Political posturing (January 8, 2016)

According to the Daily Press, Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company left the Town of Apple Valley with no choice but to initiate condemnation proceedings because it is raising rates, and because it is a monopoly (Condemnation action filed, January 7, 2016). It is disappointing to see this level of mendacity in local government.

First, the Town is wrong about the rate increases, and Eric Larsen from Ranchos is correct. The ruling from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is extremely clear on this point.

Second, the Town cannot be motivated by rate increases because sewer and trash rates have gone up faster than water rates, and the Town controls those. My sewer bill alone is more than my water bill, and I can control my water bill by controlling how much water I use.

Third, Ranchos has been doing business in our area longer than Apple Valley has been a town. Now, we’re asked to believe that the Town council has only recently determined that this arrangement leaves it with no choice but to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a hostile takeover. Hogwash.

Fourth, Ranchos is not a monopoly: It has a guaranteed service area, which is much different. The Town council should know this because the Town reaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in franchise fees from Ranchos each year. To look at it another way, if monopolies such as Ranchos leave the Town council with no choice but to initiate condemnation proceedings, when can we expect similar proceedings against Southern California Edison and Southwest Gas Corporation? There is only one monopoly in town, and it is the Town government.

Fifth, as customers, we have plenty of say in the rate-setting process. All anyone has to do is to submit comments to the CPUC, as the Town has recently begun doing. Unfortunately, Town submissions to the CPUC, which are drafted by the Town’s highly-paid attorneys at our expense, have been untimely, vague, off-point, and absent of substance. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you can’t blame the CPUC for giving little weight to your arguments.

Sixth, the last published analysis by the Town showing how affordable it will be to seize Ranchos by force dates back to April of last year. It was deeply flawed when the Town released it, and there have been no adjustments for recent events, such as the Yermo Water Company purchase, the actual purchase price by Liberty Utilities, or the increase in interest rates. Therefore, it is utterly unreliable as a guide to what is or is not possible in terms of the hostile takeover of Ranchos.

Seventh, the Town’s own Environmental Impact Report says that the Town will finance infrastructure improvements and/or system expansion with additional bonds, which means higher taxes, despite promises to the contrary from various Town demagogues.

If the Town council really want to help ratepayers, it needs to fire its entire staff for giving it such egregiously bad information for so many years, and get some competent help. For the million-plus dollars it costs us each year for Town staff , we should be able to afford competent managers.

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