A public protest against a proposed 44 percent water rate hike is catching steam in East San Jose and getting the attention of a powerful state senator.“I’m going to listen,” Senator Jim Beall told a group of residents at a District 5 United meeting at Dr. Roberto Cruz Alum Rock Library. “But I’m going to do something about it. That’s the bottom line.”
In January 2012, the San Jose Water Company filed a request with the California Public Utilities Commission to charge customers 21.5 percent more this year, 4.87 percent more in 2014 and 12.59 percent more in 2015. Over three years, the increased rates would generate $95,154,000. The CPUC has not yet made a decision.
In response, District 5 United, a coalition of East San Jose neighborhood associations, launched an online petition signed so far by 700, produced a video and invited Beall, San Jose District 5 Councilman Xavier Campos and Richard Rauschmeier, who represents the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, to the community meeting. Juan Estrada, president of District 5 United, also distributed flyers at the mayor’s budget priority setting session at City Hall on Saturday, January 26.
“We could help shape the outcome,” Estrada said at the Wednesday, January 23 meeting. “The issue has been under the radar for a year. Now it’s surfaced.”
Beall drove from Sacramento to attend the meeting even though he had to turn around and drive back to Sacramento for the governor’s January 24 State of the State speech.
“I was surprised at the 44 percent, to be honest about it,” Beall told the group of about 35. “If you look at the San Jose Water Company and you check their stock records, they’re making a profit. They pay dividends to their shareholders. It’s a good company. They’re making money.”
In a Q&A on its website, the San Jose Water Company says the proposed rates reflect “escalating operating costs and significant water system replacement costs for mains, tanks, and wells that allow the company to continue providing safe and reliable water service. “.
The Division of Ratepayers Advocates is proposing a 0.50 percent increase this year, 3.73 percent increase in 2014 and a 5.65 percent increase in 2015, or 10 percent over thee years. Rauschmeier also said that the San Jose Water Company wanted to increase its staff by 23 employees, and the DRA sees the need for just three more employees.
The mission of the DRA, a group within the CPUC, is to keep utility customers’ rates as low as possible for reliable and safe services. The DRA team of engineers, accountants and economists review applications, conduct audits and makes recommendations to the CPUC.
“There is a lot that is good with the company,” Rauschmeier said of the San Jose Water Company. “We just want to makes sure that continues and that what is done is reasonable.”
Asked resident Gustavo Gonzales, who appeared in the protest video,” Are You Smarter Than a 3rd-Grader?,” “What else can we do besides wait for the outcome?”
Although the public hearings have been held, Rauschmeier said the commission was still accepting comments and that it meets every other Thursday in San Francisco, taking comments from the public at the beginning of each meeting.
“Stay involved and keep trying to fight for what’s reasonable,” he said.