Despite last minute opposition expressed by state Democrats coming out against a bill that promises one new all-encompassing water district for the Santa Clarita Valley, the bill was approved Wednesday by the full Assembly.
“Today we are one step closer to the finish line. SB 634 will provide residents of the Santa Clarita Valley with a new, 21st century water agency while providing jobs for local workers and veterans,” the bill’s author, Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) said Wednesday in a news release.
Senate Bill 634 has one final stop before it makes SCV history, when it returns to the Senate for review and approval of final amendments before going to the governor’s desk for his decision.
Senator Kevin de León, who serves as Senate President Pro Tempore, received a letter from members of the California Democratic Party Monday announcing the party had come out against the historic bill in the 11th hour.
“The California Democratic Party Executive Board, after much deliberation, has voted to oppose Senate Bill 634,” stated a letter sent Monday to de Leon by Eric C. Bauman, chair of the California Democratic Party.
The main reason behind the vote of non-support is a fear the bill robs SCV ratepayers of input on key decision-making and that it reduces transparency.
“Our legislation committee voted to oppose the bill out of concern that it will reduce transparency and the ability for the public to have input in deliberations,” CDP spokesman John Vigna told The Signal Monday.
The last minute concerns raised about the bill, however, didn’t stop the Assembly from giving it the green light Wednesday, despite 10 “no votes” opposing it – according to one water official to viewed the proceedings online.
When one of the bill’s key architects heard of the CDP’s position and the letter sent to de León, she was shocked, she said.
Maria Gutzeit, a Democrat and president of the Newhall County Water District board of directors, said she felt compelled to fire off a letter to the party in a bid to set them straight on a few points of discussion.
“This whole (legislative) process has been more nerve-racking to me than my own election,” she told The Signal Wednesday.
Her key concern about the CDP letter opposing the bill was “the lack of effort to engage us and get an understanding of what we are trying to achieve for the community.
“I really enjoyed the depth of questions, and ultimately, understanding from elected officials of both parties in Sacramento. And this never was a partisan issue.”
“Publicly we said, ‘If you have questions, we’ll come to you and talk.’ We did, in the end, have hundreds of meetings with groups and individuals, including friends and neighbors who called us individually.
“I expect organizations that people look to receive information on the pros and cons of issues will make informed decisions,” she told The Signal.
“A few clearly didn’t even want to hear from us and it’s disappointing,” she said. “Things were snuck onto agendas or otherwise not openly discussed. That may be politics but that’s not my kind of politics, and it makes me sad, especially in groups I believe in, with causes I support.
In the months leading up to Wilk authoring and then presenting SB 634 in February, Gutzeit and three other local water officials hammered out the details of the ultimate merger.
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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