During the last few weeks, the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) has started an unjustified and misleading public campaign against a number of cities, notably Downey, Signal Hill, and Cerritos. WRD is trying to convince the public that these cities have arbitrarily chosen to stop paying their bills to WRD. The truth is far from that, and we wanted to clarify these false statements. We believe the public has the right and deserves to know the truth about how WRD for years has operated without any transparency and with outmost arrogance and disregard for the very public that they are supposed to serve.
So, what is the truth and what is the fact? It is a fact that the cities of Downey, Signal Hill and Cerritos, in 2011, stopped paying the bill for the cost of replenishing of groundwater to WRD. It is also a fact that this action was not arbitrary but based on legal and moral authority. The decision to stop paying WRD was based on a court verdict which found that WRD had failed to comply with the requirements of the law referred to as Proposition 218. This law requires cities, counties, schools, community college districts, regional organizations and special districts such as WRD, to follow specific guidelines in setting rates or assessments. The court essentially ruled that the WRD Replenishment Assessment (RA or Assessment), between 2006-2010, had been set illegally and that any future Assessments (including Assessments for fiscal year 2011-2012 and thereafter) must be set in full compliance with the law. They are ignoring these facts. Two separate judges have ruled on this so far. WRD owes the residents of these three cities over $ 15 million. We have stopped paying them $5 million.
In his letter to the local press, WRD’s Board President, Mr. Albert Robles, neglected to mention that non-payment of bills by Downey, Signal Hill and Cerritos started after the court ruled in our favor.
Twice. The other fact that he ignores is that now that the court has also found WRD’s assessments illegal, the cities cannot pay WRD because, if all did, it would be considered as a “gift of public funds,” therefore a violation of law.
It is not a coincidence that Mr. Robles singles out these cities. However, he has forgotten to mention that at least two other cities (Bellflower and Pico Rivera) have stopped paying their WRD bills also for the same reasons. WRD’s forgetfulness has more to do with the possibility that WRD is worried that more and more cities, after discovering the facts and truth, could join the ranks of Downey, Signal Hill, Cerritos, Bellflower and Pico Rivera and stop paying their illegal WRD Bills. It is time that WRD decide to distance itself from the ways of the past, comply with the requirements of the law, acknowledge its mistakes, accept the facts and start running its business the “right way” instead of continually trying to justify why WRD does things the way it chooses to. WRD has huge reserves for unknown purposes. Litigation and intimidation seems to be the one direction they keep pursuing.
In 1999, a State audit of WRD found pervasive mismanagement in its operation. Among other issues, excessive assessments to create unnecessary reserves were cited. These types of actions by WRD coupled with its arrogant behavior in ignoring the legitimate concerns and complaints of its ratepayers has resulted in erosion of its credibility and has created an atmosphere of justified mistrust of its operation. This seems to continue today.
It appears that WRD has not learned from its past mistakes and all it is trying to do is to conduct a publicity stunt. If WRD really meant to restore its credibility instead of selecting a few “friendly partners” as Committee members, it should have reached out to those rate payers that have questioned the unreasonable and unjustified 77% increase in its assessment between 2006 and 2011 and the fact that the ratepayers in Central Basin have to absorb the cost of WRD’s much more expensive replenishment operation in the West Basin. WRD must explain to a resident in the cities of Compton, Bell Gardens, Lynwood, Lakewood, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs, Downey, Cerritos, Signal Hill or any other city located in the Central Basin why they have to subsidize an estimated 400% in additional costs of water replenishment in the West Basin. This is wrong and they know it.
If WRD really has finally decided to do the right thing, then it could count on us to be its partners in assisting to restore WRD’s lost credibility, a process that will undoubtedly benefit our residents.
But until then, we will fight for the rights of our citizens. Mr. Robles, you are spreading tales that are not true and you know it, or should. In the meantime, please refund the money owed to our communities and stop misleading the public. They deserve the truth.
Mario A. Guerra is a councilman in the City of Downey.