Over the Hill

Vote ‘yes’ on Paso Robles groundwater district to keep management local

A vineyard east of Paso Robles near Highway 46 begins to leaf out as unirrigated hillsides dry out in April 2015.
A vineyard east of Paso Robles near Highway 46 begins to leaf out as unirrigated hillsides dry out in April 2015. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

CORRECTION: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that landowners voting on whether to form the Paso Robles groundwater district have one vote for each acre they own. In fact, each landowner has one vote, no matter how much acreage they own.

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The election to form the Paso Robles Basin Water District has some people confused. They aren’t sure what “yes” would really mean if they mark it on their ballots. A few called and emailed me about it.

They want to know for sure whether “yes” would mean “for” or “against” the water district. Ballots can be confusing. So can the arguments of opponents and proponents.

The mail election is proceeding right now on whether an independent district should be formed to manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin. The water level in the basin is steadily declining. We are pumping out more water than our rains can replace.

Many voters want to halt the basin’s shrinkage, but they worry that they might mark their ballots wrong. They aren’t sure what “yes” will mean. Will it mean, “Yes, form the district”? Or could it mean something like, “Yes, everything is OK, keep it the way it is”?

I can understand their confusion. It’s a complicated issue. And we reporters and columnists who write about elections often say “vote in favor of” instead of a “yes” vote.

The plainest answer I could find for those worried people is in a San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission report dated Nov. 19, 2015. It says, “A ‘yes’ vote on this measure is a vote to form the Paso Robles Basin Water District. A ‘no’ vote on this measure is a vote against forming the Paso Robles Basin Water District.”

So if you want the district to be formed, vote “yes” on Measure A-16 on your ballot. It would impose a tax to pay for running the district. Also vote “yes” on Measure B-16 on your ballot. It would authorize the actual formation of the Paso Robles Basin Water District. That’s simple enough.

 

But then it gets complicated. The tax measure is being voted on by the registered voters in the district. To pass, it must get “yes” votes from two-thirds of the voters who vote. But the measure to authorize the actual forming of the district is being voted on by the property owners of the district.

But if either ballot measure fails to get the required votes, the district won’t be formed. The county would then take over the basin management, and if it didn’t do it, the state would.

But if the voters do cast the required numbers of “yes” votes, the district will be governed by a locally elected nine-member board of directors. Three directors would be elected by the district’s registered voters. The other six would be elected by district property owners. Large-property owners would elect two, medium-property owners would elect two and small-property owners would elect two.

I can’t vote in this basin election. I live outside the proposed district’s boundaries. But if I could, I’d vote “yes” for measures A and B. I think the basin’s best hope is local management.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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