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Diana Shaw: There is salt on Cameron Smyth’s tale

Democratic Voices

Posted: July 19, 2010 8:39 p.m.
Updated: July 19, 2010 8:39 p.m.

It was nice to read last week that Assemblyman Cameron Smyth is finally sharing his concerns about our purported salty water (“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” July 13). As he noted, “the staff of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board want ratepayers to swallow a 50 percent increase in our sewage rates in order to pay for the environmental review and design of a new $210 million treatment facility. That doesn’t cover the construction costs or operations budget.”

Smyth’s pointed comments aimed at the harried Sanitation District staff conveniently overlook the crucial involvement of the SCV Sanitation District Board, to whom the staff reports. The SCV Sanitation District has a three-member board that consists of the Santa Clarita mayor and mayor pro-tem plus one Los Angeles County Supervisor. Smyth knows the difference between the board and the staff, because he sat on the board while he was Santa Clarita’s mayor.

In fact, when Smyth left us in 2006, he knew that those who remained on the City Council would be dealing with this problem. A Feb. 22, 2003, Daily News article quoted Smyth as saying that paying for a water-treatment facility “should be the absolute last resort and all other options need to be exhausted before that tax is even considered.”

Fortunately for Smyth, he was not a signatory to the 2008 agreement that led to our $210 million obligation. Rather, during the period that the agreement was negotiated, City Council members Marsha McLean, Laurene Weste and  Bob Kellar served on the Sanitation District Board. 

What has me scratching my head is why those players, who each occupy leadership positions today, act like they’ve been caught off guard by the events that are hell-bent on boring holes in our wallets.

And I can’t figure out why Smyth, who has been aware of this problem for many years, wasn’t working with our current City Council members who sat on the Sanitation Board over the years.

In his column, Smyth wrote that he understands the plight of the strawberry and avocado farmers. Maybe that’s where the problem lies. Frankly, most Santa Clarita Valley residents in the know don’t understand the farmers’ plight one bit. Or rather, they are of the opinion that the “plight” isn’t exactly as described. They wonder whether the salt that purportedly affects the strawberries and avocados is coming from the Pacific Ocean, the waves of which lap so close to the affected fields.

They question how the Regional Water Quality Board, peopled by agricultural interests, could draw such sweepingly expensive conclusions when there was no testing to determine whether our water was indeed affecting those downstream crops. They ask whether more salt-resistant avocado varieties might be a better solution. And they want to know how the farmers can be cheering about this year’s bumper strawberry crop as reported in the Daily News, if our water has created a “plight.”

It is a little late in the game, but it is nice to note that Smyth has some ideas about how to fix our problem. He suggests that our Sanitation District should put pressure on its upstream counterparts to reduce the chloride being dumped into their water. It isn’t clear to me what kind of leverage our Sanitation District has.

This is not the time to be coy, and I wish the assemblyman would come out and tell us how our Sanitation District is supposed to accomplish this feat. Even more so, I wish that there had been some back and forth communication between the Smyth and the Sanitation District Board in 2008 before this unfair agreement was negotiated.

I understand business as usual in Sacramento sometimes means representatives sit with their doors open waiting for lobbyists and special interests to draft legislation. I don’t like it, but the San Jose Mercury News reported these kinds of “sponsored” bills comprised 60 percent of the legislation that becomes law.

So when Smyth says to the members of the Sanitation District that if they need legislation to make their upstream counterparts reduce the amount of chloride they put in the water we use “my door is always open,” he’s confirming that this is indeed how he does business.

It’s a shame, really, because if the lines of communication had been open, if the sanitation board members had contacted their old comrade for help, or if Smyth had shown some initiative and leadership on this subject before this crazy agreement was finalized, maybe we could have averted our crisis.

Diana Shaw is a Saugus resident and is the Democratic candidate, running to represent the 38th Assembly District. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.


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