Politics & Government

Los Osos CSD candidates focus on water supply, quality, rates

Lou Tornatzky
Lou Tornatzky

Water is the main issue in the well-contested race for three seats on the Los Osos Community Services District. Seven candidates are vying for the four-year seats on the Nov. 4 election.

The election could decide whether the district attempts a buyout of Golden State Water Co., which would roughly double the number of households the district would provide with water.

The new board also may face decisions on further limits to water use due to drought, as well as possibly raising rates to cover water-related infrastructure costs. A rate review study is now underway and is expected to be completed in December.

The candidates are: incumbent Craig Baltimore, physician Peter Bresler, retired environmental planner Charles "Chuck" Cesena, retired CPA Paul Malykont, appointed incumbent and attorney Jon-Erik Storm, casualty claim specialist Keith Swanson, and technology innovation researcher Louis G. Tornatzky.

The seven candidates are vying for seats in a district that operates on an annual budget of about $6 million and provides services including water, fire, parks, street lighting and trash.

Drought issues

In September, the CSD board implemented a progression of water conservation triggers that would go into effect if the groundwater supply dwindles or salt water intrudes into the aquifer. That policy includes financial penalties for households that don’t comply with water restrictions.

At the same September meeting, the board implemented Phase II water restrictions, which limit water usage per household to 174 gallons per day, and allows residents to irrigate landscaping for only 15 minutes on two designated evenings per week. No penalties are associated with Phase II restrictions.

But at Phase III, which can be enacted after April 2015, based on drought levels, water rates would double for households that use more than 150 gallons per day.

Golden State issue

The Los Osos CSD serves about 2,750 customers at the north end of the district including Baywood Park, while Golden State serves 2,700 residents in the south end of Los Osos.

A group called Los Osos Friends of Locally Owned Water (Los Osos FLOW) is organizing a community takeover, through eminent domain, of Golden State Water’s local water service. The move could involve transferring ownership to Los Osos CSD.

Los Osos FLOW claims that Golden State unfairly charges its customers substantially higher rates than the CSD.

Los Osos CSD customers pay $98.75 for 6,000 gallons of water per month, compared with $201 paid by Golden State customers for the same amount.

The Los Osos FLOW group is in the process of gathering the 350 signatures needed from Golden State customers to begin a financial feasibility study, said Naida Simpson, a Los Osos FLOW coordinator.

That study, projected to take about six months to complete, will help the Los Osos CSD board decide whether to buy out Golden State.

Stances on water

Malykont notes in his campaign materials that he supports a financially viable buyout of Golden State, while Storm said he’d take a more cautious approach on any buyout before seeing results of the feasibility study.

While not all candidates weighed in on the Golden State issue, all seven agreed that the district’s water supply is a key issue. The district is now updating its basin management plan, and the several-hundred-page document is due to be completed in December. Baltimore called the update a key tool in future decisions.

Storm said, “Clearly, the most important issue facing the CSD is managing the health of our water basin. Even though the exact connection between the recharge of our aquifer and rainfall is insufficiently understood, the drought conditions can only have made this worse.”

Cesena said the CSD plays a key role in ensuring that saltwater intrusion into the aquifer doesn’t ruin the basin supply, and also should play a role in deciding whether to approve new construction based on the water supply. Once a sewer system now under construction is completed, a building moratorium is expected to be lifted in Los Osos.

“The county issues building permits (for wastewater service) but the CSD and other water purveyors issue the water connections,” Cesena said. “So we should have a say in just what constitutes conclusive evidence of an adequate water supply.”

District finances

Several candidates also put fiscal responsibility at the top of their priority list.

“I also believe that we as board members need to spend a lot of effort in identifying external funds (not from taxpayers) to pursue our agenda,” Tornatzky said. “With the sewer project, the community has benefited from that approach via various successes by the county in securing grants from government entities and the like.”

The district has a balanced budget and moved out of bankruptcy from lingering costs related to planning the new sewer system in the 2000s after the county took over the project.

“That has been a relief because instead of having to deal with the bankruptcy, we’ve been able to focus on other things, including our upcoming rate study,” said district general manager Kathy Kivley.

The water rate study, expected to be completed in December, will help the district assess potential increases for customers. Rate hikes could help pay for costs such as replacing older pipes that contain asbestos.

“Before the LOCSD considers any water rate increase, savings in the operating costs of the district should be part of the equation,” Swanson said.

The district currently has $24.3 million in needed capital improvement costs, including planned fixes to water valves, wells, piping and upgrades to a water operations building. Some candidates also called for constructive leadership for a district that has seen its share of community divide, particularly over construction of the sewer system and, of late, over water usage.

Bresler and Storm also voiced concerns that Los Osos is in need of parks.

“Programs could be developed to attract investors for shared-use parks and commercial space,” Bresler said.

A candidate forum will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at South Bay Community Center, 2180 Palisades Ave. in Los Osos.