It’s Always ‘Just a Study’
Proponents of local government using their power of eminent domain to take over local water systems from utility companies always seem to want to mask their true intentions behind benign rhetoric. They say they’re, “just doing a study about how the community can reduce water rates.” After all, who could object to learning if there are ways to reduce monthly water bills?
Make no mistake though, these activists use this type of emotion-inducing, flowery rhetoric because they know what we know: The overwhelming majority of Americans do not support the idea of local governments using eminent domain to seize the business, property and operations of their local water utility companies. And if the activists were honest about their true intentions, their local support would evaporate. Instead, these activists do everything they can to disguise what is really going on, hoping they can get to the point of no return before anyone truly understands how they are being led down a slippery slope fraught with significant financial risks.
Unfortunately, this exact scenario is starting to play out in Oroville, California. At the Oroville City Council’s first meeting of the new year, Council Member Marlene Del Rosario, with support from newly-elected Council Member Linda Draper, requested that an item be placed on the Council’s January 17 agenda about submitting a formal request to the Butte County Local Agency Formation Commission to ‘study’ the water rates of California Water Service (Cal Water), the utility company that has owned and operated the primary water system in Oroville since 1927.
These Council Members, along with local activist Jack Kiely, claim that this ‘study’ is needed because Cal Water’s rates are too high when compared to several nearby government-owned water systems. As we’ve explained more than a few times, these types of overly simplistic rate comparisons are incredibly misleading because they don’t account for all of the factors that make water systems unique.
Regardless, what these three activists are really talking about is trying to use eminent domain – a state-sanctioned form of property seizure not subject to a vote of the people in California – to take Cal Water’s operations, business and property in Oroville. Cal Water has already made it clear that its water system in Oroville is not for sale. Given this, the only way that the City or another government entity would be able to acquire Cal Water’s service area is by using eminent domain to forcibly take it from Cal Water.
And one doesn’t have to look far to realize that these activists are not just asking for a study. In her recent campaign for a seat on the Council, Draper said she feels [***webpage edited since blog posted on 1/6/17] “Oroville must pursue efforts to divest itself of Cal Water,” indicating that this was one of her top priorities. Similarly, during her 2014 campaign, Del Rosario made clear that she believes “Oroville should pursue efforts to divest itself of Cal Water,” and that she wants to find a way for a government-owned water utility to “take over the . . . water system” from Cal Water. If that wasn’t enough, Kiely stated plainly in a presentation to the Oroville City Council on April 5, 2016, that the City should “acquire Oroville’ [sic] Cal Water System [sic] through Eminent Domain [sic].” In short, these activists seem to be dead set on manufacturing a government takeover of one of Oroville’s oldest businesses.
Hopefully, these activists will start being honest with the residents of Oroville before it’s too late, because the road they are trying to lead the City down is very dangerous – and very expensive. Just recently, the City of Claremont spent millions of dollars on lawyers and consultants in a misguided attempt to use eminent domain to take over the City’s local water utility, Golden State Water Company, only to have the courts determine that the City did not have the right to do so. Now, Claremont’s residents will be responsible for paying for the City Council’s multi-million dollar mistake with absolutely nothing to show for it. This is a mistake that Oroville simply can’t afford to repeat.
*** After Truth from the Tap posted its blog highlighting Draper’s desire for the City of Oroville to “pursue efforts to divest itself of Cal Water,” her Voter’s Edge page was edited to take out this reference.