Whither Apple Valley?

The big question on everyone’s mind seems to be, What happens to the Town of Apple Valley in the wake of its big court loss?

Now that the Town has presented its predictably feeble objections to Judge Donald Alvarez’s adverse May 7th tentative ruling in the eminent domain case against Liberty Utilities, and Liberty has presented its typically substantive response, the expectation is that the court’s final decision will mirror the tentative ruling. It’s time for some serious consideration about what comes next.

Both individuals and entities have the right to protect property from government seizure, especially when no cause exists to take it. When the government tries anyway but loses, as the Town did here, it cannot walk away from the hardship it has caused, per the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Simply put, the Town now is beholden to Liberty Utilities.

A little history:

  • After the water company graciously bailed out the Town’s lone attempt to run a water system (Apple Valley Water District, or AVWD), which although small was failing due to the Town’s mismanagement, the Town whined that the water company did it the wrong way.
  • When the water company graciously proposed a plan to help the Town realize its North Apple Valley Industrial Specific Plan (NAVISP), the Town told the water company to mind its own business.
  • When the Town announced it was going to infringe on Liberty’s statutory sphere of influence by recycling water, Liberty graciously ceded.
  • When the Town broke the lock on one of Liberty’s wells to steal water, Liberty graciously declined to prosecute.
  • During the years that the Town mendaciously and repeatedly attacked the water company and its personnel in public, the water company graciously continued to provide discounted water service.
  • After Art Bishop and the Mojave Water Agency spent $2.5 million sinking a well that was not only unnecessary but also adjacent to Liberty’s highest-producing well, Liberty graciously agreed to help maintain it rather than letting it deteriorate. Yet when Liberty needed to install a new well (both to take over for other older wells and to allow for increased capacity), the Town’s response was to claim that there was no need for a new well, and that it was part of some kind of underhanded ploy by Liberty.
  • When the Town tried to block Liberty from spending millions on water system upgrades, Liberty graciously found a way to proceed.
  • When Liberty proposed freezing water rates for two years to reduce costs by getting its Apple Valley operation on the same review schedule as its other water systems in Southern California, the Town screamed bloody murder.

We have to consider the possibility that the Town has reached the end of Liberty’s graciousness. If nothing else, letting the Town off the hook might embolden other municipalities to try to seize Liberty assets. Therefore, it’s highly likely that Liberty will make an example of the Town.

The Town claims to have spent $8,355,556.45 in court costs and fees as of May 28, 2021. The harm to Liberty caused by the Town could easily exceed that.

However, the Town is already broke, operating on a $10 million payday loan and $39,032,156 in suspicious transfers from the sewer, solid waste, and Apple Valley Choice Energy funds — to say nothing about hundreds of thousands in bogus staff costs to administer the defunct RDA — to pay day-to-day expenses while failing year after year to trim its budget.

When you add up the Town’s true cost of this foolhardy adventure, the need to repay the payday loan, and the need to reimburse Liberty, we’re looking at almost $30 million down the drain — millions the Town did not have to spare.

If the Town is unable to pay, there is an alternative: Apple Valley could end its 33-year experiment with townhood and become unincorporated once again, returning governance and operations to San Bernardino County.

Whatever the outcome, we expect there will be some painful transitions, cutbacks, and changes, but at least we’ll have water.

Greg Raven, Apple Valley, CA