Responding to claims made on Facebook (May 4, 2017)

The pro-Town forces have a Facebook page on which they claim to disseminate the facts. As is typical for the Town and its supporters, they twist, misstate, and err on just about everything. I posted a couple of comments as correctives but they quickly banned me and removed my comments.

So, here are my comments about recent mischaracterizations pro-Town supporters are peddling on Facebook.

Lance Arnt’s posts

[…] most of the employees of Liberty will become town employees, except for the high level management.

Assumes facts not in evidence. This is only one option of three proposed by the Town. The Town has refused to say exactly who will be running the water system. In fact, they have been so imprecise that they are being sued for a more definite statement over this and other aspects of their proposal.

Their [Liberty employees] compensation will be very similar if they are town employees, and they will be in the PERS retirement system, so it is probably a better setup for Liberty employees.

Perhaps better for the employees, but not for the ratepayers. Not only are government employees paid more highly for the same position as private-sector employees, their pensions are much higher. CalPERS has a long history of underperforming on its investments, but unlike the private sector, if it needs more money for pension payments, it simply taps taxpayers for the difference. Nice, huh?

So for every Liberty employee who does go to work for the Town, we the ratepayers will pay more for their salaries and benefits, and we the taxpayers are guaranteeing they each have nice pension plans, no matter what happens with the economy. (Mr. Arnt is a government employee who benefits from the CalPERS retirement system, which may explain his lack of concern about where the money comes from to pay his extravagant retirement benefits.)

I fail to see how you can save money by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to buy a company, paying its employees more, and assuring them great pensions, especially considering what a high percentage payroll is of the total cost of running a business.

Liberty earns over $10 million per year in profit.

Utterly false. This is a lie spread by the innumerate Marc Puckett, the Town’s Assistant Manager for Finance. Virtually every utterance and report by Mr. Puckett contains errors and mischaracterizations, and he is not above lying. Nothing that comes from his office can be taken at face value. He was responsible for millions of dollars of errors in Flint, Michigan, and Costa Mesa, California — two of his prior employers. You have to wonder if he landed here in Apple Valley because he is exploiting the fecklessness of the Town Council, or if the Town Council is exploiting him because he has nowhere else to go?

If we do not like how the town is running things, we can vote in new town council members.

Wishful thinking. Incumbents tend to get re-elected. That’s the fact. With the staggered election system we have for Town Council members, the numbers are actually stacked in favor of the incumbents because 1) they have name recognition, and 2) the more challengers there are, the less likely it is that one of them will displace an incumbent.

The real issue, though, is that if the Town is successful in seizing the water company, removing from office those who perpetrated this outrage does not reverse the damage. There is no accountability for the politicians who are promoting this fiasco.

If our rates were very similar to those in the region, this purchase would not be happening.

Another oft-repeated falsehood, spread incessantly by the Town and parroted by its supporters. When you take into account all the hidden fees for water delivery in Hesperia and Victorville, the water rates in Apple Valley are comparable. Even the fire standby fees, a hobby horse for Mayor Scott Nassif, are comparable: Mr. Nassif has acknowledged this fact in open Council session, but he still promotes the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars of your money to buy the water system we already have.

They did that [illegally raising sewer rates] on the advice of legal council.

A common theme from Town apologists is that the Town Council is all-knowing and blameless, and that all errors, court losses, etc., are someone else’s fault. The Town Council is following the age-old script of demanding total authority without any corresponding responsibility, which is and always has been a recipe for disaster.

The Town’s legal council used to represent the city council of Bell before everyone was perp-walked out of city hall. Yet, they still represent the Town of Apple Valley. Now the claim is that they have fouled up again, but the Town Council stick to them like … well … like they stick to Marc Puckett — and probably for the same unsavory reasons.

Guess who the #1 advertiser is in the Daily Press? Liberty. The Daily Press is not a reliable news source at this point.

Case in point: The Daily Press prints a factual article about the Town, and it is immediately put on the enemies list. The fault is with the Daily Press, not with the Town’s actions! It would be interesting to hear the explanation of how the Daily Press — which they claim is totally beholden to Liberty Utilities — continues to publish garbage on this topic from Town apologist Pat Orr (who, by the way, has benefitted greatly from his Town connections — but you’re not supposed to know about that).

We are not worried about eminent domain because it is the same process as Missoula.

California law is as different from Montana law as California state is from the state of Montana. This is a smoke screen to divert attention from the fact that the Town’s attorneys lost an eminent-domain water case in Claremont, California.

In a sense, though, they are partially correct when they claim there are no similarities between the Claremont case and Apple Valley’s pending action: The Claremont case was much more straightforward that the Apple Valley case will be. I have a feeling the complexities of the Apple Valley case are going to boggle the mind.

This is how Missoula, Montana, has become a dead-ringer for Southern California.

Claremont got into trouble by using a different process, primarily because they were not going to run it themselves.

False. Claremont did claim it was going to have a neighboring city run the water system, but that is one of Apple Valley’s proposals, too. Claremont got into trouble across the board: The judge found it was not a public good for the city to take over the water system, and it also found that the water system in the neighboring city was not being run properly. Claremont’s attorneys (who also represent Apple Valley) simply did not do their homework on this issue, but there were other issues as well, just as there are serious issues in the Apple Valley case that were not part of the Claremont case. (The Town Council doesn’t want you to consider those issues).

Lance Arnt eventually ran out of talking points to regurgitate, so he turned the discussion over to Mayor Scott Nassif.

Scott Nassif’s post

Most cities use a allocation study on fees like sewer, but in this state folks have figured out that can make some money through litigation by suing cities and towns over the different sides. […] This is all about extorting money from cities and towns.

Actually most cities abide by Proposition 218, which has been state law for two years longer than the Town of Apple Valley has been incorporated. The Town has had 28 years to figure out how to comply with Proposition 218, but still isn’t quite there. This litigation would have been neither possible nor necessary if the Town followed the law. Thankfully, someone stepped in to help protect the residents of Apple Valley, because the Town Council was running things to suit themselves.

[…] regarding Claremont. Yes we are using the same firm, but not the same attorneys, or judge etc. Their issue with their judge is very different then the Town. Their judge has an issue with Claremont using a neighboring city to provide water service once Claremont acquires their water system. In California it is still an issue of ‘Public Good’ so they are appealing.

Not the same attorneys? There’s a distinction without a difference. If you read the actual ruling, you will see that the judge rejected many of Claremont’s claims; he did not deny their eminent domain case just on the one issue of the neighboring city running the water system.

Missoula Montana is more like Apple Valleys case.

Absolutely false. Anyone who believes this is being willfully ignorant.

[…] And we should be able to get our water system for the same price [as Missoula].

This is Mr. Nassif hoping you are unfamiliar with the claims in the Missoula case. To give just one example, the Missoula court accepted the city’s argument that the water system needed $95 million in immediate and/or short-term repairs and upgrades. Therefore, the actual price was closer to $88 million + $95 million = $183 million.

Liberty Utilities holds $68 million in water rights alone, and even the Town says the rest of the system is worth a minimum of $50 million. That puts us up to $118 million right off the bat, not counting the millions that the Town is spending on this, the millions that Liberty is going to be spending on this (the Town has already made certain that it will reimburse Liberty for all litigate-related expenses), the millions in transition costs, and the millions it will take to settle other issues. I predict that even should the Town win the eminent domain case, there is no way the court will set the price below the Town’s $150 million maximum. Of course, win or lose, the Town will still have put us on the hook for millions in expenses. Claremont spent so much money on its losing efforts that it has to borrow money to pay it off!

This [Liberty’s defense of its business] is funded 100% by Liberty and profit paid to share holders for your water rates.

While this is an excellent attempt to muddy the water, this statement (which doesn’t scan for me) is both un-American and beside the point. It is un-American because Mr. Nassif is implying that if the government wants to seize your property, you should roll over and play dead. Perhaps the Town should seize Mr. Nassif’s auto parts store, and Mr. Cusack’s communications firm — for a small fraction of their value. Maybe then Mr. Nassif and Mr. Cusack would understand how lame it is to urge government ownership and government control of businesses in Apple Valley.

The implication of this statement is that somehow Liberty Utilities is going to add the costs of defending itself to our water rates, which is not only against the law, but would never be allowed by the CPUC nor the ORA.

Don’t trust anything you hear or read from the Town Council or the Yes on F crowd. Check things out for yourself. It is a complex issue but the facts are available.

Then I hope you will join me in voting NO on Measure F.

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

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