The truth about TOAV’s experience (July 26, 2015)

refuting bs

In a half-page ad in Sunday’s Daily Press (AKA Press Dispatch), The Town of Apple Valley tries to make the case that it will be able to run our water system, should their jihad against Apple Valley Ranchos result in the hostile takeover they desire.

As with just about every utterance from the TOAV, you have very carefully to parse each claim, because nothing is as the Town would have you believe. The TOAV consistently uses falsehood, half-truths, misrepresentations, mischaracterizations, misdirection, and the other linguistic tricks of demagogues to trick the unwary and inattentive into supporting their actions.

So let’s go through this ad, paragraph by paragraph, mindful of Winston Churchill’s warning that, A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

The Town of Apple Valley is uniquely qualified to own and operate Apple Valley Ranchos …

This lie should be obvious to everyone. The only entity uniquely qualified to own and operate Ranchos is Ranchos. It has been providing excellent service and a high-quality product at great prices for 65 years. For the Town to pretend that it could do better, especially considering that it can barely manage its own affairs, is at best a hallucination.

The Town has a management team with extensive background in running water systems. We understand what it takes, from maintaining infrastructure to stabilizing rates.

It’s anyone’s guess what the TOAV means by this, but often when they talk about extensive background in running water systems, they are referring to Dennis Cron*. Cron claims to have 40 years experience with water utilities. I’d pity his former employers, except the sagacity they displayed in letting him go, freed him to infest our Town.

Cron was involved with the AVWD system that was supposed to supply water to the North Apple Valley Industrial Specific Plan area (NAVISP). After construction, it had nine connections, seven of which were active. The system was being run so poorly that it couldn’t even make enough money to pay the electrical bill to pump water out of the ground. Fortunately, AVRWC stepped in, took over the system, paid off the millions in bonds that the TOAV had placed on property owners, and got it running properly. In appreciation, the TOAV almost immediately turned around and criticized AVRWC over the poor quality of the system Cron had designed and built.

Cron was also one of the experts for the TOAV for the foolhardy purchase of the Apple Valley Country Club. Here again, the TOAV had its eyes on the water rights that were supposed to come with the purchase, but didn’t, so the TOAV wound up paying top dollar for a golf course that has yet to see a profit, costing taxpayers somewhere between $6 and $7 million dollars to date (the TOAV hides the real numbers, so the costs may be even higher). On the water front, though, the well that Cron inspected immediately failed, so AVRWC had to come to rescue again. TOAV immediately sold the water rights it had claimed were the sine qua non of the purchase, so now it’s buying water from AVRWC and Helendale and who knows who else, and bleating that it needs to build a wastewater treatment plant near Brewster Park so it will have water for the golf course.

Cron was also the so-called expert hired by an outside consultant (and doesn’t THAT reek of impropriety?) to tour and inspect the AVRWC system prior to the TOAV making an offer to purchase AVRWC (even though AVRWC was not, and still is not, for sale). Cron summarily checked out one reservoir, one booster site (failing to understand the difference between a pumping station and a booster station), and four wells, and then turned in his report. When his slovenliness was exposed at a public meeting, one of the TOAV’s many attorneys accused AVRWC of not doing Cron’s job for him! For this expertise, the TOAV pays Cron more than we Californians pay Representative Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Representative Paul Cook, or Governor Jerry Brown.

Finally, it is revealing that Cron the Expert claims not to understand the ramifications surrounding the MWA well.

When it comes to maintaining infrastructure, TOAV seems oblivious to the fact that the standards for running a water utility are much higher than running a sewer system, and anyone who has caught a whiff of the sewage smell in various parts of town knows how incompetent TOAV is at running a sewer system.

Speaking of the sewer leads us directly to the issue of rate stabilization. Since I moved to Apple Valley in late 2004, our trash and sewer bill (which comes from TOAV) has doubled. In my latest bill, I received word that the sewer rates are going up an additional 11.5 percent. If that is what the TOAV refers to as stable rates, be afraid. Be very afraid.

However, when it comes to buying and transferring water willy-nilly, I have to acknowledge that the TOAV does have experience, but that’s not what we want. We want adults to be in charge. We want Ranchos.

We also understand the value of a strong team, and look forward to working with AVR’s skilled, experienced and dedicated employees.

The TOAV has changed its tune so many times on this issue that the reasonable assumption is that this is more demagoguery. Previously, the TOAV promised to fire AVRWC’s billing department and replace it with its own (which is actually contracted out to American Computer Services, from what I can tell), sack all the executives, and replace many of the other employees with outside contractors. Then it indicated that it was going to contract with an outside agency to run Apple Valley’s water utility (think Victorville or the DWP), or maybe an outside contractor (think, PERC Water). How the Town expects to save money by replacing an efficient for-profit company such as AVRWC with a motley crew of cost-plus sub-contractors (overseen of course by some TOAV staffer making an obscene amount of money) is anyone’s guess. It is also unclear how the TOAV can look forward to working with AVRWC employees after spending at least a million dollars to date (so far) demonizing them boggles the mind: The whole thrust of the TOAV takeover campaign has been that those awful people over at Ranchos are evil, are ripping you off, and may even be Canadians. If I were employed by Ranchos, I think I’d rather clasp an adder to my bosom than work for TOAV at this point.

The Town has been recognized nationally for its financial stewardship …

This is marginally correct, but this type of recognition is akin to that seen at children’s sporting events these days, where everyone’s a winner. For a couple bucks, you can go to Staple’s and buy yourself a great certificate with about as much gravitas. What the TOAV’s calls financial stewardship is often referred to in non-government circles as the shell game. And like in the shell game, the pea isn’t under any of the shells. Ask yourself how the TOAV could run a deficit of more than $6 million last year, then loan itself $7 million, and claim to have ended the year with a surplus? Once you answer that one, try to figure out how the TOAV’s adopted budget of $103 million is going to work with only $91 million in revenues. Then, you’ll start to get an inkling as to how the TOAV does business.

And then, there’s this. Oops!

Add to this the fact that TOAV doesn’t know what it’s going to cost to buy AVRWC, what they are going to get for their (our) money, where the money is coming from to allow this purchase, or what the cost of that money is going to be. Then, if the takeover does go through, Apple Valley will have about the same debt ratio as Greece, but without even a glimmer of hope that Germany will bail us out when the chickens come home to roost. (For what it’s worth, those chickens are scheduled to start arriving sometime next year.)

The Town Council has made it its mission to provide a better way of life through local control of public safety, development, services and amenities. That’s why the Council is considering acquisition.

Slapping a sticker that reads Police on a car clearly marked as being a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s vehicle is not local control. Neither is selling water rights and water systems with one hand, while you are forced to buy water for a golf course and the lavish median landscaping on Apple Valley Road with the other hand. The only possible way this can be construed as accurate is in the millions the TOAV has spent on municipal buildings and salaries, but those services and amenities benefit them, not us.

On the development front, AVRWC has proven to be a great partner to TOAV over the years, but TOAV apparently wants to be more speculative … which is to say, instead of doing more with less, it wants to do less with more. What else can explain why TOAV gave away the store to Big Lots for their planned distribution center, where TOAV is on the hook for a million dollars in infrastructure improvements (to start with), with no commitment from Big Lots? But maybe the TOAV is not really serious about the Big Lots deal, either, because AVRWC offered to build out additional capacity for fire hydrants to serve that area, and the TOAV shot them down.

In California, community ownership is the rule, not the exception …

This is the TOAV’s way of saying that up until now we have had to settle for living in an area with a better way of life, but now we want to be like everybody else.

As for considering acquisition, TOAV has been hell-bent on seizing Ranchos for years now, using various pretexts as fig-leaves for what they have been planning all along. This fig-leaf (considering acquisition) is designed to make them appear cautious and thoughtful as they rush pell-mell toward paying up to $200 million for something we already have.

80% of cities own their own water systems, including most of our neighbors.

If you look at the total water costs for an average household in our area, you’ll find that the cheapest water comes from Golden State (which also serves parts of Apple Valley), followed closely by Ranchos. Hesperia and Victorville are far more expensive. This is what TOAV has in store for us. This brings up one of the key issues to remember about this takeover push: It’s not about water, it’s about money.

I mentioned before the relentless attacks on AVRWC and its employees by TOAV. TOAV’s claim to be disseminating the truth is part and parcel of those attacks. This claim is designed to make residents think that TOAV was minding its own business when suddenly without warning AWRWC attacked it for no reason whatsoever. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

If the truth matters, you must oppose the TOAV’s insane quest.

— Greg Raven, Apple Valley, CA

* Note: Since this was written, Pat Orr at the Apple Valley Review revealed that Dennis Cron is retiring at the end of 2015, removing the Town’s last shred of credibility on the question of expertise. Here’s my response to Orr.

“Advocates of government takeovers typically identify the elimination of ‘profits’ and taxes as two sources of financial benefits from a change in ownership. There is no sound basis in accounting or economics to support the expectation of real benefits to ratepayers, in the form of lower bills, from the elimination of these sources.”

Dr. David Sosa, Analysis Group

Executive summary

My proposal