By Brandon HENSLEY
As a decision looms near on whether the Crescenta Valley Water District will go ahead with its proposed rate increases, customers had their say Tuesday night, and the mood was visibly contentious.
About 20 residents attended the public hearing, which was located in the district’s boardroom, and most of them were there to oppose the rate increase.
The current situation stands as this: An average increase of 8.5% has been discussed for some time by the board, and earlier this year it sent out notices to customers of the possible change. A vote on the matter will likely take place on Nov. 17, a Wednesday, unlike the usual Tuesdays in which the board has its meetings. On that date the board may adopt, revise or modify the proposal.
General Manager Dennis Erdman spoke at the CV Town Council Meeting Sept. 30, presenting the board’s reasons for the increase. Tuesday he went over them again, stating the cost of importing water has risen. He also said because customer conservation has been good this year, revenue for the district has gone down. Erdman admitted how frustrating this must be to everyone.
“We’re not in a unique position here,” he told the customers. “Most water agencies in Southern California have the same message: please conserve water. Thank you for conserving. Because you conserved our revenues went down. Because our revenues went down, we don’t have sufficient revenues to do the job that we were previously doing, so we need to raise the rates. That’s a tough message.”
Another reason for the possible increase is the financial hit the CVWD took in labor and damage costs from last year’s Station Fire, totaling almost $300,000. Most recently, news of Foothill Municipal Water District’s increased plan to reduce water allocation will only hurt CVWD more. FMWD announced Wednesday that it is declaring stage 4 rationing.
The public then responded.
Some complained that the district has not been collecting enough runoff water, or that the tier system – CVWD uses a four-tier water rate system for its customers – should be simplified.
Greg Wilkinson read a letter he wrote in protest, and blamed the board members for not doing enough to cut costs elsewhere so customers wouldn’t take a hit. He also compared the district to the recent scandal with Bell officials.
“What parts of CVWD operation still look too much like the practices we’ve all seen recently in the city of Bell?” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson noted the “blighted yards” around town due to water rationing. “If you drive around this town now,” he said, “this is looking like Sunland-Tujunga now, instead of CV. We used to take pride in our front yards … this is directly related to water hikes.”
Director James Bodnar addressed the Bell comment by saying, “We don’t have that particular situation.” Bodnar also said board members are paid $100 per meeting, and that he is willing to potentially give up salary to reduce costs.
Gary Zuzow seemed to echo Wilkinson’s thoughts when he spoke. “You’re not in cahoots with the CV Water District. You represent us, and you’re supposed to guard us against this,” he said.
Zuzow continued, “I think there are a lot of people out there that would like to come in, and you’re not hearing from them.”
But that has been a point of emphasis from the district for some time.
“I encourage all of you to come to more meetings, because when you ask these questions, we discuss these at our meetings,” President Kathy Ross said.
It is not the first time Ross has said something similar at a board meeting this year, and she noted that when the district held its budget workshop this summer, public attendance was virtually nonexistent.
Last Saturday, district Engineer David Gould and president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley Mike Lawler held a tour of CVWD’s facilities around town. Even there, according to Lawler, a growing disconnect could be seen.
Lawler noted the sparse crowd, which was given a tour of places impacted by the Station Fire and last winter’s floods, such as Pickens Tunnel, the Edmund 2 well, and Eagle Canyon.
“It was almost kind of depressing, because they’re really fighting an uphill battle,” Lawler said of the district’s costs. He also said he never realized how much it costs to pump water from the wells at the base of Verdugo all the way up the mountain well above Foothill Boulevard.
Lawler said he invited the nine candidates who are running in the upcoming Town Council elections, but none of them showed up.
“It’s one thing to complain about water, but we should all be educated about where it comes from,” he said.
Back at the public hearing, Mike Chonos complained about how conserving water can lead to rising rates, and summed up how both sides most likely feel.
“What kind of a Catch-22 is that for us? We can’t win.”
The next board meeting will be held on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at the district’s office, where the rate increase proposal will be an agenda item.