Sunday, 14 July 2024

Lucerne FLOW receives nonprofit status, plans fundraising effort

LUCERNE – As California Water Service begins the process of seeking another rate hike for the community of Lucerne, a local grassroots group that wants to see Lucerne's water locally owned has reached a milestone.

On July 17 Lucerne Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) received notification that it has attained nonprofit, 501c3 status, according to Craig Bach, the group's vice president. The status went into effect July 13.

He said the nonprofit application was submitted Feb. 13. It was Lucerne FLOW's third attempt, and Bach credited this latest attempt's success to the work of retired attorney Bob Plank, who assisted in making the application.

Bach said Lucerne FLOW will now be able to receive tax-deductible donations as it moves forward in its goal of gaining control of Lucerne's water production and distribution facilities.

Charlie Behne, Lucerne FLOW's president, added, “Now we can pursue some grants and things to help us with some of the things we want to do.”

Lucerne FLOW and its sister organization, Lucerne Community Water Organization, were founded in 2005 in response to San Jose-based Cal Water's proposal to hike the community's rates 278 percent, according to Bach. Cal Water has owned the town's water system since May of 2000.

Lucerne FLOW filed for and received its incorporation status in the fall of 2006, Bach said.

Cal Water is once again seeking a rate increase of 54.9 percent, which Bach said would go into effect in 2011.

Bach said Lucerne FLOW's mission is to gain control of Lucerne's water from the multibillion dollar Cal Water, which he said is guaranteed by the California Public Utilities Commission to make a profit.

Lucerne FLOW, Bach said, is modeled after other FLOW groups, particularly Felton FLOW. That group, located near Santa Cruz, recently gained local control over their water from Cal American, a subsidiary of the European energy giant, RWE.

The effort to meet Lucerne FLOW's goal of locally owned water will be a long one, cautioned Bach.

“It's not going to be done overnight,” he said. “It's going to be a long, tedious process.”

That long process will involve going through the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) and forming a community service district. The LAFCO process is estimated to cost about $15,000, Bach said.

Behne said Lucerne FLOW has spoken to LAFCO officials to get insight about what will be involved. Beginning that phase is “probably our next big step,” he said.

Bach thinks there's a good chance of succeeding, pointing out that Lucerne FLOW has been effective.

For one, he said it's succeeded in its efforts to keep Cal Water from getting that original large rate hike, which had been meant to fund the new plant. Eventually, Cal Water received a loan from the state for the plant.

Bach believes the new plant is working, but it's still having to deal with the unique challenges of Clear Lake's water in the third low water year. “This is like the test of the plant.”

He said previous water managers have said Cal Water hasn't understood Clear Lake's unique nature. “I think it's a lot harder than they originally thought,” he said, noting that they're asking for new equipment for the plant as part of the latest proposed hike.

As Lucerne FLOW prepares to start the process, it's also busy with other community projects, such as beginning a community garden, said Behne.

It also will work against the proposed rate hike. Lucerne FLOW will work with Lucerne Community Water Organization to look at the proposed hike and form a plan to address it. The point is to make sure the community gets what it pays for, Behne said.

“Cal water has a pretty good history of getting rate increases and then not spending all the money for those purposes,” he said.

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