One plan would have Island water costs paid by SCE electricity customers
Southern California Edison has asked the Public Utilities Commission to increase drinking water rates on Catalina. The PUC held two online forums on the issue Tuesday, March 30. No action was taken. A decision is expected in 2022.
Administrative Law Judge Garrett Toy said he would draw up the proposed decision, but it would be the Public Utilities commissioners who would make the final decision.
As previously reported, Edison aims to recover $9.3 million a year, plus $29 million in one-time expenses from all of Edison’s electricity customers or from all of the Island’s water customers.
During the hearings, city officials and members of the public opposed both of Edison’s plans for the water rate increase. Both Island and mainland residents expressed concern that rates are being increased during the pandemic, considering the economic impact the pandemic has caused.
Some mainland customers oppose the rate increase entirely; others believe Island residents alone should pay the cost of operating the water utility.
“SCE’s General Rate Case proposes to recover the costs for routine water system operations, maintenance, management, and capital investment from Catalina water customers, phasing-in the revenue increase over a five-year period starting in 2022,” according to Robert Laffoon-Villegas, of Edison’s Corporate Communications.
Edison wants to recover the money from all of Edison’s electricity customers.
“If SCE’s proposal is not approved, an alternative would be to recover all costs in rates from Catalina water customers,” according to Laffoon-Villegas.
According to a slide presentation by Norris Bishton Jr., an attorney representing the Catalina Parties to the rate case, Plan A would cost $2,668 per year per customer. Plan B, according to the slide, would cost $2,897 per year per customer.
“There are no viable alternative services,” Bishton said.
Public reaction to the proposal was largely negative, based on a casual reading of the 280 pages of public comments that are available online at the PUC website.
During the evening hearing, Avalon Councilmember Lisa Lavelle said the Avalon was trying to partner with Edison. She pointed out that the city had acquired $10,000 in grant funds for Edison.
Lavelle asked the public to comment in Spanish as well as English.
After the evening hearing, Lavelle told the Islander that she hoped the judge would make a fair decision. She said most business entities have funds before they complete projects. She also said responsibility had to be laid on Edison.
She said she couldn’t see the PUC justifying a 427% increase.
“Our businesses are all shot to hell,” said Bill Glass, a 35-year resident of Catalina, during the evening hearing.
During the afternoon hearing, a representative of The Utility Reform Network apparently suggested adding a fee to passengers traveling to the Island as an alternative. Jim Luttjohann, president and CEO of Love Catalina Island, disagreed.
“To add more fees on cross channel travel would be too much to bear on top of the already added fees,” Luttjohann wrote.
“Most of the jobs here for the bulk of residents here pay minimum wage and these rates for residents is extremely difficult for the average citizen,” wrote Paula Patterson, of Avalon, during the afternoon broadcast.
Councilmember Yesenia De La Rosa raised the same issue.
“We have families working day in and day out to make ends meet, while doing their very best to not expose themselves to COVID and bring it into their homes. We are all financially trying to stay afloat. This will only make matters worse. If we could please find an alternative solution,” wrote Avalon Councilmember Yesenia De La Rosa during the evening broadcast.
“There would be so many families impacted by this decision. Not only on the island but also off of the island. Please realize that the average household income is only $61,655 on the island,” wrote Rebecca Roosevelt-Parrott of Newport Coast.
“It’s preposterous to force us to share Catalina’s cost,” wrote Julie Osburn of Cathedral City Cove.
Mayor Anni Marshall asked the state commissioners to determine water rates that were fair to Islanders.
“The island, being a destination for vacationers, employs the majority of its residents in the service industries. The majority of these positions are paid minimum wage and in many cases our residents pay in excess of 70% of their income toward their rent. Any rate increases will be passed on to the tenant only exacerbating their financial situation,” she said in a prepared statement.
Gail Fornasiere, of the Catalina Island Museum, said you get punished because you use too much water and you get punished for not using enough. She was referring to water saved during droughts.
Fornasiere said Catalina should be looked at as a benefit to the state of California.
The PUC is still taking comments from the public on this case. Visit https://apps.cpuc.ca.gov/apex/f?p=401:65:0::NO:RP,57,RIR:P5_PROCEEDING_SELECT:A2010018.