By Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/28/2012 04:47:40 PM PDT

RIALTO – City Council voted 4 to 1 in favor of a controversial 30-year contract with New Jersey-based American Water Works Co. Inc., which would mean a 114.8 percent increase in water and wastewater rates by 2016.

About 400 residents crammed into City Hall and three overflow sites – the library, the public access television station and the main fire station.

The resident turnout was larger than when the issue came before the council in June, which was defeated on 2 to 2 vote.

Mayor Pro Tem Ed Scott said prior to his vote, “We have been at this for three years now. We have to do something to bring this city forward,” Scott said.

Joe Baca Jr. opposed the American Water contract in June and did again Tuesday night for the same reason – that city residents should not pay for a company’s profits and that the rate increases are too steep.

“We need to take charge of our destiny,” said Deborah Robertson, who voted against the measure last summer.

Robertson said that the support of the labor unions for the agreement were a big part in her “yes” vote Tuesday night.

Mayor Grace Vargas was out on medical leave starting just before last summer’s water rate vote and has recently returned to her post.

“You people in Rialto elected me for reason,” Vargas said before the vote. She predicted that eventually residents would thank the council for its decision to sign the 30-year contract. The council’s decision can be overturned if the majority of Rialto property owners file a written protest to the decision. In his motion to approve the contract and related rate increases, Council member Ed Palmer said he wanted to take the decision to the property owners and let them have the final say.

“It would be wrong for us to vote this down,” he said.

While most of those at the meeting Tuesday appeared to oppose the measure this time around, several spoke in favor of the agreement, which would lead to financing to pay for $41 million in water infrastructure projects and provide funding to move ahead with development projects at the municipal airport, a super Wal-Mart south of downtown and restaurants north of downtown.

Upland developer Randall Lewis, whose company is a partner in a planned mixed use development on land now occupied by the municipal airport, said the debate taking place here is occurring across the state and the nation.

“It is a tough decision,” Lewis said, adding that the city staff recommendation to go with a long-term agreement with American Water is the correct one to modernize Rialto’s infrastructure system.

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