Padilla, like many other Calipatria residents, said she is of limited means and pleaded with state officials Tuesday “to look upon us, the poor” before granting a proposed three-year water rate hike that would raise fees 21.4 percent by 2013 alone.
Padilla’s comments echoed the sentiment a number of other residents expressed to a three-member panel of the state’s Public Utilities Commission that heard the concerns — and frustrations — over the planned water rate increase the San Dimas-based Golden State Water Co. is seeking.
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As many as 100 people attended the two-hour public hearing at the auditorium of Calipatria High School. Administrative Law Judge Richard Smith, who works for the PUC and hears all proposed rate changes, told the anxious crowd of people that Tuesday’s public hearing is part of a 20-month process and that any final decision over the increases will be made by either November or December.
Citing the rising operating costs and other expenses the company needs to recover, the Golden State Water Co. filed in July 2011 a plan with the PUC to raise rates for 2013-2015 for the Region 3 service area, which includes about 1,200 customers in Calipatria and 1,200 Niland combined. Region 3 has 98,000 customers, including the communities of Apple Valley, Claremont and Barstow.
The water company is obligated by law to file a general rate case application every three years with the PUC, which regulates water rates, said Golden State Water Co. Vice President Keith Switzer.
More than 833 signatures were collected since October from both Calipatria and the unincorporated community of Niland, areas where many residents are unemployed or working poor, to request PUC representatives to appear for a hearing on the issue, Calipatria councilwoman Maria Nava-Froelich said.
The closest PUC location where local residents could voice their concerns was in Claremont, where Calipatria City Manager Rom Medina and councilman Hector Cervantes appeared at a hearing in December.
Residents called for the PUC to consider many low-income families would be adversely impacted with diminished property values and the financial hardships they would endure should the water company’s plans for a rate hike be approved.
A number of city officials and others spoke for residents as well.
Medina sharply criticized the Golden State Water Co., stressing that the company failed to provide “the qualified information” that justifies an increase and asked the PUC officials to, on behalf of ratepayers in Region 3, to scrutinize and verify the information presented by Golden State Water Co.
“When you take into account the economic impact that the proposed yearly increases will have on the already-depressed economy of our community,” Medina said. “The fiscal implications to this community are devastating.”
Councilman Raul Navarro told PUC members that Golden State Water Co. is looking to make a profit “and not to look out for the public good.” Navarro asked to “strike down” the company’s request and boldly stated the city staff was directed to pursue an analysis required for potential acquisition of the water system.
Staff Writer Silvio J. Panta can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at firstname.lastname@example.org