Here’s What’s Up With Garberville Water
At the opening of the meeting, two members of the public brought forward concerns during the public comment period.
Christine Vogel, who lives outside District boundaries near the Southern Humboldt Community Park, asked what role GSD has to play in monitoring or restricting potable water getting trucked into the Community Park for public events. “How does the district stand about having water trucked into the Southern Humboldt Community Park? I mean it’s your sphere of influence; it’s your place of use, yea?”
GSD General Manager Ralph Emerson said he would need to learn more before he could respond.
Charlie Butterworth, a local landowner with rentals in the GSD, presented the Board copies of a state law enacted in September 2016 that seeks to ease land-use regulations of mother-in-law units. Butterworth simultaneously submitted a request for a change to the District’s ordinance that will require new meters and also new service connection fees for existing properties that add or have already added mother-in-law units.
Butterworth argued that the state law said that new meters weren’t needed. He stated,
All this time since January that we’ve been arguing about … this ordinance… and here this law came into effect in January…. You can turn your house into two. You don’t need any new meters….You can actually put another house on your property without having to put any new meters or any of this…. It seems to me you should have been aware of this.
The law Butterworth referenced is Assembly Bill No. 2299 amending CA Government Code §65852.2 relating to land use. The law is complex and goes on for six pages, but in part it does read in part:
(c) An application for a permit pursuant to this section shall, notwithstanding Section 65901 or 65906 or any local ordinance regulating the issuance of variances or special use permits, be considered ministerially, ….
(d) For the purposes of any fire or life protection ordinance or regulation, a junior accessory dwelling unit shall not be considered a separate or new dwelling unit….
(e) For the purposes of providing service for water, sewer, or power, including a connection fee, a junior accessory dwelling unit shall not be considered a separate or new dwelling unit.
General Manager Ralph Emerson said this law is not new, and that Mr. Butterworth was misinterpreting the rule’s meaning. Emerson said the District may be more restrictive than the state. The Board added the matter to June’s agenda for further review. Readers can find the full language here.
Before the heart of the meeting began, the board pulled the financials from the Consent Agenda. Board packets did not contain a formal financial report for the second month in a row. Acting Administrative Assistant Mary Nieto explained:
We do not have financials, and we have not had financials for two months, because we are in our transitional period, [and we are] trying to make sure before we show everyone the books that it’s correct. We have dates that have transferred over wrong, and we are trying to get those dates correct. And so, it’s just a process we are going through. And so I’m thinking in about a week we should have the financials all squared away.
The way the system was set up by Tina [Stillwell] and the Board, or I’m not sure who started it but, for whatever reason, maybe just to make sure the financials were correct, but they were sent to Jamie Corsetti’s office in Eureka, the accounting firm, to have them checked before they were presented to the Board or to the Manager. It was that way when I got here, which I questioned from the very beginning. But just to make sure they were correct that’s what we allowed to continue happening. I feel we are close to being able to do all that in house…within a couple months to do all of that here. Maybe once a quarter or every six months, have them just checked to be sure, but I don’t want to spend the money on something we can do ourselves.
Administrative Assistant Tina Stillwell is not present to provide institutional memory of why this practice was implemented.
The Board accepted the QuickBooks report in lieu of the finance report.
Reporting to the Board, Emerson states the District will soon receive $60,000 from Measure Z to replace District fire hydrants. The hydrants cost $2,300 apiece and Ralph Emerson says eight hydrants can be replaced with this money. Emerson has not yet responded to a query for information about how the remaining money is used in the project.
New Service Projects
Emerson also told the Board about two Community Credit Union of Southern Humboldt construction projects that require service from the District. Community members may have noticed that this past week, the old house with the stone fireplace on Locust just north of Eric Kirk’s law office, was razed. CCUSH originally purchased the property with the plan of constructing a two-floor building with offices on one level and employee housing on a second level. CCUSH’s current permits for that site allow for three housing units.
Emerson further explained that CCUSH has subsequently acquired the former House of Burgess and is remodeling it into its needed office space. As a result, CCUSH is exploring the option of building more housing units at the Locust Street property.
New service connection fees are $8,000 each and are dedicated to a district’s capital improvements budget. Garberville has very few applications for new service, so the CCUSH projects are important to the District.
Board had several policy items to consider. The Board read two ordinances that affect fees. California law, under Prop 218, says ordinances must have two readings before they can be adopted.
In the first reading of a water ordinance on the re-connection fee, General Manager Ralph Emerson recommends dropping the $25 disconnection fee when a ratepayer is disconnected from service for non-payment and replacing that with a 100$ re-connection fee.
Emerson describes why he believes it’s justified:
A hundred dollars could be a deterrent to doing that because some [customers] have the money but they just don’t do it. They just forget or they’re on vacation and they’re gone for a couple months. And the other reason for that is that it’s a lot of our time having to go back after work hours….so to do that or to come back after [District Operators] are across town doing something else, there’s a cost involved in man-hours.
The Board approved the ordinance and will have a second reading next month and vote on it then. The public comment period on this ordinance closes at that time.
The board clarified that ratepayers can make payment arrangements to avoid service shutoffs in the event of an inability to pay.
A sewer ordinance establishing a discontinuance fee was approved. A discontinuance fee aims to save ratepayers money. The discontinuance fee addresses properties that cannot utilize sewer service for a year or more. Emerson gave the example of a structure destroyed by fire. Previously, District Ordinances said all active service connection accounts had to pay the base rates despite having no water use. Otherwise, the property owner would be abandoning service, which means re-applying for service when the property is ready to be rebuilt and paying a new service connection fee at that time.
Last year, GSD Board adopted a water ordinance enacting an annual fee in lieu of paying the base rate in such circumstances. The sewer ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting mirrors last year’s water ordinance. Tuesday, the Board approved the second reading of this sewer ordinance. The fee was set at $200 a year which is about half the average monthly sewer service bill.
The Board set its Personnel Committee as the District’s Skelly Officer to review contested disciplinary action. This was the second reading of this Ordinance, and it is now adopted. Linda Broderson and Rio Anderson are the current Personnel Committee members.
For background, according to the Skelly Review Officers’ handbook for the Los Angeles Community College District, “in Skelly v. State Personnel Board (1975) 15 Cal.3d 194, the California Supreme Court ruled that as a part of due process, public employees are entitled to certain procedural safeguards before discipline is imposed against them.”
More to Know
Needed follow-up stories include exploring rising water costs for small districts in California and how it will impact low-income ratepayers in the future, and another to learn more about the meaning and impacts of AB 2299 aimed at encouraging secondary rental units as part of a strategy to curb homelessness in California.
GSD held a Strategic Plan workshop with its board members and employees last week. We attended and will bring you a report on the district’s plans for its infrastructure and services.