Monday, May 10, 2010

Santa Barbara GJ Criticizes Santa Ynez Water District

A report that criticizes a Santa Ynez water district for lack of public disclosure, wasteful spending and poor relationships with other agencies was officially released Thursday by the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury.

The 12-page report, titled “Currents and Undercurrents in the Santa Ynez Valley,” was circulated in advance to county officials and affected agencies but is now available to the public.

According to the report, the 2009-10 grand jury decided to investigate ID1, formally known as the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1, 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.”

It was particularly critical of ID1’s spending at least $328,000 in ratepayers’ money from 2006 to 2008 to settle a jurisdictional dispute with the Santa Barbara Local Agency Formation Commission, which included ID1’s attempt to get the state to adopt Assembly Bill 2686 in 2008.

The issue remains unresolved, and the grand jury advises both ID1 and LAFCO to cooperate to settle matter inexpensively.

The grand jury also sharply criticizes both ID1 and LAFCO for routinely publishing meeting agendas that contained 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 should merge with the Santa Ynez Community Services District, which provides sewer service within some of ID1’s district.

The civil grand jury also recommends that 3rd District county Supervisor Doreen Farr convene a commission that would “review jurisdictional issues” and hold public meetings on whether to merge ID1 with the Santa Ynez Community Services District, which provides sewer service in some of the same area.

ID1 and SYCSD have 60 days to respond to the report, but district officials had no comment this week.

Farr said this week she would try to meet with officials of both districts to gauge their reactions, and said she would consult with the county counsel’s and CEO’s staffs as well as fellow county supervisors about the county’s official response, which is due in 90 days.

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.

The grand jury has no power to enforce its findings and recommendations, although governments investigated must respond in writing.

The report is available at or from the grand jury office in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse at 568-2291.

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