Fishy Business in the San Lorenzo Valley Water District
|By Jenna Moore|
|Thursday, 22 May 2003 16:00|
The San Lorenzo Valley Water District exceeds jurisdiction to promote water programs opposed to local public interest.
Redwood Review – May 2003
On April 17th the San Lorenzo Valley Water District held a board meeting to discuss the approval of an education program that has been developing over the last five years. While the Board voiced unanimous favor for the well-polished proposal, members of the community present at the meeting did not display the same support.
Apprehension over the proposed education program has been building since its inception in 1998 during discussions regarding the disposition of the District’s Waterman Gap Property, which was sold in 2000 to Sempervirens Fund Inc. for $10 million.
While the Board claims to have “developed a consensus…to investigate development of a San Lorenzo Valley Water District Education Program,” many members of the community have a different recollection of the events.
According to Lisa Rudnick who worked on the citizen’s advisory committee established to study the Waterman Gap property, “the mention of future educational opportunities was always discussed in the context of the property being retained and managed.”
While a petition was submitted by the community against the sale of the property, “The will of the citizens of this water district was ignored through the petition process, where a sufficient quantity of signatures were gathered, yet because many of these residents have post office boxes rather than street addresses their signatures were not honored.”
Janet Laidlaw, another community member, voiced her displeasure to the Board with how they handled the sale, “We could have kept the property and had $19 million that Big Creek logging would have paid to clear out the fire hazard from the overgrowth…instead it was sold for 10 million, we lost the land, and the fire danger still exists. Also, the educational part of the program was going to be done on that land but now you’re only going to give a little money back to the community while you choose who gets the grants.”
According to the mission statement, the goal of the education program is “to provide funding for educational and other projects that enhance the understanding of the San Lorenzo River Watershed environment or improve the San Lorenzo Watershed’s environmental health.”
The document continues by inviting “proposals from individual students, teacher groups and organizations for grant funding.”
During the meeting several members voiced their concern that this education program is in direct violation of the California Water Code.
According to Code 375, “Any public entity which supplies water…for the benefit of persons within the service area may adopt and enforce a water conservation program to reduce the quantity of water used…for the purpose of conserving the water supplies of the public entity.”
In other words, the Water Board is restricted to only providing water-based conservation services and programs, a limitation that does not appear to be maintained in the proposed education program’s broad statement to fund “environmental restoration and enhancement projects.”
One proposal already submitted to the Board from the Valley Women’s Club includes requests for the funding of “movies, art shows and ballets about reducing pollution and waste, the distribution of a food composter in every community, the provision to folks considering small-scale logging…urging them not to log, and working to get this recorded in their deeds with a penalty for those who cut the trees anyway.”
If the board adheres to Code 375, these requests will have to be declined.
Furthermore, according to the California Water Code 243 (6), “Upon annexation of…the territory of any water district by municipality, any and all sums paid in the purchase of the district’s property shall be used to pay the bonds of the district, if any, and the remainder, if any, distributed to persons owning realty within the district.”
Code 243 goes on to “prohibit the granting of public money or property to any private person, association, or corporation.”
This presents a conflict with the decision by the Board to fund the education program with the annual interest earned by 10 percent of the $10 million received from the sale of the Waterman Gap public property, an amount equal to about $60,000 per year.
In an attempt to bypass this issue, Chairman of the Board Jim Raposa stated, “I don’t see how the funding for this program is necessarily tied to the sale of the Waterman Gap Property, it’s really just another general budget item, and it’s only a small amount of money”
Pat Dugan disagreed stating, “[The Board is] going outside the codes that regulate water districts. The comment that this is just a small amount of money is true, but it’s not your money, it’s ours. You are not allowed to give away our money to someone applying for a grant or a scholarship.”
He also objected to the fact that the money is being given away while many people in the community are suffering from aging water systems. “We still have people with pipes to fix, and fire hydrants that don’t put out enough pressure. Use the money where you’re supposed to.”
Complaints have been brought to the Board since January yet this side of the public opinion has not always been considered. Rather than advertising a public meeting to gain input regarding what kind of conservation program the community would prefer, invitations were sent to specific individuals and organizations (including the Valley Women’s Club, and the Sierra Club) for a January 9th special meeting.
According to Lisa Rudnick, “One SLVWD board member stated that there was no need to advertise to the public, since most members to be chosen for the conservation commission, (the group chosen to formulate the guidelines for the program) were most likely present.”
Another community member, Ed Rudnick, stated, “At the follow-up meeting a 10:1 ratio of naysayers was unable to convince a rudely behaved board to change its mind.”
Of the five-member conservation commission selected, only two are actually ratepayers within the district, with three members standing to have their organization or school gain financially. The other two members are neighbors of the director who appointed them.
As Mrs. Rudnick points out, “One of the members is a professional grant writer for a 501(c)3 organization who campaigned heavily for the elected board and is the main group lobbying the water board to set up this slush fund to earn their political kickbacks.”
“Half the SLVWD board of directors are very active members of the Valley Women’s Club, NRDC (the legal arm of the Sierra Club), Citizens for Responsible Forest Management (CRFM) and other political groups which campaigned heavily for these board members to be elected.”
Along with the possible favoring of certain community groups over others, many people voiced their concern that this education program is merely a symptom of a deeper underlying issue.
Michael Shaw believes that the purpose behind this education program is to further ideas of sustainable development which he sees as the political arm behind the implementation of Agenda 21 in communities across the globe.
According to Shaw, “Sustainable development is a concept that came out of the Rio accords of 1992 obligating the federal government to implement a program which has as its purpose the elimination of private property and consequently the freedoms that private property supports.”
Many water districts are already implementing programs of controlling development through water conservation programs. Shaw believes this program is “not based on true science but on the idea that fish are more important than people. You control the water, you control the people.”
One resident present at the meeting, Joe Perneyski, was concerned that symptoms he’s seen in the community are reminiscent of what he experienced in Communist Hungary.
“What this Agenda 21 really does is it concentrates the world’s wealth into the hands of a few unscrupulous devils. These rich bums find out that through environmentalism or saving the fish, they can use you as a useful idiot to get what they want. Just like under communism, people get fooled by these ideas, and then at the end these big haunchos go on public land, managed by public money for their nice deer hunting expeditions and the public was excluded. You could not go there but they could.”
The Waterman Gap property will soon be merged with Castle Rock State Park, which has a ‘wilderness’ designation, where roads and humans are prohibited. Castle Rock State Park is currently on the U.N. List of Protected Areas meaning these properties are no longer under local control.
The Board of Directors will meet for final approval of the proposed educational program on June 5th, 2003. The meeting will be held at 13057 Highway 9 in downtown Boulder Creek.
This article republished in Advance Bulletin with permission from Redwood Review, May 2003 issue.