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George Runner: The water softener bait and switch

SCV Voices

Posted: May 16, 2009 2:49 p.m.
Updated: May 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.
We’ve all been victims of a bait and switch: a sales tactic in which an item is used to attract customers who, once lured, find themselves receiving something different than what was offered.

It’s never a pleasant experience, but there is something particularly offensive when public officials engage in this dishonest tactic — they are supposed to be working for us.

Unfortunately, L.A. County Sanitation Districts — a collection of 24 agencies including one in the Santa Clarita Valley — were guilty of this behavior when they recently reneged on their promise to keep sewer rates low if residents voted to ban the use of water softeners.

Measure S, which voters approved last November, required homeowners to remove home water-softening systems within the local sanitation district’s service area in order to lower chloride levels in the Santa Clara River, as required by the state of California.

For years, sanitation officials have claimed that sewer rates would increase substantially unless water softeners were removed from Santa Clarita Valley homes.

In fact, one official said, “if it (Measure S) doesn’t pass, residents could face a hefty property tax hike — as much as $400 a year — to finance a $350 million desalination system.”

The Sanitation Districts used this argument to convince me to author Senate Bill 475, which put in motion Measure S.

This legislation was designed to avoid the drastic rate increases and address chloride levels in a way that empowered voters to be involved in the decision making.

As expected, voters dutifully passed Measure S, believing that sanitation representatives were telling them the truth. However, despite the passage of Measure S, the Sanitation Districts announced recently that the average sewer assessment rate would be increased from $14.92 to $47 per month — more than triple the current rate!

District officials claim that the rate hike is necessary to install new micro-filtration systems in Santa Clarita’s two treatment plants to address chloride levels in the Santa Clara River.

Guess what? That cost is $385 a year, which looks remarkably similar to the cost voters were told they would be able to avoid by voting for Measure S.

One wonders if voters would have voted down Measure S had they been told the truth. If voters knew that rates would be increased whether the measure was approved or not, they may have chosen to keep their water softeners.

In fact, a Sanitation Districts news release stated emphatically, “If all automatic water softeners aren’t removed now, sewer bills may be higher forever.”

Does that mean the rate increases of the same proposed levels are somehow going to be temporary now? I don’t think so, and voters got duped.

If the L.A. County Sanitation Districts were banking on the fact that removing the water softeners would prompt the Los Angeles
Regional Water Quality Board to change the rules for them to avoid treatment costs, they should have been honest with the voters about that.

I agree it is an outrage that the Regional Water Quality Board did not send representatives to informational hearings to help explain the problem to Sanitation Districts customers.

But what’s more troubling is that the Sanitation Districts abused the trust of the voters when they sold Measure S as the only way to avoid higher sewer assessment rates.

Sanitation officials were either insincere with voters or engaged in clear bait-and-switch tactics, and I think our public officials should be held to a higher standard.

George Runner is a Republican representing the 17th District in the California Senate. His district includes portions of the Santa Clarita Valley. Runner’s column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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