Communities around the globe — and those as yet undiscovered in the vast reaches of the universe — have their magnificent moments and their testier times. Here in our wonderland by the Pacific Ocean, the drought, drastic water shortages and unsteady local government responses have darkened the otherwise balanced, sunny side of our existence.
The unit sworn to provide solutions to our ongoing water crisis is the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD). There are watchful, informed citizens with a sharp focus on the district’s decision-making process who describe the CCSD as less than fully competent, as poor stewards and flawed fiscal managers.
Over the past couple years — during which the ugly reality of the town potentially running completely out of water loomed large — the CCSD launched a public works project that was to provide water from a desalination plant. Unfortunately, a pending lawsuit contends that the CCSD failed to get the proper permits. (A hearing on May 27 will zero in on the litigants’ legal particulars.)
In 2014, the California Coastal Commission wrote that the desalination project plan “insufficiently identifies the project’s adverse effects” and “is likely to adversely affect coastal wetlands, streams, and sensitive habitat” (quoted from the petitioner, Landwatch).
Very recent events that have stirred an already skeptical Cambria citizenry started with the CCSD raising rates for water and sewer by 116 percent earlier this year.
The board-approved rate increases took effect after opponents failed to gather enough protest signatures to block them.
The new rates have caused a nasty financial hit to every home and business — and yet, remarkably, just eight weeks after residents saw water rates skyrocket, the CCSD proposed raising General Manager Jerry Gruber’s salary and benefits substantially.
That proposal was removed from the CCSD board’s April 28 agenda at the last minute, likely due to citizens’ rage. Nevertheless, the idea of granting Gruber an extraordinarily generous package shortly after a dramatic rate increase appears out of touch with community needs.
Moreover, the proposal’s timing was at best awkward and at worst inept.
I don’t see how they can possibly raise his salary to that degree and not make the rest of us suffer.
Several citizens agreed to go on the record in response to the proposal to raise Gruber’s salary and benefits. (According to one estimate, by the end of the proposed contract, his total compensation increase would stand at 48 percent over nine years.)
“I honestly believe that if Jerry’s workload had increased by 48 percent, then yes, that raise would be fine. If it hasn’t — and I don’t see how it has increased at all — then I don’t know why he would be entitled to a 48 percent increase,” Lyman remarked.
Lyman — who works in radio, has a son in Cambria Grammar school and has been a resident for six years — pointed out that water is very expensive and everyone’s water rates are rising as a result of the drought. “We don’t have enough water for all the people on earth,” she said, “hence it shouldn’t come as a shock when water rates rise.”
But, she added, “When more money is coming out of your pocket every month based on water and sewer … it’s really hard to, on the other hand, see more money going into someone else’s pocket on the receiving end.”
Longtime residentBob Teters, a retired engineer who raises heirloom fruits and avocados, said he was “not overly impressed” by the CCSD’s stewardship on water issues. The CCSD has had “a lack of response to the citizens. They’re responding to their own criteria rather than responding to us,” he said.
“The proposal (to beef up Gruber’s salary) seems to be over the top,” Teters said. “It’s pretty hard to defend that increase when you look at the logic and the size of the community.”
Diane Richardson, a hairstylist and longtime Cambria resident whose son graduated from Coast Union 15 years ago, called the increase in water rates “outrageous.” And the proposed leap in salary for Gruber “hits me hard,” she said. “He should stand on the salary he has. I don’t see how they can possibly raise his salary to that degree and not make the rest of us suffer.”
As Cambria goes through testy, controversial times, it seems appropriate to thank those watchful, informed citizens who keep close tabs on our local government. As renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead explained: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world — indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”
John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at john fitz44 @gmail .com.