“If we were the first domino, then good,” said Scott Boyd, who became president of Montara’s water board after leading the community effort for local control of water.
After suffering for years from high rates, poor service and neglect under private ownership, residents of this small town just south of San Francisco won local public control of their water system. The Montara Water & Sanitary purchased the system from California American Water (Cal-Am) in August 2003. The community had considered buying the water system for years, and in 1999, when the system was sold to New Jersey-based American Water, residents mobilized to bring the system under local public control.
There were community meetings, a door-to-door operation and a televised debate. Then, in 2001, residents voted by a 4-1 spread to borrow $19 million to buy the system from Cal-Am. At first, the company refused to sell, but the town got a boost from the California Public Utilities Commission. The company bowed down and Montara claimed victory.
A local voter-elected board now oversees the system. As a publicly owned utility, the district was able to improve the system and save the public money. “We don’t have to show a profit,” said Scott Boyd, then-president and current secretary of the board. “We get a bang for our buck by serving our citizens.”
- Visit the website of the Montara Water & Sanitary District(external link)
- Faulty Pipes: Why Public Funding — Not Privatization — Is the Answer for U.S. Water Systems(report; September 2008)
- The Future of American Water: The Story of RWE and the Politics of Privatization (report; October 2008)
- Municipalization Guide: How U.S. Communities Can Secure Local Public Control of Privately Owned Water and Sewer Systems (report; July 2012)