Troubled Water

Below are some excerpts and quotes from the article “Troubled Water” by Kate Bradshaw of The Almanac. For the complete article, go to Water

The day he left East Palo Alto to attend his grandmother’s funeral across the country, Justin Turner’s water was shut off.

He had to leave his wife, nine months pregnant and due to deliver any day, at home without water, after trying fruitlessly for months to have a simple question answered by his water company, the private nonprofit Palo Alto Park Mutual Water Company: Why is my bill so high?

“They’ve probably been the least cooperative of the water districts we work with as far as being forthcoming with information,” 

– Harold Schapelhouman, Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief

“I don’t think staff is working for improvement. I think they’re primarily showing up and doing what they’ve always done,” 

– Eric Lacy, State Water Resources Control Board

“I think the City Council has been very concerned, but we don’t have jurisdiction … I personally hope that the court will intervene in a way that they do help that entity to become more responsive to the needs of their customers,” 

– Ruben Abrica, East Palo Alto City Councilmember

Water Company Reports over $2 Million in Repairs Needed

In response to recent demands from the State Water Resource Board after their recent inspections, the water company issued 2 letters to describe short term repairs, and their plans to fix the iron and manganese problems.

Some concerns highlighted in these reports:

  • The company lists over 2 million dollars worth of immediate repairs and upgrades needed.
  • The upgrades do NOT include building a plant to remove the iron and manganese, but rather to do a lower-cost, less effective treatment that involves over-chlorinating the water. The Water Resources Board has said in previous letters to the Company that over-chlorination can cause other problems.

Here is a summary of the repair estimates:

Iron and Manganese for Well 7 only $314,640
Well 3 replacement $166,980
Repair pipes under Highway 101 $122,820
Well 2 replacement $166,980
Install Water Meters for All Properties $408,480
Replace Green Street Main $289,800
Replace Glen Way Main $335,340
Replace Bell Street Main $289,800
Build a Second Storage Tank $747,960
Total $2,842,800

The actual letters from the Company are  below.

Impact Fees

Many of our neighbors are complaining about Impact Fees, which the company is charging people for a variety of things, from parking a camper in their driveway, to doing major renovations.

While I don’t know for sure, my guess is that impact fees originate from the fact that we are all “supposed” to be charge pretty much the same amount for our water. The current fees I think are $58 plus $1 per share, which for a standard 5,000 sq. ft. property comes out to $60/month.

However, some houses have one person living at a house, and some have 10. How is that fair?

Well, the fairness part is primarily I think due to the fact that the major cost of delivering water to each house is the plumbing and equipment. The amount of water we use has some expense, but is not the major expense.

When someone does a renovation on their house, the water company is supposed to do a review of the plans, and could potentially charge a fee for the expense of reviewing the plans, and whatever additional burden the new renovation will have on the system. However, without meters, its not possible to measure this burden. So, the water company appears to be trying to make up for this by charging “impact fees”, from $2,500 to $5,000.

These impact fees have no basis in law, nor does the water company explain how they compute them. The amounts seem excessive. They also appear to be charging them in situations where there is no impact to the water, including when people change out the windows in their house, or just park a camper in the driveway.

There was also a Class Action Lawsuit many years ago that ended with a judgement against the water company, ordering the water company to stop charging these fees until they put them in the Bylaws, and making sure they were only charged when there was an actual impact to the water. The company appears to be ignoring this court order.

Your Rights as a Shareholder

As a property owner in the Palo Alto Park Mutual Water Company area, you have shares in the company. You have one share for every 2500 sq ft of land you own, and these shares give you certain rights. However, for rights to matter, you must exercise them. Here are some we know about, but its not an exhaustive list.

Vote at the Shareholder Meeting

Your shares give you votes at the annual shareholder meeting. You can vote on board members, on changes to the bylaws, and on various matters that come up at the meeting, like approval of minutes, agendas, etc.

If you cannot attend a meeting (or don’t want to), you can allow someone else to vote on your behalf by appointing them as your proxy using a proxy statement.

Shareholder meetings must be noticed at least 10 days before the meeting is to take place, and the business of the meeting must be clearly stated.

Attend and Know About Board Meetings

Assembly Bill 240 (AB240) put certain requirements on the boards of mutual water companies. In particular, it makes all board meetings into public meetings similar to how the Brown Act works for governmental meetings.

AB240 does the following:

  • Requires that all board meetings have an agenda that is publicly posted before the meeting. The board must stick to the agenda, except in exceptional or emergency situations.
  • If you request it, the board must send you a notice of all board meetings. You can ask to be notified by mail or email.
  • If you have a fee or penalty, you can demand that the board meet with you in closed session to discuss it.
  • Requires that the minutes of all board meetings be sent to any shareholder that asks.

Inspect the Accounts of the Company

Both the Bylaws of the company, and California Corporations Code 1601 give you the right to inspect the financial records of the company at any reasonable time upon written request.

Inspect the List of Shareholders

California Corporations Code 1600 allows any shareholder with cause (a good reason) to get a list of all the other shareholders in the company. 5% of the shareholders can join together and request a list of the shareholders for any reason at all, and get them within 5 days of the demand.

To make requests of the board, you should send your requests directly to the members of the Current Board, since we have some evidence that the central office is not forwarding mail on to the board members.

Unfortunately, our current board of directors has denied us ALL of these rights. That is one of many reasons why they must be removed.