San Jose Water Company (NYSE:SJW) had its 2010 annual meeting on April 28 in downtown San Jose. Pastries and coffee were offered to shareholders (see picture above). About 30 people attended, mostly company employees. Unfortunately, Norman Mineta, one of the Board members, did not attend because he was busy in China. Only one out of the eight directors attending the meeting was female.
Chairman Charles Toeniskoetter handled most of the meeting and congratulated an employee for 20 years of service. The CEO gave a brief presentation and said that the company was doing well but had "some political things to get through." (Last year, the company also complained about the political environment, but it hasn't been very specific about the political issues they are having.)
I skimmed the 10K and noticed that SJW owns a lot of land and real property. I also noticed that SJW has set up a subsidiary, SJW Land Company, "which has a 70% limited partnership interest in 444 West Santa Clara Street, L.P., a real estate limited partnership that owns and operates an office building." (page 15, 10K)
Guess who owns the other 30% of 444 West Santa Clara Street, L.P.? "A real estate development firm, which is partially owned by the Chairman of the Board of SJW Corp." (page 34, 10K) The tenants are "an international real estate firm under a 12-year lease." (Id.)
Visions of Enron-style subsidiaries flashed through my mind, so I had to ask about the limited partnership. I mentioned the Chairman's interest in the subsidiary and questioned why a water company was in the landlord/land business. The Chairman said that SJW Land Company took "land no longer needed for the utility and put it into the Land Company." He said that SJW has been in "the real estate business" for a long time, and it has been successful in that business.
The Chairman never mentioned any potential conflict of interest in owning property with SJW. It would have been nice if the Chairman told shareholders that he recuses himself from decisions involving SJW Land Company, but I didn't want to press the issue. I asked about the pension plan. The CFO said it was "90% funded" per IRS rules. The meeting concluded thereafter.
I hope to see Mr. Mineta at next year's meeting. I wanted to ask him about a story involving a baseball bat signed by Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh, the home-run king of Japan. See here ("The Camps at Home," 3/8/1999) for more on this story.
Disclosure: At this time, I own an insignificant number of shares of San Jose Water Company (SJW).