Leon Worden

Who are the liars in Newhall Water race?

Leon Worden · September 10, 1997

On one side you have Lynne Plambeck, Ed Dunn and David Rapoport. They're the incumbent members of the Newhall County Water Board. On the other side you have Barbara Dore, Tom Campbell and Val Thomas. They're the challengers in the upcoming November election.

In the middle you have superior court judge Robert O'Brien. Or at least you did until last week, when O'Brien dismissed the lawsuit that Plambeck, Dunn and Rapoport filed against Dore, Campbell and Thomas. The incumbents claimed the challengers lied in their ballot statements about the cost and quality of water in the district.

The judge threw the case out because the incumbents missed the deadline for filing suit. What the judge didn't do is weigh the case on its merits to determine who was telling the truth.

That's why we're here today. Let's begin.


Challenger Barbara Dore says: "NCWD ... charges more for it (water) than any other water provider in our valley." Challenger Tom Campbell says: "Water rates are higher ... than anywhere else in the Santa Clarita Valley." Challenger Val Thomas says: "NCWD customers pay considerably more than anyone else in the SCV."

Incumbents Plambeck, Dunn and Rapoport say their water is only the second-most expensive in the valley, not the most expensive. They base this on a document they filed with the court showing that L.A. County Water Works District 36 charges more.

The judge probably should have sanctioned the incumbents for contempt of court. Their documentation was deliberately misleading. Their tables show only the portion of the water cost that we pay through our water bills. They conveniently omit the part we pay through property taxes and facilities assessments. They didn't show the court the total amount we pay for water -- only part of it.

When you look at the total cost the customer actually pays -- including property tax assessments -- you see that Newhall County Water customers pay the most. This fiscal year, water bills plus tax assessments for the average household in NCWD's Castaic service area equate to $53.02 a month, Pinetree $50.07 and Newhall $36.74, for an overall NCWD average of $46.61. In comparison, District 36 customers pay $39.02, Valencia Water customers pay $31.24 and Santa Clarita Water customers pay $26.45.

And get this. A recent NCWD bulletin goes to great lengths to explain why -- quote -- "NCWD's cost for water service is at this time slightly higher than that of those other companies!"

So yes, challengers Dore, Campbell and Thomas are telling the truth when they say Newhall County Water "charges more for it than any other provider in our valley."


Challenger Barbara Dore says: "Water quality varies throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, and NCWD provides some of the worst." Challenger Tom Campbell says: "Water quality is lower than anywhere else in the Santa Clarita Valley." Challenger Val Thomas says: "NCWD customers ... receive lower-quality water (than the rest of the valley)."

Incumbents Plambeck, Dunn and Rapoport say all water in the valley is basically the same. They must think we're idiots.

Every other water company -- Valencia, Santa Clarita, District 36 -- delivers State Project water to its customers. Valencia and Santa Clarita mix it with local groundwater, and District 36 uses State Water exclusively. They do this because our groundwater is hard. It has a lot of minerals in it. Mixing it with State Water softens it and makes it taste better.

NCWD mixes groundwater with State Water too -- but only in Pinetree and Castaic. NCWD customers in Newhall get 100 percent of their water from groundwater out of the Saugus aquifer, which has a high mineral content and therefore tastes worse. As challenger Barbara Dore says in her ballot statement, "NCWD customers suffer under the board's current policy of using only groundwater." The challengers are telling the truth.

* * *

You know what's sad? It didn't have to be like this. The incumbents could have made their statements, the challengers theirs, and the voters could have sorted it all out at the ballot box.

But nooo. The incumbents had to cross the line. Now they've gone and lied to you, to me, to a superior court judge -- and for that they should not just get booted out of office, but run out of town on a rail.

Or at least whacked across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

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