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Sewer rate vote on hold

Board members say they need more information before vote

Posted: May 26, 2009 9:35 p.m.
Updated: May 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Head of the Financial Planning Department at the Sanitation District of Los Angeles County presents his argument Tuesday afternoon at City Hall as the proposed sewer-rate fee increases are displayed in a slide presentation behind him.

There will be no sanitation district rate increase for now. The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District didn't vote on a proposed rate increase Tuesday as scheduled.

Tuesday's public hearing by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District board was to vote on proposed rate hike that would push rates from $14.92 per month for the average homeowner to $47 per month by 2015.

Santa Clarita Mayor Frank Ferry and City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, who make up two-thirds of the Sanitation District board, asked Sanitation District staff to gather more information before they would vote on a rate hike.

"We're not in a hurry to raise taxes," Ferry said.

The Sanitation District's third board member, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Knabe, did not attend the meeting.

Board members present adjourned, with no date set for the next meeting.

The proposed rate hike would pay for upgrades for two SCV sewer treatment plants that currently dump salt-laced water into the Santa Clara River, making it difficult to grow crops downstream in Ventura County, said Steve McGuinn, Sanitation District chief engineer.

In November 2008, the Sanitation District asked residents to support a ballot initiative to ban water softeners and avoid an expensive water treatment project. The ballot initiative banning water softeners, Measure S, passed.

The Sanitation District thought removing water softeners would satisfy the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, a subset of the State Water Resource Control Board, and the chloride standard would be set at a level reachable by just removing water softeners, McGuinn said.

But the Regional Water Quality Board didn't budge on its standards after Measure S passed, forcing the Sanitation District to propose a treatment plan and a rate hike, along with the banned water softeners, McGuinn said.

SCV residents expressed outrage and a sense of betrayal at Tuesday's Sanitation District meeting. Former City Councilman TimBen Boydston cited comments made by State Senator George Runner to summarize his feelings.

"George Runner said it was bait and switch," Boydston said. "But the people in this room feel like they got stabbed in the back."

Water imported from the state water project has chloride levels of more than 70 milligrams per liter, almost at the state-mandated threshold. That fact was not missed by those at Tuesday's meeting.

"Why are we so concerned with our discharged water?" Richard Trimble asked. "We wouldn't have this problem if we had softer water with less minerals, less salt and less calcium."

Trimble suggested the water imported from the state water project should get treated before it enters the SCV and the treatment should be done by the state.

"That would be extremely expensive. You're treating 20 million gallons of water per day instead of 3 million gallons," McGuinn said.
After the public comments, West and Ferry fired questions at the Sanitation District staff. Weste asked what the fines were for noncompliance.

The fines from the State Water Resources Control Board, range between $10,000 and $25,000 per day, McGuinn said.

Ferry said the city is prepared to legally challenge the chloride standards if necessary.


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