The Cambrian

Supervisors’ groundwater payment plan draws opposition

After county supervisors heard hours of sharply differing public testimony Tuesday, April 4, their split 3-2 vote on groundwater management in some unincorporated areas reinstated the board’s original March 7 decision: The $6.1 million to $8.6 million cost to manage those five basins will be paid by all county taxpayers from the county’s general fund.

Supporters and the board majority said the county needs to take responsibility to prevent the state from taking over groundwater management under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Opponents — including supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill, former supervisor Shirley Bianchi and the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors — disagreed with forcing people who are already (or will be) paying to manage groundwater in their own areas to subsidize groundwater management for people in other areas.

The supervisors also voted 3-2 to not launch an investigation into whether the public had been left out of the original decisionmaking process.

The CSD’s decision

At a special meeting March 30, CCSD directors had unanimously opposed using general fund monies to manage five groundwater basins, including the large Paso Robles basin (and Atascadero subbasin).

Board Vice President Greg Sanders had brought the issue to his peers’ attention March 23. Board President Amanda Rice scheduled the special meeting so they could consider the letter drafted by Sanders (who is an attorney) and reviewed by district counsel.

“It’s clear we should weigh in on this,” Sanders said. “It does affect our taxpayers.”

Normally, he said, such an issue would require that the taxpayers be allowed to vote on the expenditure.

It’s clear we should weigh in on this. It does affect our taxpayers.

Greg Sanders, CCSD board vice president

The CSD directors heard from Cambrian Betty Swirk, who had told county supervisors March 23 that she opposes having all county taxpayers pay to manage groundwater in areas other than their own. She told the supervisors if that was what was going to happen, she was submitting her own CCSD water bill to the county for payment.

The CSD directors relayed their opposition in a letter to the supervisors.

In other CSD action during the 40-minute meeting March 30:

▪  Directors unanimously tasked its fire ad hoc committee (directors Sanders and Michael Thompson) with responding to the county grand jury ’s March 24 follow-up report, “Is It Five Minutes to Midnight in Cambria: An Update on the Risk of Catastrophic Fire.”

General Manager Jerry Gruber and several directors noted that they were pleased with the report, because it acknowledges many of the fire-preparedness actions the CSD has taken since the 2014-15 jury released two reports on emergency and fire risks and services in Cambria.

▪  The board also unanimously designated three district officials to serve as agents in CSD dealings with the Office of Emergency Services. The district is applying for federal, state and/or county reimbursement — under disaster designations by the president, governor and county supervisors — for CSD expenses to repair district damage caused by early 2017 storms.