The Real Water Rate Misinformation (November 11, 2010)
Yesterday we wrote about Josh Moran's rather intemperate speech at Tuesday evening's City Council meeting, given in reaction to MaryAnn MacGillivray's call to allow Proposition 218 to once again play a roll in the water rate increase "process." After all, if the City is going to ask people for more of their dough, shouldn't those folks at least have some recourse if they decide that demand is not reasonable or fair? This is a free country, and it is the public's hard earned money.
In what was basically a rant against people he has expressed his resentments for on other occasions as well, Mr. Moran used some fairly uncivil language to describe those whose opinion on the water rate increase differs from his. I'm not going to speculate on what the root cause of this outburst was, because frankly that would just be gossip. But I can tell you that it was a rancorous and untrue fit of anger.
Now it has to be said that Josh isn't the only one who has publicly and repeatedly expressed opinions on the water rate controversy in so unpleasant a manner. We can also see similar levels of rage in the words of dedicated Moran political supporter H. Susan Henderson, as self-published in her weekly Mountain Views News. If I didn't know better I'd have thought that she could have been the real author of Josh's speech Tuesday night. Their viewpoints and the unfortunate tenor of their language is strikingly similar.
Here are some examples of Ms. Henderson's printed attacks on those fighting the water rate hike last summer:
Once again, certain citizens of Sierra Madre have gathered together to stage yet another protest about something. This time its' (sic) about the proposed water rate hikes. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely believe in the right to free speech. However, I don't believe that anyone should use that right to deceive and mislead. And recently, in an effort to garner 50% plus 1 of the water rate payer signatures against the rate hike, deception has become the name of the game. (MVN Op-Ed: July 10)
The very organized 'protest' movement that collected signatures in an attempt to defeat the proposed water rate fee hike was nothing more than a political campaign that few people recognized. Many of those who were recruited to submit their 'protest' were not aware of anything more than the 'misinformation' that they were given. They were not aware that the 'organizers' of this 'protest' were actually a group of residents with a craving for dissent regardless of the issue. (MVN Op-Ed: August 7)
However, if we aren't careful, at the very next opportunity, there will be another such disingenuous, dishonest and deceptive attempt to gain the public's support. (MVN - Op-Ed: August 7)
Both H. Susan Henderson and Josh Moran have loudly proclaimed, and on the record, that the campaign to fend off a 37% water rate hike last summer was based on "misinformation." And that in the process of collecting over 2,000 signatures the protesters had somehow fooled about 20% of the population of Sierra Madre. Which certainly doesn't indicate that either of these individuals holds the critical abilities of property owners and rate payers in this town in very high esteem.
But today I would like to take the opportunity point out to you some examples of the real "misinformation" on the water rate hike that was being shopped around last summer. They could be seen on the front page of Sierra Madre's adjudicated newspaper of record, and heard being spoken by certain elected officials.
In a July 3rd MVN article entitled "Water Woes," H. Susan Henderson published the following claims regarding the reasons why a water rate fee hike would be necessary. Here the reasons given are the costs of electricity and maintaining aging infrastructure such as pipes:
Current revenues from water users are not sufficient to continue operating the city's aging water system properly. This is primarily due to the fact that there has been no rate increase since July 2006 to keep up with the escalating costs of, for example, electricity that runs the pumps. There is also not sufficient revenue to replace aging parts or to match available federal funds of $10 million dollars to do major capital improvements.
The city's current water system, which dates back to the early 1900s requires constant maintenance and improvements. As recently as this week, as if a warning to the city that the system's need for maintenance is immediate, an aging water main broke in the canyons. It appeared the main had not been replaced since the 1930s.
Note that the reasons Henderson gives here for raising water rates are the repair some old pipes, and the cost of power to run the pumps.
On July 24th Henderson delivered another opus, this time entitled "Water Rate Controversy Continues." Here the reasons given are the same as before, old pipes and electricity costs.
As indicated by Councilman John Buchanan at the last meeting, the situation "isn't going to get better with age." More than 30% of the city's water mains need replacing and, especially during the next few months with hot weather and greater demand, the strain on the system will put further stress on the system. "We just can't take another two or three years to resolve this problem," said one resident who supports the increase ... In addition, at the time of the last increase, there was, and still is, no way to determine the amount and rate of electrical power increases.
So that is how the Mountain Views News and its publisher depicted the need to raise water rates in this town last summer. While water rate protesters were out gathering signatures in order to challenge the rationale for a 37% increase in cost, the drumbeat from Sierra Madre's adjudicated newspaper (and therefore the recipient of our tax money, btw), was that the cash was needed to pay for pipe repair and increased electricity costs.
But was this actually the truth? Apparently not. According to City Manager Elaine Aguilar, in a private letter written to Sierra Madre resident and real estate investor Earl Richey, the actual reason for the 37% water rate hike proposed by the City Council earlier this year was water bond debt, and not repairing pipes or paying anticipated higher electricity rates. This is what Elaine said in her letter:
Staff noted that in your presentation to the City Council, you began with an inquiry as to whether or not the 37% increase is actually enough. While not specifically asked in this letter, it is a good question that should be addressed.
The proposed rate increase is enough to meet the requirements of the City's existing debt obligations and to begin rebuilding the water fund reserve. It is not enough to fund a pay-as-you-go capital improvement program. Funding a capital improvement program to begin immediate replacement of deteriorated water mains (for example) would require a rate increase significantly higher than what was proposed earlier this year.
So there you have it. When certain members of the City Council, along with Susan Henderson, were pushing a message that a 37% water rate hike had to happen because the money was urgently needed to immediately begin the repair of water infrastructure that is in a state of near collapse, they were engaging in misinformation. Misinformation that was designed to panic residents into forking over more of their money to save the city from the collapse of its water system while at the same time blunting the effects of the water rate protest.
So why did people like Josh Moran and Susan Henderson fib to the public about how their water rate increase money would be spent once the hike became law? My assumption is bond debt just isn't as sexy as rusting pipes from the 1920s, and that rather than just telling the truth the City fathers decided they needed to go with the marketing ploy that had the best chances of success.
Besides, talking about bonds could lead to uncomfortable conversations, like why $19 million dollars in water bond debt is there in the first place. After all, these bonds were done by people allied with the Council majority, and Ms. Henderson.
Since this story on the water bond indebtedness issue first leaked to the public courtesy of The Tattler (link), the City Council has reverted to flogging the rate hike in order to pay bond maintenance. They really had little choice. And those old rusting pipes hardly get mentioned at all anymore. Obviously that blizzard of misinformation unleashed last summer is (to use a Nixon era term) no longer operative.