Bouquets and Brickbats: Thanks to all holiday helpers

Bouquets of mistletoe and holly to all the angels who went out of their way to make the holidays a little brighter for families struggling in this economy. Whether you served meals at a homeless shelter, donated to Toys for Tots, contributed to a holiday food drive or found your own special way to make a difference, please know that your efforts are a big part of what makes our community the special place that it is.

Park expansion still in the works

We toss thank-you bouquets of good stewardship to the holders of long-term leases at Wild Cherry Canyon. A deal has long been in the works to acquire the property for an expansion of Montana de Oro State Park, but an option to sell the leases was due to expire by the end of the year. The owners have agreed to one last extension, which keeps the project alive.

Now, if PG&E — which actually owns the property — can make good on a commitment to relinquish its title to the land by June, and the state Public Works Board can get around to approving it, the deal should be good to go.

Hard words for water company

A flotilla of briny brickbats is on its way to Golden State Water, which was recently fined $1 million by the California Public Utilities Commission and ordered to refund $9.5 million to customers.

According to a CPUC filing, the fine stems from the company’s failure in 2003 to follow competitive bidding procedures in awarding contracts to Richardson Engineering Company. Golden State conducted an in-house review, but didn’t report the problem to the CPUC. Big mistake, because a former senior officer with the company later told the commission about the matter.

That led to an extensive investigation, and to the finding that Golden State Water had unreasonably withheld information from the commission when it neglected to report “internal control failures.” The CPUC also found evidence that Golden State had overpaid Richardson Engineering.

Remember, this is the same Golden State Water that has applied for huge rate increases throughout most of its service areas— including a nearly 50 percent rate increase for its customers in Los Osos and Edna. At least we know that the commission will be watching Golden State very, very closely.

Consider this language in the CPUC settlement document:

“We are very concerned that Golden State not consider the settlement as ‘putting the problem behind them’ Golden State needs to clearly and explicitly demonstrate, going forward, that effective internal control is now a corporate core value and not a shortterm penance after the Richardson Engineering Company problem. We therefore direct Golden State to present direct testimony and provide detailed factual support in the next two general rate cases in the form of a thorough and comprehensive presentation on the scope and operation of its internal control system, and the day to day exercise of those internal controls, applicable to all of its California operations.”

Strong language. For that, we throw the California Public Utilities Commission a bouquet of water lilies.