SCWC seeks another rate increase
By Kelly Feser Eells
It's déjà vu all
over again for Southern California Water Company's nearly 3,000
Ojai-area customers: SCWC filed an application with the California
Public Utilities Commission on Nov. 4, 2002, requesting the latter
agency's authority to again increase water rates.
The application asks for a 29.72 percent (approximately $20 million
dollars) increase in the year 2003; a 7.31 percent increase ($6,327,800)
in the year 2004; and a 6.81 percent increase ($6,326,200) in
the year 2005 for its "Region III Service Area, and increased
rates for the general office allocation in all of its customer
service areas" - including Ojai, which is one of four CSAs
served by the company's Coastal District, Region I. Ojai's share
of the proposed rate increase breaks down to $108,000 for 2003,
and nearly $55,000 in both 2004 and 2005.
If the application sounds familiar, it should. SCWC sought, and
subsequently received, a 27 percent rate increase in 1998 to
be spread out over three years' time.
Roland Tanner, SCWC's manager of regulatory affairs, confirmed
that the company applies for general rate increase request every
three years, and that, "even though Ojai isn't part of our
Region III (the primary customer base), we are requesting a general
rate increase for all of our districts under the provisions of
the general office allocation, filed as a separate entity."
The allocation, per Tanner, relates to general office overhead
- accounting, technological improvements, customer service -
"all of the departments that apply" to the general
operating costs of providing water to 75 communities (or, as
parent company, American States Water, reports, one in 30 Californians.)
Tanner explained that the separate filing is necessary, "otherwise,
we would never recover" from the ever-increasing general
office expenses incurred by each district - and absorbed by SCWC's
Pursuant to SCWC's application, the CPUC held three public participation
hearings, inviting public comment. The hearings were held on
April 28, 29 and 30, in Claremont, Stanton, and Barstow, respectively.
Asked why the CPUC - whose policy is to hold public meetings
that are accessible to everyone - conducted these hearings in
cities a minimum of 100 miles away from Ojai, Tanner said, "We
were told that, due to the state's budget crisis, there would
be a limited number of meetings held" on such applications.
"To my knowledge, no one from the Ojai district was in attendance
at these meetings," said Tanner, acknowledging the fact
that the city of Ojai will, however, receive any official documentation
related to such.
The city, just as it had in 1998, took issue with SCWC's proposed
rate hike, and has asked CPUC for the right to intervene.
David Fukutome, administrative law judge assigned to the proceeding,
wrote, "I received a letter dated February 26, 2003, from
the city of Ojai, requesting copies of all documents filed in
this application and asking that it be included on the list of
interested parties. In this application, while not subject to
the entire general rate case analysis, the Ojai CSA is impacted
by SCWC's proposal to increase rates for the allocation of general
office costs for all customer service areas."
Fukutome further notes that, "The city of Ojai is opposed
to its inclusion in this proceeding, and notes that its residents
already pay a rate for their water that far exceeds that for
other utilities in the region, and that the recorded rates of
return by SCWC surpass Commission-authorized rates of return.
The city of Ojai's request to be included as an interested party
to this proceeding will be granted with the understanding that
its participation will not alter this proceeding's already established
scope and schedule."
That 'scope and schedule' is as follows:
May 12-16, evidentiary hearing(s); June 6, requesting parties
file opening briefs; June 13, opposing parties file reply briefs;
Aug. 1, proposed decision filed.
"My goal," Fukutome wrote, "is to resolve this
matter as soon as possible after it is submitted. However, in
no event will the resolution exceed 18 months from the date of
filing this application, pursuant to Senate Bill 960, (Ch. 856,
Stats. 1996) Section 12 and Rule 6(e)."
If approved, the increase is expected to go into effect in October.
Tanner assures SCWC customers that the rate increase, if approved,
would not be retroactive. "We can't, by law, 'go back and
collect' rates," he said. "The new rates would go in
effect five days after whatever date the ruling is made."
In February, American States Water Company President Floyd Wicks
told Business Wire magazine that, "We're pleased by recent
decisions issued by the CPUC that increased water rates by approximately
$6.2 million annually at our SCWC unit. We have also filed general
rate increases with the CPUC that will provide for additional
revenues in late 2003 and in 2004."
Total revenues for 2002 increased by 5.9 percent, to $209.2 million
as compared to $197.5 million reported in 2001, " due to
the full impacts of various rate increases effective during 2001
at its SCW unit. The reported results," said Wicks, "underscores
management's emphasis on achieving positive results for shareholders
and customers alike."
The Office of Ratepayer Advocates and the Orcutt Area Advisory
Group (part of SCWC's Santa Maria customer service area) have
filed protests to the application. Also, Fukutome has received
formal letters of opposition from the cities of San Dimas and
Individual complaints and/or concerns may be submitted in writing
to the ORA, CPUC Consumer Affairs Branch, 505 Van Ness Ave.,
San Francisco, CA 94102; refer to Application No. 02-11-007 in
The email address is email@example.com.
Roland Tanner may be reached at 909-394-3600, extension 712.
The Ojai Valley News
to the news