The landscape facing the next Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors has some significant changes from the last election two years ago.
The district has a new general manager. There’s more cooperation, even partnerships, with other agencies and nonprofit groups, including with the Cambria Community Healthcare District. There are longer office hours in which customers can contact district officials, and members of the public say they’re finding a friendlier, more open and helpful attitude there.
Something else is new. After decades of studies, workshops and investigations, and millions of dollars invested, the district still doesn’t have an additional source of water to supplement its supply during dry summer months and droughts. What’s changed is the emphasis on a desalination plant as the leading candidate to supplement the district water supply.
Previous plans to draw ocean water from near Santa Rosa or San Simeon creeks have been largely shelved due to repeated regulatory denials. The focus of ongoing studies has turned now to using brackish water drawn from district well fields near San Simeon Creek, or possibly off-stream water storage near San Simeon or at Whale Rock Reservoir or recycling at the San Simeon Community Services District as a new water source.
Also on the table is creating “new” water by using less: water conservation.
As the options are considered, district watchdogs say, while they still have concerns about specific CCSD-related topics, the general relationship between them and the district is much more cordial, and generally more productive.
Many, including district directors, give credit for the change in atmosphere to General Manager Jerry Gruber, whose upbeat, obliging attitude appears to have filtered down through the ranks since he took the top post on April 30, 2011, when previous manager Tammy Rudock was fired by the board.
Board President Allan MacKinnon said the change “in how we do business with the community and the new sense of community relations” brought by Gruber are among the district’s best accomplishments in the past two years. “No longer does CCSD have a ‘siege mentality.’ Doors are opened, phones are answered and staff is encouraged to participate in community events. It is gratifying to hear the many compliments staff receives for their work,” and the “cooperative arrangement between CCSD and the healthcare district” is another plus, he said.
MacKinnon also listed “CCSD living within its means,” thanks to “fiscal constraint,” trimming staff, reduced pension costs and closely monitored operating expenses.
Other issues still remain unresolved. Chief among them is the district’s water-emergency declaration in November 2001, and a district-wide moratorium on nearly all new water connections in place since then.
That’s kept on hold the homebuilding plans of more than 660 customers on the district’s water-wait list — which also deprived the district of water connection fees to hookup to the district’s water and sewer systems, and would also grow the on-going customer base and revenue stream.
With current customers using less water, the district is on its way toward meeting strict new state water-conservation regulations, which require a 20 percent cut in water use by 2020. But less water sales means less money in district coffers to pay expenses, including upkeep of equipment and facilities.
The current board wants to capitalize on the lower water consumption by allowing the issuance of “a few” intent-to-serve letters annually, while somehow technically keeping the moratorium in place.
The terms of the two CCSD directors elected in 2010, Jim Bahringer and Michael Thompson, run through 2014. The other three seats are up for election.
Incumbent Allan MacKinnon chose not to run again. The six candidates are incumbents Muril Clift, appointed in March 2008 and elected that fall; and Gail Robinette, appointed in December 2011; and challengers Tom Gray, a writer and marketing consultant who is currently chairman of the North Coast Advisory Council (NCAC); Kim McDaniel, retired, who writes for www.freeslo.com; Mike McLaughlin, a retired attorney; and Amanda Rice, businesswoman, former NCAC chairman and current member.