Condemnation action filed (January 7, 2016)

Mayor: Numerous rate increases leave town no choice

APPLE VALLEY — The increasingly litigious battle over future ownership of the Apple Valley Ranchos water system took yet another legal turn Thursday as the town announced it had filed formal condemnation action to acquire the town’s privately held water system, the town’s public relations firm said.

Filed in the Superior Court of San Bernardino, the action follows longstanding public concern over Ranchos’ monopoly hold on water service in Apple Valley, according to a statement released by the 20/20 Network.

Since 2002, (Ranchos’) corporate owners raised rates by more than 65 percent, the statement claimed, and in November, instituted yet another increase that will raise water costs for the average household by 26.58 percent.

Ranchos has maintained the town’s calculations regarding the rate increases are inaccurate; Eric Larsen, the company’s finance manager, previously told the Daily Press average customers will see a less than 3-percent increase on their water bills as a result of the rate increases.

Still, Mayor Barb Stanton said Ranchos left the town with no choice but to pursue eminent domain.

The Apple Valley (Ranchos) Water System does not represent free enterprise in the way one normally thinks of it, Stanton said in the statement. It is a monopoly, granted by the government and which, with the help of the California Public Utilities Commission, determines how much you will pay and how much profit it will make. As a customer, you aren’t given a choice – or a say.

Stanton added that financial analysis has shown eliminating corporate overhead, property taxes and other costs will more than pay the debt service of acquisition, which she claimed would leave additional money for infrastructure improvements, system expansion and possibly rate reductions.

The filing comes less than a month after Ranchos petitioned the Superior Court with a request for suspension of any action related to eminent domain, which would include condemnation.

Ranchos cited multiple violations in the town’s final Environmental Impact Report that the company believes resulted in failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

A status hearing is scheduled for Ranchos’ petition on Feb. 16, court records show.

Also in December, Apple Valley residents Chuck and Pat Hanson submitted to the town clerk a ballot measure that would allow a vote on the town’s use of bonds to finance its eminent domain action.

The town had 15 days as of Dec. 21 to review the proposed initiative and return the title and summary to the submitting parties, according to Passantino Andersen, the public relations firm attached to the Hanson’s ballot measure.

Passantino Andersen spokesman Randy Terrell told the Daily Press on Thursday the town did return the title and summary to the Hansons.

In terms of the process, Terrell said, it just needs to be published, then we can start collecting signatures.

The measure needs 10 percent of the registered voters in Apple Valley — approximately 3,600 signatures — in order to be included on a ballot, according to Terrell.

Passantino Andersen hopes the initiative will qualify for the November 2016 ballot, Terrell said.

The town has yet to publicly comment on the ballot initiative.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press