Senator Henry Stern who has twice abstained from voting on the Senate bill which calls for the creation of a brand new water district in the Santa Clarita Valley, wants the water bill to assure SCV residents there’s no skullduggery afoot.
Specifically, Stern wants Senate Bill 634 to contain clear language addressing Valencia Water Company’s relationship with the Newhall Ranch development project and its new role in the proposed new water agency.
Stern was one of six senators who did not participate in Wednesday’s Senate vote on SB 634. He chose, instead, to abstain.
Senator Robert Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, also abstained from the Senate vote Wednesday. Hertzberg voted in favor of the SB 634 at two prior committee hearings.
Speaking to The Signal about his reservations, Stern said Thursday – and again Friday – that he wants more transparency in SB 634.
“I still had too many concerns to vote for the bill including insufficient transparency around the Valencia Water Company merger,” he said.
“I feel that the people of the Santa Clarita Valley need more assurance that this bill won’t tip the scales or end-around existing water and environmental reviews of new land developments.”
Wednesday was not the first time, Stern chose not to vote on SB 634.
Stern, who serves on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water which reviewed the bill in March, chose not to vote on the bill at that time after having expressed concerns about it.
State staffers for the committee prepared a report which pointed out: “The bill is largely silent on the other two retail water suppliers (Valencia Water Co. and Los Angeles County Waterworks District #36) within the new district’s boundaries.”
In the days after Wednesday’s Senate vote, Stern remains firm on his call for transparency.
“I want them to address this notion shared by some which implies there’s a thumb on the scales with this new proposal,” Stern said Friday.
“Somehow, there’s this notion of prejudice over Newhall Ranch out there,” Stern said, referring to the massive development plan to build 21,000 homes between Interstate 5 and the Ventura County line.
“It’s not explicit,” Stern said. “But, somehow there’s a concern the bill would make that (Newhall Ranch project) easier.”
Stern remains optimistic, however.
“This is a solvable problem in the legislation,” he said.
“The goals in this bill are on the money,” Stern said, pointing out the benefit of the new water district putting water recycling projects in place.
“In the meantime, we’ve got to put that development issue to bed,” he said, referring to Newhall Ranch.
Before Castaic Lake took over Valencia Water by buying up its stock in December 2012, the water retailer, founded in 1965, belonged to Newhall Land Development Inc.
Stern became familiar with the workings of Valencia Water Company when he researched water issues for Senator Fran Pavley – a time, he said, when the water retailer was owned by Newhall Land which received permission from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to build 21,000 Newhall Ranch homes.
The Castaic Lake Water Agency purchased controlling shares of the Valencia Water Company in December 2012.
Environmentalists sued the Castaic Lake Water Agency challenging the purchase, so did SCV water retailer the Newhall County Water District.
In December 2016, CLWA and NCWD agreed to stop their feuding and to bury the hatchet, by signing a settlement agreement which called for immediately drawing up a legislative bill that would seal the deal, complete the merger and create one all-encompassing water district.
Since the CLWA acquired controlling shares of Valencia Water Company, the investor-owned water retailer has paid quarterly stock dividends of $199,745 to the water wholesaler by way of bank transfers.
At least $2.79 million has been paid to Castaic Lake in dividends by Valencia Water since January 2013.
Asked how they could allay Stern’s concerns that SB 634 lacks transparency on the issue of Valencia Water Company, NCWD General Manager Steve Cole said: “We look forward to continuing our discussions with Senator Stern and others on SB 634.”
“This process,” Cole said. “Is about getting it right for the Santa Clarita Valley and we look forward to earning his support.
On Twitter @jamesarthurholt