Money flows like water (November 5, 2016)

Liberty bankrolls Measure V; town and W proponents come under fire

APPLE VALLEY — The most contentious ballot issue Apple Valley voters face in Tuesday’s election is that of competing measures revolving around the takeover attempt of Liberty Utilities.

An aggressive war of words playing out on social media, in mailboxes, in Council chambers, over the airwaves and between epistles sent by lawyers has divided a community in the drawn-out run-up to Nov. 8.

But the campaign finances of Measures V and W tell two stories — one of a company fighting for its very existence and another of an advocacy group positioning itself as a scrappy underdog locked in a fierce battle with a corporate titan.

To date, Liberty Utilities has funded Measure V to the tune of $250,000, according to campaign contribution documents. In October alone, the water company doled out $100,000, which helped fuel more than $113,000 in campaign expenditures.

Should Measure V pass, a vote of the town’s residents would be required before Apple Valley could issue bond debt to fund the purchase of Liberty’s water system. Beyond that, similar votes would be required prior to any issuance of bond debt in excess of $10 M.

Such a future would create a unique situation, according to Mayor Pro Tem Scott Nassif, who recently said Apple Valley would be the only municipality in California that would have a provision on borrowing debt regardless of the revenues.

This was put in place not to protect the ratepayers of Apple Valley, Nassif said, but to put roadblocks in front of the Council.

As such, proponents of the town-sponsored Measure W liken their fight to a battle of biblical proportions inthatthatthey’recompeting with Goliath, arguably because campaign contributions to H2OWN — Our Water Now, Measure W’s advocacy group — pale in comparison to what Liberty has put toward Apple Valley residents Pat and Chuck Hanson’s Measure V.

H2OWN raised just over $18,000, campaign finance records show.Much of that amount came from two $5,000 contributions made by Burrtec Waste Industries, a company the Town Council awarded a 50-year ground lease for land at the Victor Valley Materials Recovery Facility during the Oct. 25 Council meeting.

The lease grants Burrtec use of nearly eight acres of MRF land to develop an expanded materials diversion andrecyclingfacility,according to town documents. The lease will bring the town more than $46,000 in annual revenues.

But Town Council candidate Bryen Wright said the move suggests a pay-to-play scenario. The timing and impact of these contributions are highly suspect, Wright said, and suggest a Town Council whose decisions can be purchased for the right price. I strongly encourage the Measure W committee to immediately return these contributions, and for there to be an investigation into the Town’s dealings with Burrtec in the weeks leading up to this Council vote.

Wright’s stance, however, constituted little more than a grab for attention by a first time candidate, according to H2OWN’s Pat Orr, who said the group was happy to receive Burrtec’s initial contribution after soliciting the company.

We were pleasantly surprised when a second contribution showed up, along with others after our continued pleas for help to fight cash-rich Liberty, he said. I personally am not aware of any contract deal or extension granted to Burrtec by the town. The Council doesn’t usually consult me on their planned agenda items.

… and despite what Mr. Wright believes, no one from the W campaign has or will benefit from Measure W campaign activities. How stupid is Burrtec that they would send us money after their deal is done, and what do they get out of cheaper water in Apple Valley? Understand pay to play before you throw the term around would be my advice to the novice Mr. Wright.

Town spokeswoman Kathie Martin added that the expansion of the facility has been in the works for nearly two years.

The governing entity is a Joint Powers Authority that also includes the City of Victorville and the Mojave Desert Integrated Waste Management JPA, each of which also had to approve the item, Martin said.

Meanwhile, expenditures show an even greater disparity between the Right to Vote on Debt and H2OWN campaigns — more than $337,000 to just $12,179.66, respectively — and H2OWN’s strategy looks similar to a grassroots effort as a result.

We decided at the outset we would do what we could as resources became available, Orr told the Daily Press. Early on we realized that every Liberty water bill was an ad for W. Residents are really angry about the rates, the surcharges and foreign ownership. We ‘feel’ the community spreading our message for us.

An active social media presence bolstered that message’s proliferation; however, language inherent in H2OWN’s message, which recently referred to claims made by Measure V supporters as bovine feces on Facebook, has met criticism.

During the Oct. 25 Town Council meeting, after calling the Council’s resolution to support Measure W a selfserving form of advocacy, Measure V proponent Diana Carloni took aim at a another H2OWN Facebook post.

Let your campaign committee take the laboring order to advocate (for Measure W), Carloni told the Council. That is their job. And tell them sneering is not complimentary to their cause.

Carloni’s comment referenced H2OWN’s Oct. 13 post in which the group encouraged supporters to visit Town Council candidate Larry Cusack’s booth at the Happy Trails Chili Cook Off — a booth the group shared with the incumbent — and sneer at the Yes On V people.

When asked to respond to the post during a candidate forum, Cusack said he does not condone the sneering aspect of the post, adding, I just support our Measure W that the Town Council has put forward.

Meanwhile, the Town Council has also come under fire for paying more than $50,000 for ballot-measure services, voting to include Measure W on the ballot, and advocating for its passage via an illegal use of taxpayer funds — a claim the town contends is false.

Former Town Councilor and Apple Valley Citizens Right to Vote on Debt campaign co-chair Peter Allan called Measure W a deceptive effort to undermine Measure V.

Instead of respecting local citizens, the Town of Apple Valley, Measure W’s true proponents, has spent more than $1.6 million taxpayer dollars without once seeking voter approval, Allan said. Instead of telling voters how much they want to borrow and asking for support, the politicians spent more taxpayer dollars to create Measure W.

Measure V proponents include money spent by the town on acquisition — just over $1.5 million since 2011, according to a previous Daily Press report — in the discussion because without the town’s eminent-domain action against Liberty, it’s likely neither measure would exist.

As a result, Allan continued, local citizens, led by Pat Hanson, along with the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association, myself and others, have mounted an effective grassroots campaign to guarantee people the right to vote. Measure V holds government accountable for wasteful spending and that is why so many residents have walked precincts, posted signs and shared information with their neighbors.

In response, the town said its citizens have spoken very loudly in opposition to Measure V, as well as for relief from years of escalating water rates that outpace our neighbors by as much as 45 percent.

The lack of local control, lack of responsiveness and accountability of the private owners to ratepayer concerns, and rejection of our offers to buy the water system left us with eminent domain as the only legal step available to the Council, acting on behalf of the citizens, the statement read. If Liberty and its predecessors had acted fairly and in good faith, we likely would not be in this position.

Source: Matt Cabe, Daily Press

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