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Valencia Water customers spout anger at rate increase

Some say they received protest notice on day of deadline

Posted: March 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.

News of 20 percent hike in water rates over the next three years upset some Valencia Water Company ratepayers recently, but not as much as having missed the chance to file a formal complaint, according ratepayers who contacted The Signal.

The date offered by the water retailer to its ratepayers wanting to file a formal complaint was Feb. 4, according to copies of the rate notice.

Two ratepayers told The Signal they received their notice in the mail on Feb. 4 — too late to actually file a complaint,

“I can’t imagine it being fair to give consumers that little notice to complain,” Valencia resident and ratepayer Marina Vitek told The Signal Monday.

“What bothers me is that my invoice was dated January 30, I didn’t receive it until Monday, February 4, I didn’t open it until February 7 (after all, I knew it was ‘just’ my bill) and then I find this notice included which had a deadline of February 4, 2013, to file any formal protest to the application for rate increases,” Vitek said in an email she sent to The Signal.

“How can they mail something out on January 30 with a deadline five days later to object? If they were required to give notice of the application for rate increases, I can’t believe they were permitted to give only five days’ notice. This can’t comply with the regulations.”

Actually, it does comply with regulations set out by the California Public Utilities Commission, according to Keith Abercrombie, general manager of the Valencia Water Company.

Commission guidelines

The water rate notices were mailed in accordance with CPUC requirements, Abercrombie said Monday.

“The process we use when we file our applications is a process spelled out by the commission,” he said.

“No notice was sent out late,” he said. “I see what they (ratepayers) are saying, though.”

There are two ways, he said, to protest a proposed rate hike: One is to file a formal protest in which protesters agree — often with legal representation — to join in the ongoing CPUC meetings set to discuss the rate hikes. The second is to file an informal protest by writing a letter to the commission.

Valencia resident and ratepayer David Kirkham — who also said he received notice of the Feb. 4 protest date on Feb. 4 — compared the informal letter-writing protest to putting a complaint in a complaint box.

“They’re proposing a huge water increase and they sent out a notification,” he said. “I received it the day of the (indicated) deadline to protest.

“They are continuing to increase water rates but send me no information as to why. They don’t about talk about expenses. They only give you a point of view.”

Kirkham said he called the CPUC twice.

“Their response was, ‘You can send an email.’ Well, that’s like telling me to file it in the complaint box — which is worthless. It is a joke.”

Chance to fight

Any Valencia Water Co. ratepayer still has a chance to fight the proposed rate hike, Abercrombie said.

“Whether it’s one letter or a thousand letters, the commission uses those in reviewing the (rate hike) proposal,” he said.

The commission, in keeping with its protocol, is expected to call a public hearing on the topic before any decision is made, he added.

No date for a public hearing has been set.

And, as for concerns that the recent purchase of the Valencia Water Company by the Castaic Lake Water Agency is somehow tied to the rate hike proposal, those concerns are baseless, Abercrombie said.

He said it takes his staff months to prepare boxes of documents supporting any rate hike proposal; it is not something that could be turned around in a couple of months.

“It’s a complicated and laborious effort to create the support for a proposal,” said Abercrombie. “It’s not something that can be prepared in a month or two.”


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