‘Cambrians for Change’ meeting draws full house

ktanner@thetribunenews.comNovember 14, 2013 

Nearly 70 people came to listen and vent their frustrations about local water policies Nov. 6 during the first meeting of a loosely formed new group, Cambrians for Change. Organizers expect to schedule a second session in January.

The crowd assembled at the suggestion of Tina Dickason and Jeff Hellman, frequent attendees and speakers at meetings of the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors. The organizers spread the word through phone calls, emails, a letter to the editor and other means.

Nearly 50 people signed an attendance list, which didn’t include all who were in the audience.

After a panel presentation, attendees aired their views about a variety of topics, including disappointment in the present CCSD board; the board’s proposed issuance of intent-to-serve letters (currently on hold) during back-to-back years of drought and being under a moratorium; not addressing the drought situation in a timely and efficient manner; and a lack of solutions to Cambria’s never-ending water woes.

Dennis Ortenburger said he was going to file a complaint about the district with the county Grand Jury. He told The Cambrian Tuesday he expected to have the three-point complaint in the mail by today, Nov. 14, because he feels the district is “punishing residents of Cambria to provide water for tourists,” is breaking state mandates and county codes in how CCSD does business, and is being fiscally irresponsible, especially in paying such top-level salaries and benefits to those serving a town of about 6,000 residents.

If the Grand Jury elects to investigate the allegations, its power is limited to issuing a report to which the district is required to respond, but not necessarily to take any action. Any report would be issued in late spring.

Although many at the Nov. 6 Cambrians for Change meeting already are keeping close tabs on services district operations, the group seemed especially motivated by the district’s Sept. 20 ban on using drinkable water to irrigate outside plantings. That ban was modified Oct. 24 to allow residents with addresses ending in odd numbers to water on Tuesdays, and those with even-number addresses to water on Thursdays.

However, the stricter conservation measures apparently worked: According to a water-production chart CCSD released Nov. 5, the district distributed about 13 acre-feet less potable water in October than in September.

Jim Bahringer, vice president of the CCSD board, attended about an hour of the Nov. 6 meeting. Later, he said he left early so other attendees might feel less constrained about speaking freely.

“I’m a citizen for change, too,” Bahringer said Monday. “I’m open to ideas. I don’t want us to just do nothing. I don’t want, 15 years from now, for people to say ‘why didn’t they do something?’”

The meeting also seemed to be a call for candidates to run for the services district board.
Two CCSD directors (Board President Michael Thompson and Bahringer) are up for election next year, and a third, Muril Clift, is running against Supervisor Bruce Gibson for that county post.

When someone pressured Dickason to run, she said she’d considered it, but “I’d need others with me,” and “I don’t have any expectations about running.”

She also said she has about 1,000 signatures on a petition asking the district to put a stop to issuance of new intent-to-serve letters while the town is still in a water emergency declared in 2001 and currently in a drought.

“Don’t think this town isn’t upset. They are fuming,” she said, and while the petition won’t have any legal clout, “what we have here is 1,000 people who might vote” to recall board members, “and all we need is 1,125” to put the issue on a ballot.

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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