Tuesday, May 11, 2010

ID1 mum on Santa Barbara County grand jury criticism

By Dave Bemis / Managing Editor / dbemis@syvnews.com

The water and sewer agencies in Santa Ynez have 60 days to respond to a report from the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury that suggests they should merge to avoid duplicate expenditures and save their ratepayers money.

Meanwhile, 3rd District county Supervisor Doreen Farr says she will be meeting with officials of both districts to gauge their reactions to the report before she and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors prepare their own formal response, which is due in 90 days.

In the report released Thursday, May 6, the grand jury also criticizes the ID1 water district for lack of public disclosure, wasteful spending and poor relationships with other agencies.

The civil grand jury has no power to enforce its findings and recommendations, although governments investigated must respond within 60 to 90 days.

According to this report, the 2009-10 grand jury decided to investigate ID1 after

receiving complaints from six people on 14 separate issues, including “its relationships with other governmental agencies, the development of proposed legislation, the powers of the district, district governance, finance and public transparency.”

The grand jury recommends that Farr convene a “blue ribbon commission” that would “review jurisdictional issues” and hold public meetings on whether to merge ID1, formally known as the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1, with the Santa Ynez Community Services District.

ID1 delivers water to about 8,300 residential, commercial and agricultural customers in its district, including Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and Ballard, and also has a contract to serve the city of Solvang as needed.

SYCSD provides sewer service to customers within ID1’s boundaries, primarily in the Santa Ynez township.

“It’s appropriate to raise the issue with them to see if there is interest there and do my best to explore those possibilities,” Farr said.

However, she added, “there are other recommendations that the full board (of supervisors) has to respond to officially .. in open session. I think that’s probably the time to bring the issue up, because obviously, even if I was able to form the group with the membership that the grand jury is recommending … you’re talking about costs … and that’s not something that I as an individual supervisor … can do in a vacuum.”

The grand jury suggests that Farr’s committee include members of the public and elected officials from the two special districts.

Two officials of ID1 did not return phone calls seeking comment on the report, and a CSD official declined to comment until the full board could decide on a response.

The jurisdictional issues to be settled are between ID1 and the Santa Barbara Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, a state agency that believes it has authority over ID1 on matters such as boundary changes.

ID1 insists that LAFCO has no such authority, and tried in 2008 to get the state to adopt Assembly Bill 2686, which not only would have clarified the jurisdiction but also would changed ID1’s name and given it additional powers.

The grand jury report criticizes both ID1 and LAFCO for routinely publishing meeting agendas that contain only vague language — particularly during AB 2686 discussions — thus obscuring the true nature of topics being discussed and failing to keep the public informed about their actions.

AB 2686 grew out of a LAFCO recommendation in 2006 that ID1 and SYCSD should merge.

The grand jury also faults ID1 for spending at least $328,000 in ratepayers’ money from 2006 to 2008 on the LAFCO jurisdictional question and the AB 2686 effort, while both issues remain unresolved because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 2686.

It recommends that both bodies agree to collaborate with the other to settle the issue efficiently and inexpensively, and directs each to improve its agendas to provide full disclosure to the public.

In its final recommendation, the grand jury advises the Board of Supervisors to ratify legal opinions from the county counsel’s office in 2001 and 2006 stating that LAFCO does have jurisdiction over ID1.

On the issue of merging the two districts, which Farr was advised to lead, “all I can do is do my best to comply,” she said. “Clearly, the issues are important but ... they were not willing to merge in the past, and with ID1 saying they are not subject to LAFCO, that doesn’t give LAFCO the opportunity to talk about reorganization” of the two districts.

Even if both ID1 and SYCSD’s elected boards did want to combine their districts, Farr said, the merger would not be simple.

“Their service areas overlap but they’re not the same,” Farr noted. “That raises policy issues with the county because of the Santa Ynez Community Plan, which talks about infrastructure and how it’s going to be handled, including sewers.”

The community plan, which was adopted last year after 10 years of effort by

volunteers and county officials, has an overall goal of keeping the valley rural and agricultural. Any merger of the sewer district with the larger water district, she said, would increase pressure for extension of sewer services, and “that increases pressure for more intense development.”


The 12-page grand jury report, titled “Currents and Undercurrents in the Santa Ynez Valley,” is available at www .sbcgj.org/2010 or from the grand jury office in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse at 568-2291.

For more information:

— ID1: 3622 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez; 688-6015; www.syrwd.org

— SYCSD: 1070 Faraday St., Santa Ynez; 688-3008

— LAFCO: 105 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara; 568-3391; www.sblafco.org

May 11, 2010


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