A Look Back in Time at the Evolving Water Issue…

The first issue of the Capistrano Common Sense printed 3 1/2 years ago, was partly inspired by residents frustrated by rising water bills. The list below illustrates where we were at when we began reporting on the water issue, and where we are today. It’s also a reminder of what prompted the Capistrano Taxpayers Association’s lawsuit against the City as well as what our council members are doing about the high cost of water.

March 5, 2010  - “Drowning in Water Bills”

San Juan resident John Perry kicks off the inaugural issue of the CCS with an “Open Letter” to the San Juan City Council and City Manager about the runaway costs of the City water operations; “At the February 2, 2010 Public Hearing, the City Council sat stoically as residents berated their decision to increase domestic water rates by 78 percent over the next 8 years. Although questions were asked of the City Council by public speakers, no answers were forthcoming from our elected officials or the City's staffers. So it is time to ask some hard questions again…”

September 10, 2010  - “A Recipe for Overspending; The Perfect Storm”

In this article City Council members were urged to audit the Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP) to find out why we're spending $200,000 more per month to operate it than if we purchased the water from the Metropolitan Water District….

November 2010 - Change in leadership: Derek Reeve, Larry Kramer & John Taylor elected to City Council

January 15, 2011  - “In Too Deep...Water Bondage”

This article questions why our City Council voted to sell another $18 million in bonds to support the expansion of the water plant and to finance the pipeline system to distribute recycled water. This bond sale was in addition to the previous bond sales which amounted to over $72 million since 2002…

April 30, 2011  - “Digging Into the Past to Save the Future...”

Article describes the numerous attempts local taxpayers made to get the council to finally agree to an audit of the water plant…

July 5, 2011  - “What Lies Below? Sewer Insanity”

The state of aging sewers in need of repair is complicated by the fact that the City Water Enterprise is at least $8.2 million in debt. Despite the urgency of the need for repairs with no means to pay for it, the City Council approved funding of extension of water and sewer lines to the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park. The Riding Park is currently leased to an equestrian event promoter who generates significant revenue from events yet the taxpayers who pay for and supposedly own it cannot use it unless they pay a fee. The City gets none of the revenue and the paltry lease amount only pays for a fraction of the principle and interest on the property. The article questions why taxpayers should be forced to pay even more to install toilets for an equestrian event promoter and outside visitors…

“Capistrano Water and Sewer Rates Increase Again”

Water and sewer rates are increasing again and will continue to automatically increase every July until 2018 thanks to the vote in February 2010 of the previous council majority including Sam Allevato, Laura Freese and Mark Nielsen. Water rates increased 40% in one year…

October 1, 2011  - “Water Billing Based On 'Assumptions' Is a Formula For Higher Fees”

A recent staff report to the Utilities Commission revealed over 1,800 calls about water bills from residents to the City in just one month. Residents complained that besides being high, the water billing system is confusing; more so when errors are made, as the article reveals...

November, 2011  - “The Real Reason Water Bills Are So High; We Paid to Build It, But We Don't Own It”

Public Records Act requests revealed the following about the water plant:
§ At the end of the lease, and after spending 138 million dollars on bond costs, we will turn over the plant and the wells over to the SJBA and we will have no more than the 20% water rights granted to us in the first place.

§ With the exception of one year with record rainfall, the GWRP NEVER produced to its design capacity. In other words, it didn’t do what it was supposed to.

§ Rather than hold the design firm accountable however, our City let them off the hook, despite the fact that we could have used insurance to help foot the cost of the underperforming facility.. (to read the rest of the article go to ccsense.com).

December, 2011  - “Court Rules 'Tiered" Water Billing Illegal “

John Perry & Kim Lefner report on the Court decision that appears to confirm that the manner in which we are billed for water is punitive and therefore violates the law.

January, 2012  - “Audit Report Critical of City Financial Staff”

Jim Reardon writes about the independent audit report that reveals a debt-ridden, mismanaged water enterprise that has been operating inefficiently and in the red for many years. The report is especially critical of financial staff led by CFO Cindy Russell…

“SJC Residents Announce Formation of the Capistrano Taxpayers Association”

“The Ground Water Recovery Plant, Part One” 

Highlights of this article include:
§ From 2002 to 2008, water rates increased by 71.58%.
§ The City settled with Chevron for about $3.1 million (not including legal fees); far below what the City claimed it lost during the shutdown of the water plant.
§ The City could have implemented the default clause in the contract, causing the insurer to pay off the $35 million bond. Instead, the City chose to pay ECO Systems $2 million to walk away…

March, 2012  - “The Ground Water Recovery Plant - Part Two”

In an on-going series, John Perry reports on the City’s secret termination of its contract with ECO Systems, the water plant designer/builder and plant operator. Perry points out that ECO was allowed to leave their contract without having to fix the design defects in the water plant and wells; the cost of which were instead passed on to ratepayers who continue to foot the bill for the defects to this day…

September 2012  - “Capistrano Taxpayers Association Files Legal Action Against City Over Water Rates”
This article outlines the causes of action in the lawsuit filed against the City for a punitive water billing system and includes a chart illustrating how water users are punished for using more than the amount of water allocated by the City through an arbitrary “tiered” water billing system. The water rates nearly quadruple by the time they reach Tier 4…

October 2012  - “Update on Lawsuit by CTA Against City Water Rates”

John Perry reports on the City’s response to the lawsuit filed by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (CTA). The City Claims the lawsuit was politically motivated, stating it "is about nothing more than one group's disagreement with a decision entrusted to the democratically elected leadership of the City of San Juan Capistrano."

The CTA began holding Public Forums with CTA Attorney Ben Benumof to discuss the case and answer questions from residents.

January 2013  - “New Water Source Offers Less Expensive Water”

"The new water source will supply over 100,000 households who have contracted to purchase Cadiz water at rates equal to or less than Metropolitan Water District rates…"

“CTA Wins Round One in Water Rate Fight”

"The City attempted to have the case dismissed on procedural grounds (statute of limitations) however, the Court overruled the City's objection…"

“The Ground Water Recovery Plant Wastes Taxpayer Funds”

The water plant's impact on ratepayers has been enormous. Water rates have increased 105% during the 8 years of water plant operations. Despite the rate increases, the City incurred an $8.2 million deficit in 2011, most of which remains unfunded...

February 2013  - “Secrecy Surrounds Contract Cancellation”

Despite its poor performance and design defects, the Council Majority of Allevato, Kramer and Taylor voted to expand the water plant using $5 million of taxpayer money in the hopes that it will somehow reach the original Contract requirement of 5,231 acre feet of water…

“Councilman Allevato Admits to Secret Contract Cancellation”

In this guest column, Councilman Sam Allevato explains from his perspective the “necessity” for the secrecy surrounding the ECO Systems contract cancellation and subsequent cost of millions to the taxpayers by letting ECO walk away from the contract…

April 2013  - “New Water Strategy Needed”

“After seeing their water bills more than double over the past 9 years, the taxpayers of San Juan deserve to know why there is no proposal to rethink the 'go it alone" approach and to adopt a regional emergency facility as originally envisioned. City officials claim that we need ‘water reliability’, but by accepting all of the responsibility and costs of the water plant instead of joining with the regional San Juan Basin Authority as originally intended, we remain at risk of not having enough affordable water for San Juan water users…”

May 2013  - “Council Divided Over Water Rate Study"

This article summarizes a recent council meeting about the need for a “Water Rate Study”.

Councilman Byrnes: "I think by authorizing this study, what we're really doing is putting in for a rate increase. No study was ever requested that REDUCED water rates..."

Councilman Reeve: "We have to stop unnecessarily burdening our rate payers. The water plant does not work for a City of our size...We have to stop throwing good money after bad..."

Councilman Kramer: “I don’t know if [the study] will result in cost reductions…[but] Metropolitan Water District rates are going up, so we need to keep pace.”

Councilman Allevato: Pointed out that the money being spent to expand the water plant is part of a $5 million grant the City applied for: “Yes, it’s taxpayer money but we got it so I think it’s something we need to do,” he said.

Mayor Taylor: Expressed concern over Byrnes’ suggestion that the water plant bond debt be refinanced to bring down costs: “Are we paying off the debt too fast? Is it too aggressive?” Taylor asked.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All of this info compiled by concerned citizens doing the job the city staff should be doing...no wonder the good ole boys continually slam the people at CCS who dare to print the facts about what they are doing!

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