Cambrian: Opinion

Consider returning water services to county control

And we now have to ask ourselves, do we really need the CCSD? Is it really of benefit to the community? Or does it create more problems and inequities than it solves?

A brief history: SLO County handled Cambria’s water and sewer needs until 1976. Then, in an election in 1976, the community decided to form its own special district. The argument for this change was that we would be better off with local decision making instead of dealing with the county bureaucracy.

Whether it was idealism or special interests prompting this change I do not know. Probably both. The idea of local control of our water and sewer was appealing. But in reality, even though the CCSD directorships are officially nonpartisan, our board is extremely politicized. As anyone familiar with all levels of politics, anywhere, knows, the dividing lines are always between the land developers/real estate agents/Chamber of Commerce and the people trying to protect the environment and quality of life.

A fair board considers what is best for the community at large, including both business and residents. In my opinion, our board highly favors the for-profit sector and largely ignores doing what is best for the entire community. We have a board member who also served on the Chamber board, a board member with a lot on the waiting list, people on the lot-reduction standing committee with lots on the waiting list, board members with longstanding ties and commitments to business. Our board is not balanced. In my opinion, our board is there to serve the business and development community first and foremost.

We have to look at board actions. We have a board who told us initially during the drought that we could have a temporary portable desal water unit for about $500,000. I was sold! Then the price was what, $2 million? Then it kept on going up. We were told the water was to make sure existing ratepayers would have water during the drought. It was officially called The Emergency Water Supply — EWS. Then one day, to the surprise of a lot of us, the board started building a $13 million water treatment plant. Now, after the plant is built, they are renaming it the Sustainable Water Facility and want to use it for future building. Again, a lot of us were blindsided by the board’s action.

The project was built on the basis of a county permit for an emergency water supply. No state approvals were obtained. In a rush to build the project, actual end product unknown, the board borrowed money from a private bank and severely incumbered the board’s ability to borrow any money in the future. And it hired a private company to do the project with no competitive bids.

Our board, historically, has been infamous for expenses. The amounts that have been spent for lawyers, consultants, lawsuits and specialists are well known. Salaries have been questionable. Our former manager was on a segment on KQED about her outrageous salary around the same time as the City of Bell scandal. Now we have a new manager salary controversy. After widespread criticism, the board hired a “communications officer” or “spin master” to try to enhance its image. And we also have a very expensive lobbyist in Sacramento. Our water bills have only started to escalate!

The mission of the CCSD is to deliver reliable and healthy water, and dispose of sewage. If the county took back the duties of water and sewer, there would be none of the expensive petty politics, no salary scandals, no financial disasters, no need for endless lawyers and consultants. The county would made sure when we turned on our faucet, water, not sand, would come out. And we get a monster beast off our back. We will just get reliable, healthy water and sewage treatment.

If you would like to be on a list of people who support, or want to find out more about this idea, please email me at My phone number is 805-927-1188.

Jeff Hellman is a Cambria resident.