVRWC in court, let alone the millions it will cost for the actual purchase. The last thing TOAV wants is to have to work for that money after its hostile takeover, because it seems to have big plans for those profits that don’t include properly running one water utility, let alone two.

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