It was like a hostage negotiation without hope.
For two hours – plus the 90 minutes they spent in closed session prior to the public meeting – the Sanitation District Board haggled with the issue of chloride in water leaving the Santa Clarita Valley.
The crux of the conflict? The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board stipulates that the water have no more than 100 milligrams of chloride per liter. Curently, water from the Santa Clarita Valley leaves at 117 mg/l.
The Sanitation District officials contend that to achieve this standard, a desalination plant must be built where waters from the Santa Clara River flow into Ventura County and of course, fees must be raised for the planning and design of said plant.
That’s what riled the crowd of nearly 100 people, many of whom spoke up against the rate hike, as well as questioning the arbitrary number set by the federal authorities and executed by state and local boards.
Board members representing the Santa Clarita Valley included Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste and Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean. The trio pleaded the case for negotiating different (lower) rates or fixing the chloride problem before the water arrives in our valley (thus shifting the responsibility back to the state water project).
“We’ve got to clean up the environment without bankrupting the peoplem,” Antonovich said. “This is another unfunded mandate, driving business out of state and creating financial hardships.”
Weste chimed in with a colorful illustration herself. “It’s like condemned people being given the choice between hanging and shooting.”
Sanitation District general manager Stephen Maguin said that noncompliance with the standard would bring fines and penalties far greater than the rate increases. The fines could exceed several million dollars a day.
“We can’t afford those,” McLean said.
Weste reminded the water officials that Santa Clarita virtually eliminated salt-based water softeners two years ago, although she acknowledged a few may still be in use from noncompliant residents.
“I am as frustrated as each and every one of you,” said McLean. “We are at the mercy of a state board that has all the power.”
Fines and penalties are set by the State Water Resources Board, a group of nine regional boards with nine members each, all appointed by and accountable to the Governor.
Despite comments from more than a dozen speakers, which were each addressed by Maguin, the issue seemed at an impasse.
Rate increases proposed for the District are as follows: Current service charge rate per single family home is $16.58 a month ($199 a year). In fiscal 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, the proposed rates are $18.50 per month ($222 per year), $20.50 per month ($246 per year), $22.58 per month (($271 per year) and $24.87 per month ($296 per year) respectively. Owners of multiple dwelling units and commercial properties will be charged in proportion to their use compared to a single family home.
The board voted 3-0 on its only alternative – to approve the mailing of letters to property owners informing them of the rate increases and advising them of their right to file letters of protest.
For more information, go to the County Sanitation District website at www.lacsd.org