Cambria services district takes next step toward allowing new water connections

ktanner@thetribunenews.comAugust 1, 2013 

Logo of the Cambria Community Services District, founded in 1976.

CAMBRIA COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT

Cambria Community Services District directors unanimously approved July 25 the first reading of ordinance and administrative policy changes that would allow the board to release some intent-to-serve letters for water service so property owners can build, even though an official declaration of water-supply emergency is still in place.

The goal is a “retrofit to build” plan, retrofitting fixtures to reduce water consumption that would compensate for water used in new homes and buildings.

The vote was 4-0, with board President Michael Thompson absent.

The resolution allowing municipal code and administrative policy changes went into effect immediately, including revised lists of acceptable and prohibited water-saving plumbing and fixtures and an equivalency table for assigning retrofit “points.”

The final vote on the ordinance is to be on the district directors Aug. 22 agenda. The release of the first set of letters could also be on the agenda.

It would be some time, though, before any building could begin, as the county will have to loosen its growth cap before building permits would be issued, and any such move would almost certainly be appealed to state Coastal Commission.

The Cambria board also is to get its first official look Aug. 22 at a revised schedule of connection fees. Currently, a property owner who wants to build a single-family home would pay $3,255 for a water connection fee and $2,170 for sewage collection. Those fees are expected to rise dramatically.

The board’s decision on releasing intent to serve letters would most directly affect the 665 property owners on a wait list for single-family homes, a list that’s been closed to additions since 1990. Each landowner needs an intent-to-serve letter before they can get a county permit to build.

Few intent-to-serves have been issued since a previous district board declared the water-supply emergency in 2001 and imposed a moratorium on issuing new water connections. The current board removed the moratorium March 21 but left the emergency declaration in place.

Passionate testimony

The nearly two-hour July 25 hearing included two separate periods when the public could speak out, one before the initial board deliberations and one after. Most of those public comments urged, pleaded or demanded that the board not take the action it ultimately took.

Speakers said much of California is in a drought, water levels are low in the creeks near the town’s municipal wells and many Cambrians already have maxed out their water-conservation opportunities.

Of the nine audience members who spoke, most of them twice, only one said he was in favor of the action the board clearly planned to take, and did.

Dennis Frahmann, Cambria resident since November, said he supports the board’s actions. “Water is really key to the future and economic health,” he said. The district’s “conservation plan is very well thought out … believable” but “we need to make sure it’s verifiable.” He urged directors to base their votes on the town’s economic health, “what’s best for the town as a whole, not just the current residents, but (also) the people who want to live here.”

Some who speak regularly at board meetings, such as Elizabeth Bettenhausen, Mary Webb, Tina Dickason and Jeff Hellman, questioned some fine points — Bettenhausen noted page and paragraph on some issues — and addressed broader concepts, such as if the moratorium has been removed, why does the district’s website still say it’s in force?

“Conservation is not a guaranteed supply of water,” said Dickason. “This is probably the most irresponsible action I’ve seen any board take since I bought a house here in 1997 … You’re setting yourself up bigtime, bigtime.”

Hellman said the district needs “a non-rainy-day fund,” so residents don’t have to squeeze every drop of water they use.

Webb read from a letter citing 18 concerns the board of directors of Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust has about the pending action. The Greenspace board urged the district not to open the wait list and issue new intent-to-serve letters, and asked that the county not allow a change in the town’s growth rate, until those concerns were addressed and milestones met.

Some new to the meetings, or who are there infrequently, also spoke, such as Karen Dean, Susan Shaler, Nancy Anderson and Jean Matulis.

Shaler got up at 3 a.m. to drive from San Diego to attend the meeting. She asked that the district’s well-level charts include rainfall data.

She said, “We’re going into semi-retirement next year, and are on the leading edge of a demographic of people who are going to do that,” a trend that will increase the amount of water used at many retirement or second homes in Cambria.

Matulis, a resident for a dozen years, said that, yes, the district is providing free low-flow showerheads, but that “doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being installed.” She said she’s “very concerned about the water situation.”

Dean said the Cambria home she’s occupied about 10 days a month since 1994 has been fully retrofitted.  “After we’re here fulltime, we’ll use a lot more water,” she said, noting that the district’s water-production rate in recent years may have been skewed by the recession, during which some people weren’t financially able to visit their second homes as often.

Director Gail Robinette, who owns property on the water wait list, addressed conflict of interest accusations, saying a Fair Political Practices Commission opinion she’d received a year ago said there’s no conflict of interest because she doesn’t stand to gain any more from her vote than any other landowner on the wait list. “The financial effect is indistinguishable from ... the effect on the public generally,” Robinette quoted from the letter.

In board discussions, each director explained his or her reasons for supporting the changes.
Muril Clift said, “I have no intention of making the situation any worse than it is … we are not asking you to conserve more (water). We’re asking you to use the most efficient way to do just what you’re doing now.”

Amanda Rice said, “There are lot of things involved in this, and this is just the beginning.”
Robinette said the policies will be “evaluated as we move forward.” She suggested that there be a retrofit wait list for current residents who want to better manage their water. “Nobody is asking anybody to be water starved so somebody can develop.”

In the end, after a couple of board-discussion periods and modifying resolution language about retrofit in-lieu fees, the board’s unanimous vote moved the changes forward to the final action expected Aug. 22.

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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