Please write a letter to CPUC judge Robert Mason, tell him this rate hike is neither justified nor in the public interest

Here’s a rough draft of the letter I will mail off to the CPUC judge who is overseeing our rate increase case, TODAY. You can cut and paste all the pertinent info – be sure to reference that rate case number – and add it to your own letter. Judge Mason wants to know if this rate increase is justified and in the public interest, please tell him it is neither.

 

Robert M. Mason III
Administrative Law Judge
California Public Utilities Commission
505 Van Ness Avenue, Fifth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102

May 15, 2014

RE:  A1207007

In the Matter of the Application of California Water Service Company (U60W), a California corporation, for an order 1) authorizing it to increase rates for water service by $92,765,000 or 19.4% in test year 2014, 2) authorizing it to increase rates on January 1, 2015 by $17,240,000 or 3.0%, and on January 1, 2016 by $16,950,000 or 2.9% in accordance with the Rate Case Plan, and 3) adopting other related rulings and relief necessary to implement the Commission’s ratemaking policies.

Dear Judge Mason,

I am writing to you in regard to the above referenced Cal Water rate increase. I understand you recently asked for more information regarding this rate increase, as to whether it is justified or in the public interest. I would answer ‘No’ to both.

A notice I received in my Cal Water bill said that most of the rate increase would go toward employee salaries, benefits and pension. While I agree that these are appropriate expenses, I would say the ratepayer is on the hook for exorbitant amounts. Water company employees are paid well-above the median income in my town, but still pay nothing toward their own benefits or pension. The ratepayer is paying far beyond a reasonable price, and paying far beyond their own water usage. I received the following notice in my bill:

“Cal Water is proposing this change in rates due to the following factors:

  • Cal Water is requesting $556,000 to retain the same level of employee health care, pensions, and retiree health care benefits for General Office personnel, the costs of which have increased faster than inflation.
  • Cal Water is requesting $423,000 to retain for district personnel the same level of employee benefits described above
  • Cal Water is requesting $415,000 for the allocation of General Office operation expenses
  • Cal Water is requesting $395,000 to retain quality employees in the district
  • Cal Water is requesting $163,000 for water infrastructure improvements between 2013 and 2016

Please note, there is almost $1 million there designated directly for health care and pensions for employees and retirees who pay nothing toward the premiums. Only $163,000 for water infrastructure improvements.

I know you also are concerned whether this rate increase is in the public interest. It is not. Our town is struggling right now, and while the housing market has risen superficially, homes are still going into foreclosure and our employment rate is stagnant. Our city government is on the verge off financial collapse, all our local government entities have been laying off employees for over a year now.

We live in a water rich area, but our public parks and ball fields are being “browned” this summer, not due to any water shortage, but because of unreasonable water rates.

A couple of years previous to the notice I shared above, we were put on a very strict tiered pricing system, and told we must save water. About a year later, we received notices saying that we had saved so much water, Cal Water could no longer meet operating costs, and would have to raise our rates.

We are told there is a three-year process by which rates are kept in line with costs and demand. But, I save the notices Judge Mason, they are raising our rates for every excuse under the sun every time we turn around.

They also use WRAM to manipulate the prices monthly, and in my latest bill I received this notice:

“This bill reflects an 18-month surcharge…approved by the CPUC to allow recovery of fixed costs not covered due to unanticipated sales variations in 2013…”

The governor has declared a drought emergency, but through WRAM and by way of this 18-month surcharge the water companies are allowed to add to our charges whenever we conserve too much water. This is outraging a lot of people in my area.

I’m a landlady. Because of the layout of my rentals, I pay for water for some of my tenants. I have kept myself in business by providing nice property for reasonable rent, but now I am preparing to increase rents more than I’ve ever raised them in the past. My tenants all live at or below the median income, but so do I. Bills have to be paid. I have to tell people with young children living on less than $40,000/year, that I am about to hand them an unprecedented rent increase.

So, I am asking you to deny this rate increase. It is absolutely unacceptable for those of us working in the private sector, living on less than $40,000 with no benefits, to pay these exorbitant benefits packages for our utility workers, to whom we have given the public trust. We are being taken advantage of, and I’m asking you to step in on our behalf.

 My sincere thanks, Juanita Sumner, Chico Taxpayers Association

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