View Mobile Site
 

Ask the Expert

Signal Photos

 

California Public Utilities Commission panel hears from ratepayers about purchase

Posted: May 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Keith Abercrombie of Valencia Water Company speaks at a public participation hearing on an application filed by the utility at Santa Clarita City Hall in Valencia on Thursday. Photo by Jonathan Pobre

 

Two California Public Utilities Commission hearings about a proposed Valencia Water Company rate hike drew more complaints Thursday about the firm’s takeover by another water district than about higher water bills.
Many linked the takeover with the rate hike, although Keith Abercrombie, general manager of Valencia Water, has said repeatedly the proposed 17 percent hike over three years has nothing to do with the company’s stock purchase by Castaic Lake Water Agency.
“We filed a protest to the rate increase, the reason being that we believe many of the costs from the recent (stock) condemnation that CLWA conducted is being put over onto Valencia customers,” said Lynne Plambeck, speaking on behalf of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.
“We also protested the fact that they did not disclose to the Public Utilities Commission that they have two additional water wells closed, one due to perchlorate contamination and one due to volatile organic compounds contamination,” she said.
The PUC hearing officer granted both SCOPE and Friends of the Santa Clara River “active participant” status in the hearing. Both environmental groups are critical of Valencia Water’s takeover by Castaic Lake Water Agency.
Maria Gutzeit, president of the Newhall County Water District’s board of directors, called Castaic Lake Water Agency’s purchase of Valencia Water “illegal ownership.”
Gutzeit, who accused the agency of having “an insatiable appetite for revenue,” also took issue with its short public notice on the issue of Valencia Water’s purchase.
“They took every opportunity to minimize the public notice,” she said.
“It’s all about money,” she said. “And why is a public agency getting profits?”
Valencia Water officials say the time between mailing notices and closing public comment — which critics say was about a week — feel within PUC guidelines.
Eighteen people of about 40 spoke on the issue during the afternoon hearing, all but one opposing the rate hike or the company takeover.
About the same number of people gathered for the night meeting, including local environmentalist Sandra Cattell who cited a link between rate increases and purchases made by the Castaic Lake Water Agency, namely the Santa Clarita Water Company a decade ago and the recent purchase of Valencia Water.
“When the Santa Clarita Water Company was taken over the rates were increased because they now had a lot of debt,” she told the night group.
“And, it seems right now they’ve taken over Valencia Water and now they need a rate increase because they’ve acquired a lot of debt.”
Commission representative Doug Long, an administrative law judge, said he arrived in Santa Clarita to hear concerns about the rate hike proposal and any other factors affecting the rate hike which might warrant an investigation.
Long called the public-hearing speakers “passionate about their community and their water.”
He cautioned them, however, that if they were seeking an investigation that would unplug the Valencia Water Company purchase, the issue may fall outside his jurisdiction.
“This commission has no direct jurisdiction over that transaction,” he told a group of about 60 hearing attendees.
“There are things we can and cannot do,” he said. “Any concern how this transaction was carried out lies not in this forum but in a court forum.
“What we want to do is focus on what does or does not get into the PUC bucket.”
Long and the rest of the visiting delegation, including a second administrative law judge who was not present due to illness, are now expected to review the public comment.
Their next step is to come up with a decision, he said.
Each case, Long explained, has a “lead commissioner” assigned to it, with whom he works to gauge the scope of the proceedings, how it’s to carried out and “what issues are of paramount interest.”
At some stage, Long said. he “normally proposes a decision” which the lead commissioner can either agree with and sponsor, or draft an alternative decision.
jholt@signalscv.com
661-287-5527
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

Comments

Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.

 
 

Powered By
Morris Technology
Please wait ...