Elect New Members for Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District
By France Komoroske, resident of Santa Ynez
It’s time to do something about the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1. This is the water board that recently increased the base pay of its general manager to $230,665 despite the fact it’s a small district with only 15 employees, a few thousand customers, and a budget of $8.7 million. In contrast, County Sheriff Bill Brown’s base pay is $207,348, yet he supervises 600 employees and 150 volunteers, serves a population of 443,000, and has a budget of $138.5 million. On top of his base pay, the water board’s general manager (who lives in Santa Barbara) enjoys other financial benefits which increase his total compensation to what is believed to be around $300,000. It is also believed that he has negotiated a contract with the board which makes it all but impossible to fire him.
This is the same water board that raised the rates of Ballard’s Oak Hill Cemetery 560% in April, forcing it to drill a private well for $100,000, which many of the water board’s other customers are also doing. In 2103 this board imposed a secret 40% rate hike disguised as a 10% revenue increase that was based on a faulty study. And the last time the grand jury looked into the board, it issued a scathing report, finding a lack of transparency, a failure to inform the public about its machinations to expand its powers and to escape any oversight by pushing for legislation known as AB 2686, and wasting $328,000 of public funds in its failed, secret attempt to get AB 2686 adopted. When a local activist looked into these activities, the general manager of the water district filed a false police report against him. Little, if anything, has changed at the water board since the grand jury report was issued.
The grand jury report also noted that an apathetic public made little effort to hold the elected board members accountable or to seek election to the board, and concluded that a more involved citizenry was needed. Unfortunately, that public apathy remains, as do complaints about the water board, which operates under a siege mentality in dealing with its customers.
Three of the five seats on the water board are up for election this November. Those of us in the valley who have had enough are asking for candidates to come forward before the August 10 deadline to run for a seat on the water board. You don’t have to be an ID1 customer to run for the board, which means residents of Solvang may be eligible for the open seats in Divisions 2 and 3.
We’re also asking everyone within the water board’s jurisdiction to vote in the November general election. We are hoping that a new board can come in and solve some of the problems created by the old board, and look with fresh eyes at the issues facing the board. We need to take back our water board and make it responsive to the concerns of the public while conserving and fairly allocating our scarce and precious water. Enough is enough.