Jan. 30, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Approximately 2,800 Ojai residents are one step closer to having a new water supplier along with, they hope, lower rates.
Approximately 150 people attended a special meeting of the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) Board of Directors Tuesday evening. Some shared their opinion of a proposed buyout of Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC) Ojai service area by CMWD. Most just listened as the CMWD Board began the process that could merge the current GSWC customers into the Casitas service area.
During the public comment section of the meeting, 12 speakers encouraged the Board to move forward with their plans, four were firmly against any merger and eight others urged caution or more study of the issue.
The proposed plan calls for Casitas to form a community facilities district (CFD) that, if approved during an election that would likely be held in July 2013, would add a tax to those parcels currently in GSWC’s Ojai service area. The bond would have to receive a yes from a 2/3 majority of those voting in the election. Some parcels owned by public agencies such as the Ojai Unified School District and by nonprofit organizations, would be exempt from the tax.
OUSD Superintendent Hank Bangser attended the meeting and told the Board that last year, the District paid $150,000 to Golden State for water last year. Had the District been a Casitas customer, he noted, it would have paid $50,000 less. “That is a huge difference,” he added.
Most of those urging caution or who were opposed to the plan were current CMWD customers concerned that the merger would cause their rates to increase. Several expressed dismay that they were not notified by CMWD of the special meeting.
The Board’s attorney, John Matthews, tried to explain several times that only registered voters within the current GSWC’s Ojai service area will be allowed to vote because the parcel tax needed to complete the buyout would only be attached to parcels within the proposed CFD, not to those of current CMWD customers.
If the bond is approved, GSWC could make a purchase offer to GSWC. Because the private water company has indicated its Ojai service area is not for sale, the next step for CMWD would likely be to petition for eminent domain proceedings in court. GSWC’s franchise agreement with the city of Ojai provides for the use of eminent domain should the city decide to take back the system from Golden State.
One speaker, David Norrdin, told the Board the eminent domain process goes against traditional American values.
Later in the meeting, citing the franchise agreement’s allowance of eminent domain, Board member Bill Hicks disagreed. “To say that people don’t have the right to do this is just wrong in my opinion.”
Bob Daddi, a member of Ojai Friends of Locally-Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) — the group that started the petition drive that collected more than 2,000 signatures encouraging CMWD to take on the fight — dismissed the concerns of those outside the CFD. “Only 2,900 users will pay for the bond, the infrastructure and all the fees and costs for having this thing happen. Please let us vote on it.”
The final audience member to speak, Robert Feiss, said it was disingenuous for those who don’t live in the community to come to the meeting and try to say what would or would not be beneficial for the community. “This effects property values and the business community. The CPUC has never, ever served this community,” he stated. “Serve us better and allow this to go to a vote.”
Conspicuously absent from the speaker’s podium were representatives from GSWC, which had no one come forward to speak on its behalf when given the opportunity. Wednesday, GSWC Vice President of Operations Patrick Scanlon released a written statement indicating that while GSWC representatives were at the meeting, Casitas’ actions prior to the meeting kept them from speaking. “Given the lack of adequate public notice, the refusal to provide a courtesy copy of the presentation in advance, and that an invitation to speak was not extended until well after the meeting began, it is clear that Casitas Municipal Water District Board Members wanted a predetermined outcome,” Scanlon wrote. “We believe Golden State Water Company customers and Casitas Municipal Water District customers deserve more disclosure than what they heard last night.”
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, unlike her predecessor Tony Strickland, supports efforts to bring the issue to Ojai voters. Her spokesperson, K.K. Holland spoke at the meeting, reaffirming Jackson’s belief that the voters should be allowed to decide this issue.
Four days before leaving office — after losing the November election to Jackson — Strickland sent a letter to CMWD officials supporting GSWC. “As the State Senator for the District representing the Casitas Municipal Water District (Casitas) service area, I am very concerned with the Board’s actions to move forward with forcibly acquiring Golden State Water Company’s Ojai property by eminent domain,” he wrote. “There is no financial, environmental or agricultural benefit and puts current and future residents, businesses and farmers at risk.”
Despite no longer holding office, Strickland continues to impact the discussion. Three of his former local staff members, Sean Paroski, Jennifer Masterson and Chris Collier, spoke at the meeting, however, none identified themselves as having a previous staff position with Strickland. Masterson identified herself as a Ventura resident and said she was a little dismayed that written notice of Tuesday’s meeting had not been sent to all Casitas customers that might be impacted. Paroski identified himself as being on the executive board of the Ventura County Republican Party, but indicated that his group had not taken an official stance on the issue. He opposed the project, saying that eminent domain should be reserved for issues of overwhelming benefit to the community. Paroski’s twitter page identifies him as the government affairs director with the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce. Collier, who said he was born and raised in Ojai, but is now a Ventura resident, ask the Board if they would be willing to guarantee that Ventura ratepayers would not be on the hook for any costs associated with the buyout.
At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, the Board took three votes. All were passed unanimously.
The first vote was to approve the goals and policies for establishing and using the CFD under the Mello-Roos Community facilities District Act of 1982.
The second vote was a resolution declaring the Board’s intent to move forward with establishing the CFD and to levy taxes to pay for it. This included setting a date for the first public hearing on the matter. It was scheduled for March 13 at 6 p.m. at the Matilija Junior High School auditorium. At the public hearing that night, should the Board vote to move forward with the resolution of formation, the bond election would be scheduled for 90 to 180 days from then.
The third vote was a resolution declaring the Board’s intent to reimburse itself from the bond proceeds for the costs associated with the buyout.
Editor’s note: this story was changed Jan 30 at 3:15 p.m. to reflect the addition of comments from a GSWC spokesperson and it was changed Jan. 31 at 2:46 p.m. to reflect additional comments by speakers. It was also revised Feb. 4, 2013, to remove the name of someone identified as having attended the meeting.