Rick Drew: Newhall deserves water vote

Proposed districts if the consolidation of Castaic Lake Water Agency and the Newhall County Water District are finalized via legislation.

Newhall County Water District was formed 60 years ago by a vote of the people. Voters in this district have been voting ever since. I have lived in Canyon Country for 28 years, have water service from this district and have always voted in its elections.

But apparently none of us will have this privilege much longer. We will not be allowed to vote on what is perhaps the most important issue in the water district’s history – whether it will continue to exist and be served by a board elected by us, or rather be dissolved into a huge “new” district, which is essentially the Castaic Lake Water Agency – without our approval.

But what disturbed me the most is the process. These decisions were initiated behind closed doors when they should have been disclosed to the public; and a concerted effort was made to avoid any kind of election or public referendum on the elimination of our water district. This is not democracy.

Some Newhall County Water District board members claim that their election gave them a mandate to do whatever they wanted, including getting rid of the very district they were elected to serve.

However, they never mentioned in any of their campaign literature that this was what they intended to do. Normally, one would not expect that a person running for an office of school board, water district or city council intended to abolish the district.

Just imagine if, after all the hard work to establish the city of Santa Clarita 30 years ago, council members announced they had a mandate to abolish it?

But that is exactly what is going on quietly up in the state Capitol for Newhall County Water District voters. Not only will their district be abolished because certain directors feel they have no obligation to ask the voters, but normal Local Agency Formation Commission reviews will be limited along with voters’ right to referendum such a decision.

These directors also voted to extend their terms by two years for the new agency, so the voters will not even have the opportunity to vote them out of office.

They hope to rush this legislation through so that there cannot even be an election against them.

Some board members claim everyone wants this new giant water agency. They point to a “push” poll answered by only some 540 people out of more than 28,000 voters in our water district.

A “push” poll leads the respondent to the answer desired in the poll by implying certain desirable results will occur while not discussing any undesirable results. So someone who might initially disagree, after being told it will be more efficient or save money, will say “yes.” Of course, who wouldn’t?

But what if it will not save money (which is what happened the last two times Castaic Lake Water took over local retailers), and led to less transparency and voter control?

The savings equal less than 1 percent of CLWA’s annual budget. No one would agree to that. So these problems are not mentioned.

In the Newhall County Water District poll, there was not even a way to say “no.” This goes even further than a push poll – it is obvious manipulation.

It is also obvious that the district did not want to know what its voters really thought; they just wanted a certain answer that they could wave around in Sacramento.

I would like to remind our legislators and City Council who supported this bill that a poll of 540 people is not a vote by the people. That should be obvious after the November election.

I have also heard board members say that an election would be expensive. But our district ratepayers have now spent far more on lobbyists, consultants, attorneys and promotional meetings than an election would cost.

Our ratepayers are being charged hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of their own district, something that no one ever asked to have happen.

So why not just hold an election? I think I have finally figured it out. The board members promoting this would not be able to use taxpayer money to get it accomplished.

By going to Sacramento to get the state to approve legislation and taking it out of local voters’ hands, Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and the water agencies can go around a vote of the people and spend the taxpayers’ money to get it accomplished.

If a simple vote were held by Newhall County Water District whether to dissolve or retain their district, there would be public debate and discussion – as the process should be. The people promoting this unpopular idea would have to come out from behind the scenes and pay for a campaign to promote their side.

It’s time for us to speak up and protect our right to vote before Sacramento takes it away from us. Please write to Sen. Wilk and tell him to drop Senate Bill 634 to merge the Newhall County Water District with the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

Rick Drew is a Canyon Country resident.

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