Cambria’s services district received a valuable piece of good news Thursday, Dec. 17, with a check for 4.16 million that will go toward the $12.9 million cost of the Sustainable Water Facility.
The money, which the CCSD announced Thursday that it had received, represents 95 percent of a $4.38 million state grant to cover part of the cost of the Sustainable Water Facility, or SWF — formerly known as the Emergency Water Supply Project.
The rest of the grant will be paid when all elements of the project are certified as complete, a CCSD news release said. Robinette accepted a check on behalf of the board from Dean Florez of Balance Public Relations during the meeting.
Still, even with this welcome development, the facility continued to help generate disagreement — although it wasn’t the direct cause of it.
Thursday’s disagreement came early in the meeting when the board turned to its election of officers for 2016. Instead of rotating officers, as had been the custom most years, newly appointed Director Greg Sanders moved to retain the current officers — President Gail Robinette and Vice President Mike Thompson — in their positions for another year.
Sanders pointed to a desire for continuity as the district seeks to convert the emergency permit issued by the county — allowing the plant to operate during drought conditions — into a Coastal Development Permit that would allow it to operate on a more permanent basis.
“The district is near a very, very critical juncture,” Sanders said, adding that “2016 is going to be, no pun intended, a watershed year for the district. The same set of circumstances arose when I previously served on the board (from 2002 to 2010): For the sake of continuity … the decision was made to retain the same leadership for two successive years.”
Thompson seconded Sanders’ motion, and the board voted 3-1, with Director Jim Bahringer absent, to approve it.
The dissenting vote came from Amanda Rice, who would have been due to assume a leadership position on the board under the normal rotation. Rice was elected to the board in 2012, when she received the largest number of votes cast, ahead of Robinette (then an appointed incumbent) and then-incumbent Muril Clift, who recently resigned.
Since that time, Rice has been the only member to serve on the current board — with the exception of Sanders, who was just appointed last month — not to serve in a leadership position. Before the vote on Sanders’ motion, Rice said, “I strongly disagree,” adding that the people who elected her to office deserved to have their voices represented on the board’s leadership.
In my desire to serve as a team player, I forgot the team is actually the whole town of Cambria and not just the people sitting up here.
Amanda Rice, CCSD director
“In my desire to serve as a team player, I forgot the team is actually the whole town of Cambria and not just the people sitting up here,” she said. “I would really appreciate an explanation as to why I’ve been passed over again, because I really don’t think it’s good for the team — and the team is the entire town, not just us.”
Sanders replied that his motion was “nothing personal” adding, “It’s a relationship-driven process, and I know that both President Robinette and Vice President Thompson have developed relationships” with those involved in the permitting process. He said he made his motion “so that we don’t waste time with the development of new relationships and so there’s continuity from one year to the next.”
Rice, however, said she had, in fact, developed relationships with many of the people involved in that process and questioned the assumption that electing her to a leadership position would disrupt the board’s continuity in pursuing a permanent permit for the SWF — which she joked reminded her of the phrase “single white female.”
Some members of the audience also objected to the move, with Tina Dickason saying it was “grossly unfair that she (Rice) has been bypassed.”
Christina Tobin, 34 and a Cambria resident for three years, said, “Transparency and accountability in the board does appear to be something that seems to be lacking,” Tobin said. “I do think it was very, very wrong for Miss Amanda Rice not to be appointed.”
Tobin introduced herself as founder and chair of the Free & Equal Elections Foundation, a national activist group that works for election reform and voters’ rights.
Also discussed at Thursday’s meeting was the recent extension of a deadline to protest proposed increases in water and sewage-treatment fees to Feb. 12. The extension was needed because incorrect ZIP codes were contained in notices sent to ratepayers Nov. 13. The original deadline was Dec. 29.
“Everyone is sorry that the ZIP codes got messed around, there’s no question about that,” Robinette said.
District General Manager Jerry Gruber pointed out that “everybody now has an additional 45 days (to consider whether to file a protest letter). It’s now a 90-day Prop. 218 notice.”
Under that proposition, it takes 50 percent plus one of parcels in the district to protest the proposed increases in order to keep them from taking effect. The CCSD board approved the increases in early November.
The CCSD has said money raised through the proposed increase in water rates will not be used to fund the SWF, for which ratepayers are paying separate fees.
In other business, the board revisited an offer of $396,000 over two years to hire and retain additional firefighters under a federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant. Because the grant did not supply enough money to hire three firefighters, the district was left with three choices, outlined by Battalion Chief Eric Shalhoob at the meeting:
Hire three firefighters by making up the difference using about $7,500 in district funds, which would allow for 100 percent of recommended coverage (four firefighters on an engine). This would allow the district to meet staffing requirements laid down by National Fire Protection Association and Occupational Safety and Health Administration most of the time.
▪ Hire two firefighters at 86 percent of engineers’ salaries, which would allow for 66 percent of NFPA and OSHA coverage: Two of three shifts would have four personnel on the engine.
▪ Hire one firefighter, which would allow for 33 percent of NFPA/OSHA coverage.
▪ In the end, the board was persuaded by arguments for the need to provide the highest level of coverage and approved the first option on a 4-0 vote.
The board also:
▪ Voted unanimously to reappoint Steve Kniffen and Adolph Atencio to the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission for a four-year term.
▪ Set the calendar of meeting dates for the coming year. Rice suggested moving at least some meeting dates to late afternoons or evenings so more people could attend, and audience member Tobin also spoke in favor of such a move. Because such a change would require amending the district bylaws, any potential action was deferred to a later date.