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Mayor Engen shares water system takeover lessons in CA

Posted at 10:23 AM, Sep 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-27 12:23:49-04

MONTEREY, CA – It’s a classic battle pitting advocates of public utility ownership versus private control.

It’s not the long-running legal fight over Missoula’s water system but a California community is turning to Mayor John Engen for some insight on how to turn the tide in favor of public ownership.

Mayor Engen was on the road earlier this week to explain Missoula’s approach to the costs of taking over a private utility.

Monterey resident Jenna Jett says the cost for water is too high for her, “our rates at our house in Monterey have increased three-fold.”

“I feel like I have no control. And I feel like a corporation such as Cal Am or any corporation is there to satisfy its clientele and its shareholders,” Jett added.

The costs for ratepayers have gone up 68% in the last couple of years and according to Food and Water Watch, the Monterey Peninsula is the most expensive place to buy water in the country.

Public Water Now — a group long opposed to the private utility company California American Water — held a town hall earlier this week with Missoula Mayor John Engen.

Missoula bought out their privately-held water system in 2017 using eminent domain something that could be used on the Monterey Peninsula.

The difference between public and private ownership lies partly in the way rate is used.

“We operate on a cost basis. Every dollar that goes into the system goes to maintain that system, grow that system, pay employees and operate the system,” Mayor Engen said.

“You’re either going to do cost or cost plus profit, which makes more sense when it comes to water? So the argument for public ownership is always local control and lower cost,” said PWN Communications Director Melodie Chrislock.

Public Water Now says public ownership doesn’t guarantee lower rates but it does mean that residents themselves can determine what the rates should be.

Voters will get a chance to vote on a measure in November — which if passed would call for a feasibility study to see how much it would cost to buyout cal am utilities.

If it’s found to be financially feasible and in the public interest, buy out would happen. The No on J has also been out here passing out flyers trying to contradict the claims of the Yes on J campaign.”

“I wish that all the voters of Monterey County could have been here tonight to hear the mayor of Missoula, Montana guarantees people that their rates would go up as a result of the takeover,” Cal Am spokesman Kevin Tilden said.

Current Cal Am employees would keep their jobs even if the public takeover succeeds

-Josh Kristianto reporting for CBS News