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Critical error found in ballots for North County water district special election

An electric powered well services a vineyard near Highway 41 near Shandon.
An electric powered well services a vineyard near Highway 41 near Shandon. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County made a critical error when creating the ballots for the special election currently underway to determine whether landowners around Paso Robles, San Miguel and Creston should form a water district, County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong said Tuesday.

Landowners’ acreage was inaccurate in the ballots created for the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District election, in which each landowner gets one vote per acre owned. In addition, some ownership information was out of date.

The error was due to LAFCO’s use of incorrect data in a program called ParcelQuest for the creation of the ballots, which the Assessor’s Office did not review, according to Assessor Tom Bordonaro Jr. and LAFCO’s Executive Officer David Church who spoke to The Tribune Wednesday.

They said it was a miscommunication between agencies that will be avoided in the future, and noted that the Assessor’s Office is in the process of implementing a new digital program with more accurate data.

Those affected include 143 property owners out of 205, Gong announced at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The largest acreage error was off by 37 on a 210-acre parcel, Church said.

Gong said the election will continue, however, and acreage will be updated to correct the weight of votes given to each landowner. The San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) voted in April to allow landowners of about 38,000 acres east of Paso Robles to move forward with creation of the district.

Ballots were sent out the week of Sept. 18 to vote on whether to form a water agency and to determine who serves on its board of directors. Ballots are due on or before Oct. 17.

Five candidates — Hilary Shirey Graves, Dana M. Merrill, Lee Nesbitt, Jerry Reaugh and Al Webster — are running to fill five seats on the Board of Directors.

Church said the error likely wouldn’t affect the outcome of the election, as all voters signed a petition in favor of forming the water district before county officials considered it in April. Voters were sent a letter informing them of the error and correction, he said.

“It actually becomes a minor correction to what’s out there,” Church said.

The Estrella-El Pomar-Creston district is one of two in the Paso Robles groundwater basin being formed by agricultural communities with the goal of overseeing their own pieces of the underground aquifer. Landowners created their own districts to comply with the state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which went into effect this summer.

Landowners formed the Shandon-San Juan Water District in an area east of Estrella-El Pomar-Creston. LAFCO approved the Shandon-San Juan district in in October 2016, and voters approved it in April. District members held an election to determine its funding mechanism in July.

Those with questions about the election error can call the Clerk-Recorder’s office at 805-781-5228.

Updated for clarification: This story was updated to clarify how the error occurred to reflect information provided by the LAFCO executive officer and the county assessor.

Tribune staff writer Lindsey Holden contributed to this story.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

Karl Luft talks Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, about the impact falling groundwater levels have had on the wells on his Templeton property.

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