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Bay Point Residents Outraged Over High Water Rates

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(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

BAY POINT (CBS 5) — Water is one of the very few things you can’t live without. But what if your neighbors were paying about half what you pay?

Val Mojica of Bay Point lives 15 minutes away from his sister Carmen in Concord. While they drink the exact same water, it comes from two different utilities.

Golden State Water Company is a private, for-profit utility based in Southern California. For Val and his neighbors in Bay Point, it’s the only game in town for water.

“We’re stuck,” said Bay Point resident Donnia Cameron. “Who else are we going to talk to for water, you know?”

The water doesn’t come from Southern California. Golden State Water buys it from the Contra Costa Water District, where Val Mojica’s sister gets his water from.

In the month of August, Val Mojica’s water bill from Golden State was $183. His sister Carmen, who lives in a much larger home with a swimming pool, paid $4 more in August for two times as much water.

“Golden State Water opts to charge us twice the amount that the rest of the county pays,” Val Mojica said, “For the same exact water coming from the same exact place.”

Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover said referring to Bay Point, “Highest water rate in the county, for the poorest community in the county.”

“One third of the population of Bay Point is actually below the poverty level,” Val Mojica said.

For 900 cubic feet of water a month, the East Bay Municipal Utility District charges customers around $38. A Contra Costa Water District customer in Pleasant Hill or Walnut Creek would pay around $44. But Golden State Water customers in Bay Point would pay more than $79, and the cost is rising.

“We’re getting the little blue cards in the mail that say we’re going to have a meeting and go ahead and hike your rates,” said Cameron.

“They’re asking now for another increase of 16 percent,” Glover said. That’s on top of a 60 percent increase since 2007.

“It is absolutely insane, and it’s unreasonable,” Val Mojica said.

In a statement to CBS 5, Golden State Water said they appreciate these concerns.

Regarding rates, District Manager Paul Schubert said in the statement, “…factors include sources of the water supply, financing of capital improvement projects, size of operations, and system maintenance expenses.”

They also stress that publicly-owned agencies receive tax revenue and grants that keep prices low.

And as for Golden State’s obligation to shareholders, the company said, it’s simply to provide the best possible water service.

“It’s quite common for customers of a private water utility like Golden State Water are paying twice as high, if not more, than a neighboring water utility that is publicly owned and operated,” said Adam Scow of Food & Water Watch.

But private companies can’t simply name their price. They need approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.

“Year after year after year,” Scow said. “What we’ve seen is the Public Utilities Commission favoring the water utility over protecting the ratepayers.”

“We’ve heard nothing from the PUC. No help, no assistance whatsoever,” Val Mojica said.

Glover said, “We have to question, whose interest is the PUC working in?”

So with another rate hike looming, residents gear up for another fight, hoping for a different result.

Val Mojica said, “It’s a matter of the 99 percenters in Bay Point, who are going to move forward, and make a lot of noise, to Golden State Water, at the PUC and the Governor’s office if necessary.”

In 2010, Golden State Water’s parent company reported a net income of $31 million. CBS 5 asked the Public Utilities Commission for a comment. They encouraged Bay Point residents to attend the next hearing on the proposed rate hike set for later this month.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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