County commissioners who twice opposed a Senate Bill calling for the creation of one new all-encompassing water district for the Santa Clarita have decided to remain “neutral” on the bill – neither opposing it, nor supporting it.
On Wednesday, commissioners with the Local Agency Formation Commission for Los Angeles – or LA LAFCO – whose job it is to assess and then approve or deny annexations and mergers voted to withdraw its previous “oppose unless amended” position and adopted a “neutral” position, as recommended by LAFCO staffers.
The change of heart came after local water officials from each water agency asked for LAFCO’s support.
“The motion by Commissioner Kathryn Barger, seconded by Commissioner Margaret Finlay, was approved unanimously,” Paul Novak, L.A. LAFCO’s executive director, told The Signal after the vote.
LAFCO decided to withdraw its previous position of “oppose unless amended” since SB 634 was amended to address the agency’s concerns.
However, it decided against outright supporting the bill for two reasons.
One concern hinges on prejudice – that if the bill goes through, LAFCO could be called upon to impose conditions on the merger application farther down the road. Supporting the bill now could be construed as a statement in support of the application.
LAFCO’s fundamental concern about the bill, however, since it was first introduced in February, is that the new district will be created by the Legislature and not by LA LAFCO.
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.
As LAFCO staffers pointed out in their “neutral” recommendation: “The preferred approach to any consolidation of special districts within Los Angeles County would be a more traditional approach, one in which a proposal (or proposals) would be submitted to LAFCO and the Commission – rather than the Legislature or Governor – (who) would determine whether to create the new district.”
News that LAFCO was no longer opposed to the bill was welcomed by Matt Stone, general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency.
“By working with LA LAFCO’s Executive Director, Senator (Scott) Wilk’s office, and others we were able to craft amendments that accomplish this and have resulted in L.A. LAFCO removing their opposition to the bill by a unanimous vote,” Stone said.
“We are pleased we were able to come up with an effective solution to satisfy both of these needs,” he said.
Steve Cole, general manager for the Newhall County Water District, called LAFCO’s decision “a significant achievement.”
County commissioners, who opposed the bill in April because it did not include them, sent it back a second time last month expressly asking for four specific amendments.
And, although the bill was amended according to their demands, it still calls on legislators – not LAFCO – to create the new water district.
Senate Bill 634, called the Santa Clarita Valley Water District Act, was approved by the Senate two weeks ago.
On June 1, the bill saw its first reading in the Assembly and was “held at desk” which typically means it is now awaiting referral to a committee.
On the day it was read in the Assembly, the general manager of each local water agency spearheading the creation of a brand new all-encompassing water district fired off a letter to the commission asking for LAFCO’s support.
The letter signed jointly by Stone and Cole and addressed to LAFCO’s Executive Officer Paul Novak reads: “The Castaic Lake Water Agency and the Newhall County Water District respectfully request that the Local Agency Formation Commission for the County of Los Angeles to change its position on SB 634 from “oppose unless amended” to “support.”
But outright support wasn’t offered Wednesday when members of the Commission met on Temple Street in Los Angeles and weighed the recommendation of its staffers to adopt a “neutral” position instead.
LAFCO’s response was: “in consideration of the amendments to SB 634 and the request from CLWA and NCWD, staff is recommending that the Commission withdraw its ‘oppose unless amended’ position and adopt a ‘neutral’ position.”
The revised bill came close enough to elicit a positive response from water heads but not close enough to clinch the full support of the Commission.
For more than a year, officials with the CLWA and the NCWD – SCV’s water wholesaler and one of its four local water retailers, respectively – have been hammering out details of a merger, eliciting input from the public at four public meetings.
In December, both the CLWA and NCWD signed a settlement agreement calling for legislation to be drafted and submitted.
In February, SB 634 was introduced to create one new all-encompassing water agency that would manage and distribute water throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.
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