LAFCO opposes water bill unless it’s included

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A year ago, feuding local water agencies wanting to bury the hatchet and merge introduced the public to a representative of the agency that they said would ultimately close the deal and seal the merger.

That was the last time the public saw or heard from the Local Agency Formation Commission for Los Angeles.

When LAFCO commissioners met last month to discuss merger legislation spelled out in Senate Bill 634, members of the agency voted to oppose the bill unless it was amended to include them.

And, if ratepayers in the SCV are wondering what difference it makes to have the deal closed by state legislation or by LAFCO, Executive Officer Paul A. Novak of LAFCO said his group offers accessibility.

“LA LAFCO’s consideration of this consolidation would afford Santa Clarita residents an opportunity to attend a hearing in Los Angeles – as opposed to Sacramento – and testify before the local elected officials who sit as LAFCO commissioners,’ he said.

“It would enable the public to suggest terms and conditions which LAFCO could impose on a proposed consolidation,” he said.

Water officials who drafted the preliminary merger bill and put it in the hands of Senator Scott Wilk in time for it to be introduced in the current legislature, say LAFCO was never snubbed or bypassed and has remained an integral part in the formation of one all-encompassing water district for the Santa Clarita Valley.

“We have been working closely with them since the beginning,” said Steve Cole, general manager of the Newhall County Water District, one of SCV’S three main water retailers wanting to merge with SCV water wholesaler, the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

“We have already incorporated some clarifications within the bill as a result of these efforts,” he told The Signal Monday. “We have always been interested in finding the right role for LAFCO.”

LAFCO officials, however, felt compelled to use words such a “bypassed” and “undermined” in a letter dated March 23 addressed to Wilk, informing him of their intention to oppose the bill unless it included them.

“The proposed consolidation by the legislature bypasses the LA LAFCO process,” the LAFCO letter to Wilk reads.

It added: “The proposed consolidation by the legislature undermines the very authority over special district boundaries which the State originally delegated to LAFCOs more than 50 years ago.”

It is LAFCO’s job, in part, to oversee changes to local government boundaries that involve the formation and expansion of cities and special districts, as well as the merger of special districts.

On Apr. 4, 2016, Novak joined Cole and CLWA General Manager Matt Stone at Santa Clarita City Hall for the second of four public workshops on the proposed water merger held last year to explain LAFCO’s role.

At that meeting, Stone and Cole stressed the need for public input while Novak explained for 30 minutes how LAFCO would review the merger application and run it through a battery of scrutinizing queries before approving it.

So what happened to LAFCO and the prospect of running the proposal of a brand new water agency “through a battery of scrutinizing queries”?

On Monday, Novak said there are three options for closing the deal. They are by:

– legislation only.

– LAFCO only.

– legislation that includes LAFCO’s involvement.

“We’re recommending that they go with option three, which we call the hybrid option,” Novak told The Signal Monday.

“They (NCWD, CLWA) were considering the three options but in December they went straight for the legislation,” Novak said.

On Dec. 13, 2016, water officials moved to create one unifying water agency when the CLWA and the NCWD entered into a binding settlement agreement towards that end. They voted immediately to draw up legislation to close the deal.

As Senator Wilk and water heads Stone and Cole have pointed out repeatedly in public discussion about the proposed new district – the Santa Clarita Valley Water District – the bill describing it remains a work in progress and is still being fleshed out.

“The creation of the new district requires legislation regardless of the role LAFCO plays,” Cole said Monday. “This is due to the fact that CLWA is a Special Act Agency which was originally created by the legislature.”

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