Katcho Achadjian, North County groups await word on water district bill

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMarch 10, 2014 

State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian said Monday that he expects to have a verbal opinion by no later than next week from the state Office of Legislative Counsel about the legality of a bill he has submitted to help create a water management district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

“That will tell us where to go with this piece of legislation, but the initial indications are that it is not encouraging,” he said.

If the opinion is that the bill is legal, Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, said he will continue to move it through the Legislature. However, if it is not, he will not move it forward, and the bill will die.

Initial indications from the Legislative Counsel’s Office are that the bill might conflict with the state constitution’s equal protection clause. Such clauses ensure that laws treat all persons alike unless there is some substantial reason why they should be treated differently.

David Church, executive officer of the San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission told The Tribune on Friday that “the trend in Sacramento is to move away from boards based on land ownership and toward voter-established boards.”

Achadjian’s bill would create a hybrid board of directors for the proposed water district that would have a mixture of members elected directly by the people of the basin along with those representing property owners of various acreages.

Two water groups backing the formation of a district with a hybrid board say they are waiting to see what the legal opinion is before deciding what to do next. They have a petition ready for LAFCO to begin the process of forming the district but are holding off submitting it until the legal opinion is rendered.

“We consider what we have proposed to be alive and well,” said Jerry Reaugh, president of the group Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions, which represents irrigated agriculture. “At this point it is active, and we are awaiting Office of Legislative Counsel’s opinion on it.”

Susan Harvey with the group North County Watch said she opposes the district as it is proposed. She wants all of the directors to be elected by the voters of the basin rather than the hybrid method proposed.

“For an independent district to be fair and equitable, it would have to be one person, one vote,” she said.

Proponents of the hybrid board of directors say it is the best way to give both residents and property owners a say in managing the district.

“We want to give everyone a seat at the table,” said Sue Luft, president of the group PRO Water Equity, which represents rural residents in the basin. “What we have put out there is the best we can come up with.”

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