County commissioners who last month opposed Senator Scott Wilk’s Senate Bill calling for the creation of one new all-encompassing water district for the SCV because it did not include them, have sent the senator back to the drawing board a second time.
Thursday’s vote opposing the bill and calling for more revisions came despite amendments made to the latest version that spells out their inclusion.
On Wednesday, commissioners that make up the Local Agency Formation Commission for Los Angeles voted to – again – oppose the already amended SB 634 unless it is further amended on four key points, Executive Officer Paul A. Novak of LAFCO told The Signal Thursday.
“There were some very significant concessions made largely addressing our primary concern that there be a role for LAFCO in this process,” Novak said.
LAFCO commissioners voted in March to oppose the bill unless it was amended to include them.
“The commissioners were uncomfortable saying they were changing their position,” he said.
And, although SB 634 was rewritten to include LAFCO, the changes didn’t go far enough for the commission nor were made clear enough for its commissioners to change their position.
According to Novak’s written recommendation to the LAFCO commission Wednesday: “While the amendments to SB634 address several issues raised by LAFCO, staff believes that additional revisions are required before the Commission should consider any change to its current ‘Oppose Unless Amended’ position.”
In the end, the commission followed Novak’s recommendation to oppose SB634 in its current form.
The commission’s decision comes just five days before Wilk’s senate bill moves on to the next legislative committee.
SB 634 is scheduled to be heard Monday, May 15th in the Senate Appropriations Committee. However, it will not be voted on until May 25.
Eileen Ricker, spokeswoman for Senator Wilk told The Signal this week: “As a way for the committee to consider the fiscal impacts of legislation as a whole on the state, the Committee has something called the ‘Suspense File,’ (of which) any legislation with a fiscal impact of $50,000 or more from the General Fund, private funds, or bond funds are put on that file for a later determination.”
“This year’s Suspense Hearing is scheduled for May 25th and that is when the measure will actually get a vote,” she said.
The Santa Clarita Valley Water District Act – SB 634 – is the culmination of two year’s work by two feuding water districts to bury the hatchet and move forward.
On Dec. 13, 2016, water officials moved to create one unifying water agency when SCV’s water wholesaler – the Castaic Lake Water Agency – and one of the valley’s three main water retailers – the Newhall County Water District – 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 Matt Stone and Steve Cole – representing CLWA and NCWD respectively – have pointed out repeatedly in public discussion about the proposed new district, called the Santa Clarita Valley Water District, SB 634 remains a work in progress and is still being fleshed out.
LAFCO wants three principle changes made to the bill which include:
- Dissolve current water retail divisions when debts are paid. “SB 634 should be amended to eliminate the internal retail divisions as soon as CLWA and NCWD’s stranded debt is retired” and not allow them to continue after they’re paid.
- Powers of the new district. Novak noted in his recommendation to the commission that the amended bill is “ambiguous” on the issue of the new District’s power.
“It is imperative,” Novak said. “That SB634 be amended to state, definitively, that LA LAFCO would determine the districts “active and latent powers.”
- Off limits is L.A. County Waterworks District #36; “SB 634 should clarify that CLWA is not authorized to provide retail water service” inside the district’s boundaries which take in Val Verde and some parts of Castaic.
Novak spelled out a fourth concern for LAFCO which essentially amounted to tweaking the bill here and there to remove ambiguity.
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.
“Few technical matters”
Maria Gutzeit and Bob DiPrimio, presidents of NCWD and CLWA boards respectively, issued a joint statement on LAFCO’s Wednesday meeting.
“For the past several months, our two agencies, alongside Senator Wilk, have collaborated very closely with the Commission to address its questions regarding SB 634,” their statement reads.
“As stated in LAFCO’s staff report, its primary concern has been resolved and the bill now establishes a clear role for the Commission. We’ve now moved towards addressing a few technical matters that LAFCO would also like to see addressed.”
However, issues LAFCO identified have not all been resolved, according to the commission.
Still, Gutzeit and DiPrimio concluded: “This is good governance at work. The process takes time, but it will produce a stronger result and we are confident we can earn LAFCO’s support.
“The end goal,” they said. “Remains creating a new water district that saves money for local residents, creates a more accessible government and enhances water management for the Santa Clarita Valley. Collaboration with LAFCO moves us closer to this goal.”
Water officials contend the creation of one SCV water district would generate $14 million of savings in its first 10 years, create a new, more accessible governance structure, enhance environmental and watershed protections, and lead to stronger local water reliability, including the development of recycled water.
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