By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
“My citizens cannot afford rate increases, bottom line,” Stanton Mayor Carol Warren told the California Public Utilities Commission.
Stanton hosted two CPUC public participation hearings Friday (March 2). Several county officials and almost 40 Orange County residents spoke against the rate hike.
“The people in this area are going through hard times,” said State Senator Lou Correa, adding the unemployment in central Orange County is over 15 percent.
Correa’s district includes Stanton, much of Garden Grove and part of Westminster.
Stanton’s water supplier, Golden State Water Company, wants to raise residential rates by an average of 25 percent in 2013. The average monthly bill would increase about $11.50. Smaller inflation-based increases would follow in 2014 and 2015.
GSWC must file a new rate application every three years. The CPUC sets water rates and will make a decision late in the year.
GSWC regulatory affairs manager Jenny Darney-Lee said the company needs the increase to continue providing quality water and great customer service while protecting the water “from the source to the tap.”
The new rates reflect new expenses, including $18 million in capital improvement projects and $5 million in routine maintenance.
But rates were raised for capital improvement in 2009 and no improvements were made, according to Warren.
“We have not seen one cent of that investment,” she said. “What did citizens pay for?”
County officials argue Orange County is paying for but not benefiting from expansion projects in other areas. Stanton is in GSWC’s Region Three. The region covers parts of Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Imperial counties, including many developing areas.
But the GSWC is willing to negotiate and will work with the Division of Ratepayer Advocates to seek a reasonable compromise, Darney-Lee said.
The DRA is a government-appointed watchdog.
“Our role is to represent the interests of California ratepayers,” said Danillo Sanchez, a DRA manager.
The DRA proposed a smaller rate increase of eight percent on average. But local officials and residents see any increase as too high.
“Today the rate system is already outrageous and punitive,” said Dave Shawver, Stanton mayor pro tem.
A chief complaint among officials and the public is the lack of choice for consumers and competition for GSWC.
“We can’t change vendors, we can’t afford to change the water system,” Warren said. “We’re forced to deal with Golden State Water. It’s monopolistic.”
Some speakers suggested breaking up GSWC and turning to municipal water districts.
“Why do we have to use a company that’s in San Dimas when there are local companies right around us?” asked Tony Redding of Orange.
But others simply wanted to reach a fair conclusion to the issue.
“There has to be a balance where people can afford good, clean water and Golden State can still make a profit,” Warren said.