The Cambrian

Angry Cambria residents confront CCSD board on spending

Tina Dickason and other audience members hold signs protesting Cambria CSD spending and other policies at the May 26 board meeting.
Tina Dickason and other audience members hold signs protesting Cambria CSD spending and other policies at the May 26 board meeting.

Directors of Cambria’s services district board had a lot on the agenda for its May 26 meeting, but some of three dozen or more people in the audience that day apparently had another topic in mind: how the board and district are spending the community’s money.

Several times during the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors meeting, some audience members raised letter-sized signs that showed a faucet dripping coins and the admonition that “Cambrians are tapped out!”

General Manager Jerry Gruber, directors and other staffers responded point by point to most of the comments, but that didn’t seem to reduce the frustration level in the audience.

Several times, Tina Dickason held up a file-box top on which she’d written “Cambrians … Time to change the status quo. Vote them out! Enuf is enuf!” (sic). She said early in the meeting that “we cannot keep going down this road. We need a new board come November, to make sure these people aren’t running this town, because they’re doing a lousy job of it.”

However, longtime Cambria resident Jerry McKinnon thanked the board for “your integrity and your performance.” He spoke of the woes of people who bought property in Cambria “with the intention to build a house,” and whose plans have been on hold since 2001, when the board stopped issuing most new water connections.

“I live on a dirt road,” McKinnon said. “I really don’t look forward to lumber trucks and concrete trucks going down my road, but I believe in the rules … the freedom that some people are trying to block. I don’t think that’s American at all.”

Gruber’s contract

According to testimony from some of the nine people who spoke (some of them several times during the meeting), the “tapped out” signs alluded in part to a previously proposed six-year contract for Gruber. With retroactive raises, the contract would have increased his salary by July 1 to $173,929 (currently $160,808) and to $221,984 by 2020.

We need a new board come November, to make sure these people aren’t running this town, because they’re doing a lousy job of it.

Tina Dickason, Cambria resident

As former CSD director Allan MacKinnon put it, if the directors “acquiesce” to the terms of the contract, the district would then be open to similar requests from other employees. And if Gruber accepts less than had been proposed, “you’ve lost the employee, who will then be looking (elsewhere) for the terms he didn’t get from you.”

MacKinnon called the proposed contract terms “horrendous,” considering the true core responsibilities of the job, which he defined as management of the water and wastewater-treatment departments. The fire department “is essentially autonomous,” he said.

However, Director Jim Bahringer told The Cambrian later that there had been no ultimatum attached to the contract proposal, no pressure from the general manager that “either we approve this contract or we lose Gruber.”

Bahringer said of the earlier negotiations that Gruber had wanted to simplify the process of annual contract negotiations, rolling into one package all the yearly proposals from now until he retires.

I really don’t look forward to lumber trucks and concrete trucks going down my road, but I believe in the rules …

Jerry McKinnon, Cambria resident

The timing of the contract proposal just added to the turmoil: When contract details were released late May 19, ratepayers had just received their first bills calculated with new rates that substantially hiked the district’s charges for water and sewage-treatment.

At the board’s April 28 meeting, the directors delayed their decision on Gruber’s potential contract. Directors held a continued hearing in a May 26 closed session on the topic, and are to hold another one at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 2 in the district offices, 1316 Tamsen Drive, Suite 201.

Other topics

Among other fiscal-impact topics brought up May 26 by speakers during the times when members of the public could comment included a $13 million water-treatment plant designed to augment the town’s supply by filtering and treating a brackish blend of salt, fresh and treated waste water.

Individual speakers brought up environmental studies that will be part of the district’s hoped-for permit to operate the plant whenever it’s deemed necessary, rather than just during water-shortage emergencies for existing customers, among the limitations of the current permit from the county.

Speakers also addressed such subjects as the CSD’s new Buildout Reduction Citizens’ Committee; looming costs for repairs to and upgrading of the wastewater-treatment plant and other “crumbling” infrastructure also were among their concerns.

In other actions on May 26:

▪  The board formally elevated William Hollingsworth to chief of the Cambria Fire Department. He’s been with the department since 1991, and had served as captain/paramedic since 2005.

Hollingsworth was raised in Cambria, and worked previously for the health care district here.

His two-year contract provides an annual salary of $124,908, plus a $100 match per payroll period to the deferred compensation plan, and an annual $1,000 allowance for uniforms and boots. The district will pay costs associated with Department of Motor Vehicles physicals and paramedic reaccreditation. Hollingsworth will use a CCSD-provided vehicle and cellphone, and the district will pay $600 per year for professional dues and publications, plus $3,500 per year for meetings and conferences.

Hollingsworth has begun his new duties, but is to be officially sworn in soon, probably at the board’s June 23 meeting.

▪  Directors heard a presentation on the latest iteration of CCSD’s 2016-17 fiscal year budget, which encompasses nearly $11 million in expected revenues and slightly more than $11 million in expenditures. Of those costs, $4,489,053 worth are for general fund departments of fire, facilities and resources, parks and recreation and administration, $2,532,000 goes toward wastewater-treatment operations and $3,986,053 is for water, including the recently rebranded “sustainable water facility” (formerly known as the emergency water-supply project).

The board is expected to adopt a final budget at its June 23 meeting.

▪  The board was updated on communications with the California Coastal Commission, in response to a May 16 letter to county planning from John Ainsworth, the commission’s acting executive director. In that letter, Ainsworth elaborated on his four reasons for not wanting the county to extend past June 30 the district’s emergency permit for the sustainable water facility.

Gruber read a subsequent email from county planner Airlin Singewald to the commission’s environmental scientist Tom Luster, part of an email thread between Singewald and Luster about CCSD’s permit.

Singewald wrote, “As we discussed on the phone, the emergency CDP (coastal development permit) is not set to expire in June,” because it “does not have an expiration date. It’s valid as long as the district is in a Stage 3 water shortage emergency or until action is taken on the regular CDP.

“The expiration date is for the district to respond” to a letter from the planning department indicating that the district’s application for the full permit is incomplete. “If we were to not issue another extension,” Singewald explained, “the E-CDP would not expire; rather, the district would have to apply for a new regular follow-up CDP.”

▪  Directors held another special meeting May 26 (before the session on Gruber’s contract) to discuss a petitioner’s lawsuit brought against the district’s water project by Landwatch of San Luis Obispo County and the Stanford Law Clinic.

While no final result in that suit was announced during or after a May 27 Superior Court hearing on the legal action, Judge Ginger Garrett had previously issued a tentative ruling on the lawsuit, a seven-page opinion that seems to side with the district.

The ruling concludes “the court is not inclined to grant Landwatch’s request to make a determination that the district is operating the project” in violation of state environmental laws and public doctrine, “or enjoin any further operation of the project.”

Garrett apparently can still modify her tentative ruling, based on what she heard at a May 27 hearing on the case.

Gruber estimated that, as of May 18, the district had spent approximately $217,000 defending itself against the lawsuit.