Heed the warning signs (May 23, 2017)

This June 6th, the success or failure of the lone item on the ballot — Measure F — will determine the future of the Town of Apple Valley. The Town Council and staff have been assiduous in promoting its position that we would be better off with Town Hall running the water system instead of the professionals who have been doing it for the last 70 years or so, but everyone should heed the unmistakeable warning signs emanating from the Town before supporting this hostile takeover.

The first warning sign is the deluge of personal attacks coming from the Town, often in place of facts and/or the truth. Early on, those working at the water company were demonized to make them seem unworthy of serving our community. When members of the community spoke up to defend the water company, Town staff falsely called them shills, paid agitators, and trolls, going so far as creating an enemies’ list and attempting to recruit members of the community into an Astroturf smear campaign. When experts in various fields reported that they doubted the Town could accomplish the takeover without it costing much more than Town spokesmen claimed, each in turn was derided personally. The most successful members of the Town Council also attacked the American economic system — the very same system that has made them wealthy — in attempts to smear the water company. Liberty Utilities has been falsely accused of not being transparent with its books, while the Town has paid tens of thousands to settle claims by those refused access to the Town’s public documents. The pay of Liberty employees has been labeled as bloated, even though the Town pays far more money to a greater number of persons than does Liberty. Judges who have ruled against the Town in various legal actions are ridiculed for not understanding the issues, and Town Council members have mocked members of the public who stand up to them at Council meetings. Meanwhile, the Town Council has tried to smear the corporate owners of Liberty Utilities by calling them Canadians, which seems a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibition against discrimination on the basis of national origin. Even the California Public Utilities Commission has been called corrupt, without a shred of evidence. These personal attacks do nothing to further the discussion, and in fact seem designed to stifle discourse in favor of volumes of Town-supplied propaganda, none of which withstands fact-checking.

The second warning sign is that the utterances of the Town Council and staff are often at variance with what they have put in writing. For example, in its Final Environmental Impact Report the Town is vague on who or what is going to be running the water system after the takeover. Verbally, they have promised jobs to all current Liberty employees but the top six. Which is it? More worrisome, though, is that the Town’s Measure F asks for authorization to spend up to $150 million at up to 12 percent (!) interest, while verbally spokesmen for the Town say the purchase price will be much lower, and at nowhere near that interest rate. If Measure F passes, the clearly written language of the measure will control, not the empty political promises.

The third warning sign is the Town’s refusal to participate in an open forum, where members of the community could hear both sides and ask questions about this important — perhaps vital — issue.

The fourth warning sign is the Town’s resistance to citizen input that does not support a jihad against the water company. Whether interrupting speakers (who are given only three minutes) at Council meetings, failing and even refusing to respond to correspondence from concerned citizens, proposing Measure W in an attempt to derail Measure V, deleting comments on the Town’s Facebook page, and even turning down conservation ads on Town bus stops because they would be placed by the water company, or demanding that law enforcement harass a concerned citizen for pointing out Town flaws, the Town publicly claims to be responsive to citizen concerns, while privately working to further its own narrow agenda ruthlessly whenever and wherever it can.

The fifth warning sign is that the Town can neither properly manage nor maintain what it already has, nor plan for the future. Thousands of gallons of water wasted at the golf course, water leaks on seemingly every Town-controlled irrigation system, tens of thousands of dollars of dead landscaping, lackadaisical weed control, zero attention to storm drains, dangerous electrical conditions, illegal dumping by the Town, and other horrors abound everywhere Town Hall exercises its vaunted local control. Dozens of these issues have been documented by a concerned citizen, but instead of being pro-active in maintenance and planning, the Town seems content to wait for some outrage to be reported before acting — typically in a slovenly and half-hearted manner.

The sixth warning sign alone should be enough to give pause to any open-minded voter: The string of multi-million dollar errors it has made. Even though its own Blue Ribbon Water Committee informed the Town back in 2011 that the price of the water company then (that is, before its current improvements and upgrades) could reach $200 million, the Town announced in 2015 that the fair price of the water company was $45 million. Later, one concerned citizen pointed out that the math in the Town’s valuation of the water system was off by $12 million, while other citizens have noted that the valuation makes no mention of $80 million in water rights and contributed assets held by Liberty Utilities. Then the Town was off by more than $1 million on the amount it had spent to date on its attempts to seize the water company, despite multiple protestations by Town staff that it had not spent as much as concerned citizens thought (see warning sign number two above). Although the Town’s valuations of the water system have bounced around over the years, the most recent figures are roughly $146 million lower than reality, and even that number must be adjusted upward by other costs the Town is ignoring in its analyses. Most recently, the Town’s finance department issued and then stood by a financing report that was wrong by more than $10 million.

Those who are familiar with arcane information concerning local Town Hall actions know there are many other reasons to oppose Measure F, but just about anyone can verify at least some of the six points above, and any one of these six points is enough to disqualify the Town from proceeding. Too often, though, the pursuit of power in politics knows no bounds.

Thus it is up to the citizens and ratepayers of the Town of Apple Valley to curtail this travesty by voting no on Measure F. To act otherwise imperils us all.

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