Water officials told to hurry with ‘new district’ legislation


Water officials who discussed state legislation to finalize the creation of one new water agency, learned Wednesday they have no time to waste in getting a draft of their proposal in front of legislators.

Members of the Castaic Lake Water Agency board met Wednesday night to consider the appropriate legislation that would finalize the merger of two local water interests and create one new all-encompassing water district for the Santa Clarita Valley.

After a year of public debate over the Agency’s merging with SCV water retailer, the Newhall County Water District, the historic venture was given the green light Dec. 13 when they entered into a binding settlement agreement towards that end.

On Wednesday night, they were told to work fast, make decisions quickly, obtain copies of the proposed legislation, read it, review it and edit it before the month is out.
“We are going to have to make decisions quickly,” Joseph Byrne, general counsel lawyer for the CLWA told the board.

The hurried process didn’t sit well with B. J. Atkins who sits on both the NCWD board as an elected member and on the CLWA board as a member appointed to represent the NCWD.

“My concern is that the boards will not have much time to deliberate on the language of the draft,” he said. “I, personally, am uncomfortable with that.”

Each board member did a quick count on one hand of the meetings scheduled in the next month and realized time is running out if they’re to meet deadlines set for any proposed bill submitted to the state’s legislative counsel for consideration.

The California Office of Legislative Counsel is a nonpartisan public agency that drafts legislative proposals, prepares legal opinions, and provides other confidential legal services to the Legislature and others.

CLWA board members were told that any proposed legislation must be submitted to the legislative counsel by Jan. 20 if it’s to be considered this session.
The last day bills can be introduced is Feb. 17.

Since members were unanimous in their call for a plan to have a bill in place by this time next year, meeting the state’s paperwork deadlines became a crucial point in Wednesday’s discussion.

“I didn’t hear you say anything about making a written version (of the proposed legislation) available to the Newhall County Water District,” Atkins asked Byrne when he finished describing the process of submitting proposals to state legislators.

“Before anything is introduced, clearly both boards will have to see it,” Atkins said.
Newly-elected board President Robert J. DiPrimio assured Atkins, saying: “We will have an opportunity to review legislation prior to its submittal.”

In going over the process of drafting and submitting a proposal needed to authorize the creation of a new water agency, Byrne reminded them “ultimately, this is up to the legislators and not us.

“This legislation is going to create a new entity with a new name which has not been finalized,” he said.

Unofficially, the name most favored among key players in the proposed merger – but yet to be approved – is: the Santa Clarita Valley Water District.

Goals of the intended legislation follow those spelled out in the settlement agreement agreed to last month.

One of those goals calls for settling on the appropriate number of directors elected to the new agency.

Initially, the new water district would be made up of 15 members and would be whittled down to 12 with language written into the proposed bill to eventually allow for nine elected board members representing three SCV districts.

Another goal in the proposal would deal with fair debt management.

“The debt of retail entities will stay with those entities,” Byrne said. “That is something that will be clearly mapped out.”

Despite the time crunch, CLWA board members voiced optimism about becoming one new district.

“We need to start thinking as one,” Atkins said early in Wednesday’s meeting.
Tom Campbell suggested bringing in “team building workshops” to help members of both boards with the transition.

“With these workshops we can lay out a framework of togetherness,” he said.

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