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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Water Service Is 'Insane'

Reader has had enough and can't take it anymore.

I’ve had it with my insane city water service.

It has ripped off the residents of San Juan Capistrano long enough.

My water bill has gone up THREE HUNDRED PERCENT in the past 10 YEARS.

The water management of my town is crazy. By "crazy," I mean they are totally obsessed with BLOWING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

Let me give you an example: The city’s water factory had caused City Hall a debt of $8.2 million as of June 2012. Five months later, City Hall is ordering $3 million more in stuff for its water factory.

Make sense?  It does to our mayor. Rather than paying down the city’s water debt, the mayor is taking $3 million in state grant funds and BLOWING it on his water factory. The mayor looks at grant funds as free money because it didn’t come out of the pockets of residents. (Even though it really did.)

Anyhow, what really troubles me is my water service management doesn’t know and/or doesn’t care about water service to city residents. Let’s take a look at some facts:

It’s a fact: My water bill has honestly increased by 300 percent in the past 10 years. My water bill is No. 0049009, if you want to check it.

It’s a fact: I am sick and tired of my city trying to cover its butt with erroneous information on water.

Note: Our mayor told me recently he had experience with water and respected our city manager and the manager of our water service for their knowledge and experience with water. So here I am going up against three knowledgeable water managers. Let’s see what happens.

It’s a fact: Our mayor told me he can’t see a need for more than one night of water storage in our town. This is very, very scary.

It’s a fact: Our mayor must believe his water factory is a reservoir. In this case, a reservoir has to be a water treatment factory, which it’s not.

It’s a fact: Our mayor believed the difference in cost of our water and Moulton Niguel’s water was in Laguna Niguel’s property taxes. There is a difference between a water bill and a property tax bill. The name Moulton Niguel Water District or MNWD does not appear anywhere on a Laguna Niguel property tax bill.

It’s a fact: Moulton Niguel takes its water from the exact same MWD pipeline as our water comes to us in.

It’s a fact: Moulton Niguel charges its customers a base rate of $1.38 per unit of water up to 10 units, or $13.80 for 10 units.

It’s a fact: Ten units of water in my town costs (6 x $3.09) + (4 x $4.12) = $18.54 + $16.48 = $35.02

It's a fact: Moulton Niguel also has a very large facility for treating water.  Drive to the end of Camino Capistrano to see for yourself.

It’s a fact: My water management didn’t know or didn’t want to be responsible for figuring our present water rates so it hired an outside firm to recommend our water rates. This was late in 2009.

It’s a fact: The firm, Black & Veatch, recommended my water allotment be reduced by 33.3 percent, my water rate increase and the city’s tier rates be adjusted.

It’s a fact: City Hall is being sued for Black & Veatch recommendations on water rates and tier rates. Our Tier 3 rate is now 370 percent above $3.09, or $11.33. This is excessive.

It’s a fact: City Hall reduced my allocation of water without telling me or providing justification. In simple terms, an outside company is telling me how much water I can have. This is not a good idea.

It’s a fact: City Hall is charging residents more than $1 million per year in water rates to service a bond it doesn’t have.

It’s a fact: Our present water rates do not cover the city’s debt of $8,226,952. This is money the city spent on its water factory but didn’t have in 2011-12.

It’s a fact: Our water managers say our water rates are high because MWD has increased its cost of water over the past few years. Yeah, sure. How come Moulton Niguel didn’t notice the increase in MWD cost as much as San Juan?

It’s a fact: Water out of the water factory cost $1,342.51 in May 2012. The cost of MWD water at that time was in the $900 range.

It’s a fact: City Hall is being sued for selling residents or charging residents for higher priced water when lower priced water was available. Obviously, the treated groundwater is $400 more per acre foot than MWD water. So what is City Hall going to do? You won’t believe it.

It’s a fact: City Hall recently projected its groundwater cost to be $1,093 per acre foot in October 2012. Wow, this is interesting because the output from July to November of this year was 112 acre feet less than the same period last year.

It’s a fact: THIS IS THE BEST FACT OF ALL MY FACTS.

Recall I said one of management’s justifications for our high water rate was MWD's higher costs.

Well, guess what our water management has recently decided to do. Raise MWD water delivery costs. This may come as a surprise to MWD but my City Hall reports it pays MWD $1,330 per acre foot for delivered water. This is ridiculous, but it’s a perfect example of how San Juan water managers think and operate.

It’s a fact: Within the past couple weeks our groundwater cost magically went from around $400 more than MWD to around $200 less than MWD water.

It’s a fact: This practice can be called “cooking the books.” It can also be called lying and cheating. I call it crazy.

It’s a fact: Lying and cheating reminds me: I didn’t tell you our city manager says Moulton Niguel water costs its residents $122.34 per month. The truth is it's under $70.

It’s a fact: My gas bill has gone down over the past 10 years and my electric bill has gone up, but not more than 10 percent.

It’s a fact: Our city manager doesn’t seem to care there is a difference between 2,767-acre-foot charts and 4,545-acre-foot charts when comparing pricing.

It’s a fact: Our knowledgeable mayor didn’t know the water factory could only move its water to a height of 350 feet. Obviously, he couldn’t care less because he doesn’t believe in water storage and most of our water storage is 400 feet or more.

It’s a fact: Our mayor didn’t seem concerned that three of the water factory well pumps needed replacement. “It’s just normal maintenance.”

It’s a fact: Magically, the city’s $8.2-million water debt has been reduced to $4.8 million in five months' time.

It’s a fact: Our city manager doesn’t understand what it means to compare “apples to apples.”

It’s a fact: Our City Hall wants to extend its water factory contract with San Juan Basin Authority from the year 2035 to 2060. This is a dumb idea.

It’s a fact: The mayor asked me what I thought should be done with the water factory. I said give it back to the SJBA. The mayor said that would cause a Prop. 218 violation. I still say it’s an SJBA problem. My town’s residents can’t afford it any longer.

It’s a fact: The mayor made a good point comparing a 50 mph car with a 100 mph car in justifying the increased output of the water factory. What he didn’t understand is I tried to tell him it doesn’t make sense to spend $3 million to make $800,000 in grants from MWD. The mayor also doesn’t understand making a 50 mph car go 100 mph causes a loss in reliability not an increase.

It’s a fact: I don’t know anything about running a water agency. However, I know right from wrong, and I know when I’m getting ripped off.

It’s a fact: My city’s water service has ripped me off long enough, and I have had it. This is as factual as I can be.

It’s a fact: I’ve got more comments. I’m wondering why city fire hydrant painters earn $110,000 per year, and why City Hall needs more than 40 pickups, SUVs and trucks to cover less than 4 square miles of city limits.

It’s a fact: Our mayor couldn’t care less about my 300 percent increase in water charges. He says he has only been involved with city water for two years. I understand this position. However, I have to say he hasn’t learned a damn thing about customer service in two years, but he sure has learned how to blow millions of bucks that come out of resident’s pockets.

It’s a fact: Last but not least, our water management really needs to see the city’s water factory is too expensive as a water source for our town and start correcting the problems.

Simply and briefly: CITY HALL HAS TO STOP RIPPING OFF residents for their water. Residents have about $80 million in bond costs to pay off. NO MORE water bill increases. ENOUGH is ENOUGH. And, please, NO MORE ERRONEOUS information about our water.

Jack Chestek

SJCNative November 09, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Amen.
thejellyfish November 09, 2012 at 03:51 AM
While this list is incredibly long, I bet the residents could find even more "It's a Fact" if you asked them to come up with more facts.
SJCfamily November 09, 2012 at 05:18 AM
Here's another fact that residents may be unaware of; the City provided the figures on which Black & Veatch's recommendation to increase water rates was based. Cindy Russell who was the CFO at the time, provided the numbers needed to justify a rate increase. B&V even stated in their cover letter that they were relying on the figures provided by the City, with no independent verification. Despite the very sharp minds on the Utilities Commission, the commissioners couldn't make heads or tails of Russell's numbers - neither could anyone else, Which is why they eventually called for an independent audit. The audit report was highly critical of Russell's accounting. They went so far as to recommend that the City bring in outside accounting professionals if the City accounting staff (Russell) couldn't do the job. So when the City tells you that B&V recommended a rate increase, that's disingenuous. The truth is that they did so at the City's behest.
SJCfamily November 09, 2012 at 05:19 AM
...which begs the question; why is Russell still there?
SJCNative November 10, 2012 at 04:43 AM
I thought I was the only one who was wondering the same thing.
Donna Fleming March 04, 2013 at 08:53 AM
This is clearly ilegal. A bond charged to residents for a ground water system, is incorporated into our bill and NO bond money has been set aside for the system. It goes into the general fund. San Juan Capistrano resisdents should be very angry. All residents who have paid a water bill in the past 3 years should receive an refund check. When the ground wanter system is in place and I can turn on water, then we were promised a lower bill. It is never lower, just higher. This is graft. I am so angry.
Donna Fleming March 04, 2013 at 05:04 PM
We residents need a forensic accountant to review to dollars charged to us for the "Bond" for (a someday perhaps ground water system) and the actual increases for the "cost of water". An independent forensic needs to review the city's books. Disingenuous is a nice way to say it.
Jonathan Volzke March 04, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Is that accurate, SJC Family? http://sanjuancapistrano.patch.com/articles/allevato-reeve-come-to-agreement-over-financial-audit-ad-hoc-members Reeve called for the audit, the commission ultimately endorsed the request in the interest of transparency. And what did the audit find? No "graft," Donna -- and several attorneys have said the bond charge is legal -- but instead, the audit says our rates should be higher. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/city-331398-water-report.html
Clint Worthington March 04, 2013 at 08:46 PM
Donna, the audit detailed a number of problems with the water plant as you can tell by our water rates. I have provided a link to a story on the audit. It is toward the bottom: http://www.ccsense.com/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=24 As for the "Phantom Bond", despite the five attorneys representing the City, the Judge on January 10, 2013 in the preliminary hearing found against the City on all four counts in the lawsuit! The Phantom Bond was one of those counts. You cannot charge the water users principal and interest payments for a bond that was never issued and the judge agreed with the Capistrano Taxpayers Association at the preliminary hearing. The trial that we have brought against the City begins on June 17th, 2013 in Orange County Superior Court. One of the causes of action is exactly what you said "cost of water". It is our contention that the City has violated Proposition 218 by charging more for the service than what it costs to provide the service. Again, the judge found in favor of the Capistrano Taxpayers Association at the preliminary hearing. I hope this answers your question.
socalfam March 04, 2013 at 09:19 PM
Donna- Yeah, it's called taxation without representation.
Clint Worthington March 04, 2013 at 09:38 PM
Donna Fleming, I so agree with you. That is why the Capistrano Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit against the City. Here is a link to the Capistrano Taxpayers Association: http://www.capotax.org/

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