Rebuttal to Art Bishop (November 3, 2016)

At your meet-and-greet on Tuesday, November 1st, I asked you a question about Measure W and water rates. Before you finally acknowledged that Measure W is about bonds and not about water or water rates, you tried to answer my question with a question of your own: Did I believe Liberty Utilities was going to raise rates by 14 percent each year for the next three years? My answer was (and is) no. Here are my reasons.

First, Liberty Utilities doesn’t set water rates. That is done by the California Public Utilities Commission acting in concert with the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, with input from Liberty Utilities, the public, and other interested parties. So no, they will not raise rates unilaterally. They do not have the power to do so.

Second, the date for filing for new rates is still more than a month away, so I doubt that Liberty Utilities has finalized their numbers. If they had, I further doubt they would share them, even with you.

Third, you said there was a video that showed Liberty was going to do this. This sounded suspicious, not only because rate requests are not submitted via video, but also because there is a video by Liberty Utilities that mentions the 14-percent figure, and it has been falsely portrayed as referring to rate increases by Town spokesmen for months by Town spokesmen and supporters. That video is of Liberty Utilities’ president Greg Sorensen’s presentation to investors from December 1, 2015.


It was during the January 26, 2016, transparency report that I first heard Assistant Town Manager Marc Puckett mischaracterize Sorensen’s presentation as dealing with rate increases, even though the graphic employed by Mr. Puckett clearly refers to future investments. Sadly, such errors are common in the work of Mr. Puckett, as has been pointed out time and again by myself and many others.

On February 12th, Town reiterated this falsehood on its Facebook page. I posted, Somebody stop them from investing in our community right away! We don’t need their money. As Barb Stanton once said, ‘Can’t we just borrow the money?’ Daniel Seagondollar posted, ‘Base rate’ isn’t the rate you pay for water. Base rate is the capital (typically operating and indestructible costs) amount of expenditure that the PUC allows to be used against the billing rate. Unless I’m missing something there is nothing in that graph that states they will be raising rates. Looks like they will be spending a lot of money to fix old pipes.

On February 23rd, even the normally taciturn Liberty Utilities issued its own comment:

The Town of Apple Valley posted a photo of Liberty Utilities President Greg Sorensen making a presentation to shareholders, alleging that he was announcing a 14 percent rate increase in Apple Valley. That is not true. The presentation addressed California’s historic drought, conservation, and the need to make infrastructure investments to strengthen conservation, water quality, and system reliability for generations to come. Rates were never discussed. If you are interested in viewing the presentation, we are happy to send it to you in its entirety. Please contact us directly.

Undeterred, on April 13th, the Town once again promoted this false narrative with a special mailer (!) that claimed, … boosting profits on the backs of ratepayers is still what they’re all about. Just hear what their President is saying …

Although I had written about this before (The cat is out of the bag! on February 22 and Gaffe riot on February 25), the Town’s serial buffoonery compelled me to write another letter to the editor covering this topic, which the Daily Press published May 1, 2016 (Gaffe riot — revisited).

On May 6th, Tony Penna of Liberty Utilities provided Kathie Martin with a link to the full video, and noting that Sorensen’s remarks had been twisted, invited the Town to contact him with any questions. When the Town subsequently issued another false narrative of Sorensen’s presentation, Mr. Penna again wrote to Kathie Martin to alert her to the serial error.

These facts notwithstanding, Mr. Puckett continues to reiterate this falsehood, including at the third transparency report he delivered to the Town Council on September 13th.

There’s no nice way to put this: Your best evidence to support your position regarding Liberty Utilities’ rate increases is a falsehood, and it was provided by you and the staff at the Town of Apple Valley.

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