Last night at the Community Center, well over 100 people showed up for an informational meeting on how the community of Felton (CA) and Ojai (CA) wrestled control of their water service from private companies (in the case of Ojai, it was Golden State Water Co.) and STILL ended up saving money -- tons of money, especially when factoring in projected comparative rates over the length of the buy-out loan. [Updated note: With people coming in late, by meeting's end, a good guestimate of attendance was reported to be closer to 200 people.]
Which was surprising since, at first glance, it seemed an impossibility that if your water rates were already gougingly too high that you could pay top dollar for the company and still come out ahead. Unless, of course, the water company you're buying out ran on the principle of neglecting infrastructure on one end while gouging customers on the other end in order to keep profits rolling in at an investor-pleasing high rate. With that kind of business model, then, yeah, a buy out deal makes sense.
And, since the PUC runs on the Insane Mad Hatter bureaucratic model -- if water law is Byzantine to the max, the prices set for various water rates truly heads down the rabbit hole. As some of the citizens of Los Osos have found out, they're paying a whole lot more for their water than their neighbor is. Literally, their neighbor. Same water. Same aquifer. Different price. That's the PUC for you.
So 100++ people listened to a handful of very smart, nice speakers (who were key players in their communities' efforts) from Felton and Ojai outlined the hideous, years-long battle they underwent to de-privitize their water -- from careful feasibility studies, to public education, to a nasty election (outspent by Golden State) to tax themselves to pay for the buyout, (both groups won) to now (in the case of Ojai) facing post-election lawsuits from Golden State Water Company which refuses to go gentle into that good night even though a HUGE majority of its customers clearly voted to get them to go away!
The nice people from Felton and Ojai were enthusiastic, vowed to help our own Golden West customers in any way they could, and exhorted them to work seriously to make that change. But I had to wonder if the nice people from Felton and Ojai were aware of how traumatized and exhausted this whole community is from our own 30 years-old Hideous Sewer Wars. And how, if Golden West's customers who move forward think they'll get anything but lip service from all the CSD Water Customers, they'll be in for a rude shock. While the CSD customers may well sympathize with them, I can't imagine any of them joining in the heavy lift needed to make a buy-out possible. And if the plans somehow do progress, Golden West customers will have to convince another "publicly owned / municipal" water district to become their provider and that will be . . .? the CSD. . . ??? . . . which is already up to its ears in lawsuits and wrangling, facing a small coterie of foes wishing to destroy it altogether, and looking at water rate raises of its own to pay for long-neglected infrastructure repairs.
So, here we sit. Half our town gouged by their water purveyor while the other half gets "cheaper" water from an entity being stabbed to death.
So, good luck to the good citizens of Golden State Water Company. I wish them well. And while all this shakes out, my recommendation is to start retrofitting everything in the house. Oh, and get out the shovels and get busy xerescaping everything in sight with California natives. It's gonna be a long, long, long, long hot summer, fall, winter, spring, summer . . . .