The following commentary, which was published in the Santa Cruz
Sentinel on January 23, is a response to a
January 2 commentary published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel by
Don Bacon, a Montara resident who questioned Felton's drive to buy
back its water system from Cal-Am. Cal-Am subsequently mailed copies
of Bacon's piece to all its Felton ratepayers. We also corrected
errors in it in this response.
Scott Boyd is president of the Montara Water & Sanitary District.
This article is reprinted with the permission of the author.
FELTON: OWN YOUR WATER
On July 4, 2004, the Montara/Moss Beach community gathered at the
Point Montara lighthouse to celebrate a new kind of independence
- independence from a neverending series of rate increases; independence
from endless pitched battles at the state Public Utilities Commission;
independence from remote profiteers who ignored our community's
water needs as they carted away our money.
You see, one year earlier our community struck the deal to take
wonership of the system that provides one of our vital resources
In our community, which is largely urban-density, all new homes
over the past few years have been built on wells, even homes right
next door to one another. Our water system hit its production limit
years ago and has been under moratorium ever since. There is barely
enough water for the people who are on the system.
Dry summers are especially worrisome because of our limited storage
for fire prevention.
Elected officials spent years trying to work with the water monopoly.
After all, our public agency had access to low-coast loans that
we could have used to build the water storage tanks and new wells
we so desperately needed at a much lower cost to the community.
The Public Utilities Commission thought it was a great idea and
ordered the corporation to work with us to improve the system at
a lower cost to the rate payers. The corporation paid lip service
but resisted all efforts.
As it became more clear that the PUC could not improve our desperate
situation, we became more educated about its rate-setting process.
We started sharing what we had learned with our community. We looked
at the financial impacts of Cal-Am's master plan, the rate increase
requests it had already mentioned, and started putting the numbers
into a spreadsheet.
The conclusion was clear - it wouldn't take long for our rates
to go from "highest in California" to "astronomically
higher," and there was a crossover point just a few years out
where it would be cheaper to just buy the system outright if we
did it now.
We took our case to the community and asked, "Are we willing
to spend what it takes to get free of this endless cycle of rate
increases and system neglect?" the community overwhelmingly
voted (more than 81 percent) to make the investment.
What do members of the community think about all this now?
Mike Gaynes of Moss Beach wrote in the local paper just last week
that the price we're paying is "A superb investment in protecting
our property values, which would be devastated by the collapse of
a water system that had been neglected for decades by corporate
He went on to address Cal-Am directly, "We finally took our
water system away from you, and we're glad we did. It'll take years,
millions and some raised voices to fix the damage you did, but we'll
get it done."
Mike is right - it will take years and millions of dollars. Not
as many dollars as suggested by a writer here recently, mind you.
To set the record straight, our tax rate this year is $169/$100,000
(of assessed value, not market value), and the life of our bond
is a fixed 25 years. His numbers (almost twice as high) don't bear
up under inspection.
No one is happy about the expense, but my neighbors consistently
tell me, "We had to do something!"
In the year-and-a-half since we took charge, we can finally attend
to local needs. We have drilled wells, replaced vital delivery lines,
rehabilitated and returned to service failed wells, started low-flow
rebates, upgraded emergency generators, taken decisive steps to
improve employee retention and we're well under way in replacing
decrepit lines in the streets, renovating long-forgotten pressure-relief
valves, adding storage tanks and dealing with other surprises Cal-Am
Independence isn't easy, nor is it inexpensive, but our community
needed and wanted local control of water. And we'll be celebrating
the joys and responsibilities of independence again come July 4.
- Scott Boyd, president of the Montara
Water & Sanitary District