Opposing the Draft EIR Report (November 1, 2015)

Lori Lamson, Assistant Town Manager
Town of Apple Valley
14955 Dale Evans Parkway
Apple Valley, CA 92307

Via e-mail to [email protected]

Ms. Lamson,

I wish to register my opposition to the Draft EIR Report in its entirety.

It is clear as day that the Town of Apple Valley (TOAV) using the Environmental Impact Report process for nefarious purposes. There is no need for an EIR process when acquiring an existing business, as TOAV proposes to do, so the only reason why TOAV would spend the time and (taxpayer!) money on this process must be to create a fictitious aegis for their actions. Thus, any EIR that is not 100 percent negative serves their agenda of pushing forward with a decision made long ago. By misrepresenting the Project Objectives, they have guaranteed at least some positive outcome, upon which they will hang their hat in announcing this decision. To put it another way, for TOAV, this is not about water, it is about money. The EIR is a fig leaf behind which they will hide while doing what they have wanted to do anyway since 2006.

Additionally, I wish to object on specific grounds listed below.

Point 1 — Project Objectives: The underlying purpose of the proposed Project is for the Town of Apple Valley to acquire, operate, and maintain the existing AVR System.

Objection 1: This purpose contains one or more falsehoods. The obvious falsehood is that TOAV even has the ability to operate and/or maintain a water utility. Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company (AVRWC) has two class 5 water operators, and numerous certified employees. Given the relentless attacks on AVRWC by TOAV over the years, few if any of these qualified persons would transition to TOAV to operate and/or maintain the water system (assuming they were even asked), meaning TOAV would have no one with any substantive knowledge of water system operation. The one person typically put forward as the expert for TOAV is Dennis Cron, who doesn’t seem to know the difference between a booster station and a well head, nor the difference between potable water and portable water.

Point 2: Project Objectives: Allow the Town to independently own and operate a water production and distribution system;

Objection 2: See Objection 1.

Point 3 — Project Objectives: Provide for greater transparency and accountability, as well as increased customer service and reliability;

Objection 3: TOAV has been utterly opaque both in terms of its true goals in seizing AVRWC, and in its finances in general. Currently, TOAV is running a deficit both with the Golf Course and in general, while cooking the books to make it appear to the public that things are going great. Also, TOAV continues to hide financial documents from public scrutiny, while publicly claiming not to be hiding anything. TOAV is simply not to be trusted on anything it says at this point. Even the transparency reports it promised would be available every month have failed to materialize. Furthermore, while I have lived in Apple Valley for a decade, I have yet to call Town Hall and actually reach anyone except for the receptionist, which I do not consider to be good customer service. Finally, it bears repeating that TOAV has experience with three different water projects over the last 16 years or so, each of which has come to grief: Apple Valley Water District, the MWA well (through Council Member Art Bishop), and the Apple Valley Golf Course. This history of failure shows TOAV is not, and probably never will be, suited to run a water utility. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that after TOAV gained water rights through the purchase of Apple Valley Country Club, it immediately transferred all or some of the rights to other entities.

Point 4 — Project Objectives: Enhance customer service and responsiveness to Apple Valley customers;

Objection 4: With no idea how to operate and/or maintain a water system, there is no way TOAV can make this promise. And, given its financial situation, there is no way it can fulfill this promise no matter how sincere the promise or great the effort, short of massive increases in either water rates, taxes, or both. Also, as mentioned in Point 3 above, TOAV’s existing customer service is abysmal.

Point 5 — Project Objectives: Provide greater local control over the rate setting process and rate increases;

Objection 5: No one has yet been able to figure out what TOAV means by the vague and misleading term local control. The Town Council Members are not in control of TOAV staff, TOAV farms out its accounting, TOAV has allowed Outer Highway 18 to be destroyed piecemeal (which leaves residents at the mercy of CalTrans!), and Town Council Members are either too lazy to probe into obvious problems in the town, or are willfully ignorant of them. Also, TOAV has increased sewer rates at a faster rate than AVRWC has increased water rates, and unlike AVRWC, there is no oversight for TOAV increases. After securing its last sewer rate increase, TOAV turned around and loaned millions from the sewer fund to the general fund to help cover a budget shortfall. One Town Council Member referred to this as a surplus, saying, Surpluses are good! And, if TOAV farms out the operation and/or maintenance of the water system to an outside firm, this represents a loss of local control.

Point 6 — Project Objectives: Provide direct access to locally elected policy makers for the water operations;

Objection 6: We residents currently do not have what I would call direct access to elected officials for current TOAV business. True, we can contact them through e-mail or perhaps voicemail, but they virtually never respond, and never substantively. These are not the people we want running our water system.

Point 7 — Project Objectives: Allow the Town to pursue grant funding and other types of financing for any future infrastructure needs, including grants and financing options which the CPUC does not allow private company to include in their rate base (such that private companies do not pursue advanced planning and investment for infrastructure); and

Objection 7: AVRWC is a successful company that is a subsidiary of another successful company, and as such has already has figured out the funding for future infrastructure needs. The fact that TOAV is already saying it doesn’t have funding, indicates to me that TOAV will be skimming funds out of the water system and into the general fund, using underhanded and seamy tactics, to the point that there will be nothing left for future infrastructure needs. This means TOAV will be forced to encumber residents with even more debt (atop the mountain of debt needed to complete the condemnation process) to maintain what we have now, let alone for any speculative ventures.

Point 8 — Project Objectives: Enable the Town to use reclaimed water for public facilities without invoking potential duplication of service issues with AVR.

Objection 8: There is a much easier way of using reclaimed water, and TOAV knows it. TOAV signed an agreement with AVRWC granting AVRWC the exclusive position of water retailer within its service area. AVRWC welcomes the use of reclaimed water, and TOAV knows this, too. TOAV is using this as a ploy in an attempt to justify the necessity of the multi-million dollar mistake it wants to make.

Each of the so-called Project Objectives is essentially a promise by TOAV to conduct business in a way utterly different from how they currently conduct business. If these Objectives are important, TOAV could start implementing them now. They don’t because they have no intention of fulfilling these implied promises. It will be business as usual, but with millions more (and our water system!) at stake.

I have some other objections, too.

Objection 9 — Alternatives: The only alternative that makes any sense is No Project. Victorville appears to have mismanaged millions in its own water utility, and has come under harsh criticism from both a Grand Jury investigation and a state water audit of our area. Former Hesperia council woman Diana Carloni is on record as saying that Hesperia took over its water utility for monetary reasons, not for any of the eyewash TOAV presents as goals. Neither of these entities is suitable to operate our water utility, and the very fact that TOAV proposes them reveals that they don’t care about what happens to our water system. Should either of them become the operator of the Apple Valley water system, they are going to charge us whatever it costs them, plus add something for profit. Because neither is as good at running a water utility as AVRWC, this means higher costs, poorer service, and possibly reduced water quality. As for Alternative 4, running a water utility is far more complex than running a town the size of Apple Valley. As it is, TOAV barely manages to run itself; there is no way it could run a water utility, so this is not a viable alternative. To recap, the only serious, sustainable option is Alternative 1 — No Project. TOAV will use any other recommendation as proof of support for its hostile takeover.

Objection 10 — Areas of known controversy (hydrology and water quality): This section is bad fiction from beginning to end. First, it ignores the fact that TOAV has no ability to run a water system, so water quality is a key issue. Second, required to comply could mean that TOAV would just pay any fines associated with overuse of water, rather than conserving, because the ratepayers are picking up the tab. To date, TOAV has done virtually no conservation messaging, and hasn’t even joined AVRWC to support their conservation messaging. As the biggest user of water in the area, with the least knowledge of how a water utility must be run, TOAV is not to be trusted in this area.

Objection 11 — Areas of known controversy (Utilities impact U-3): TOAV has essentially claimed that everything AVRWC says is a lie. I believe these claims to be false, but here, TOAV is conveniently taking AVRWC at its word about the sufficiency of the water supply. I want to see proof.

Objection 12 — 1.1 Project background: AVRWC has holdings outside of Apple Valley. My understanding is that TOAV cannot run projects outside of their sphere of influence. There is no way for TOAV to buy all of AVRWC without Yermo. There is no way for TOAV to buy AVRWC without Yermo without incurring significant additional costs, potentially running into the millions.

Objection 13 — 1.2 Purpose and legal authority: This is the hook upon which TOAV will hang its hat in promoting the hostile takeover of AVRWC. Because of the flawed nature of the DEIR, there will be no significant environment effects of the project, therefore, TOAV can say they received the green light for the project on the strength of this flawed EIR.

Objection 14 — 1.3 Notice of preparation and scoping: Just looking at the responses to my earlier objections, TOAV would have us believe that it will spend millions pursuing eminent domain proceedings against AVRWC, and then be at the mercy of the SWRCB? Are you seriously proposing that as a response? If TOAV was worried about not being fit, it would be beavering away now so that it will be in a position to demonstrate … its ability to operate the system. Instead, it is engaged in a propaganda war against AVRWC. Persons licensed and certified to run a water system in California do not grow on trees. Where is TOAV going to get these persons? Are they going to hire them before the trial, after the trial, during the trial, or when? Also, the failure of the EIR process to evaluate all aspects of the project is the very thing upon which TOAV is counting. The EIR process is being played, at the expense of the ratepayer.

Objection 15 — 1.6 Lead, responsible, and trustee agencies: TOAV does not have discretion over the acquisition of AVRWC. That entity is a court somewhere, at an eminent domain hearing. TOAV only has the discretion of mis-spending taxpayer monies in this insane jihad against AVRWC. Furthermore, there is no way TOAV will acquire AVRWC through a negotiated purchase. AVRWC is not for sale, and the TOAV’s so-called offer was pitifully low. The inclusion of this language in this document raises doubts about the entire document, as well as the purpose for this document.

Objection 16 — 2.4.4 System operation and maintenance: TOAV says it wants to use the existing AVRWC facilities. We already have a water system being run out of that building. Thus there is no benefit to ratepayers for TOAV to spend millions to obtain something we already have.

I don’t know what the term of art is for it, but the Final Report must urge TOAV not to pursue this course of action one moment longer. The only logical and ethical choice is the no acquisition option.

Greg Raven is Co-Chair of Apple Valley Citizens for Government Accountability, and is concerned about quality of life issues.