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The faces behind the fines

Posted: August 28, 2010 10:24 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Jeanette Lombardo

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 Santa Clarita Valley has a chance to control its own water destiny this fall when most of the seats on the ruling water board come up for grabs.

In November, five of the nine seats on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board will be vacant.

Three seats are empty right now, and the terms of two more positions expire in October.

This means the face and character of the board is yet to be defined.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger picks those people personally, choosing from candidates who submit applications online or by regular mail. In November, the newly elected governor will choose.

How many apply?

“The numbers vary, but on average, we get about a few dozen for each board,” said Matt Connelly, spokesman for the Office of the Governor.

Decisions coming out of the board directly affect the people of Santa Clarita Valley. However, no one on the board is from here, or even necessarily has a personal stake in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Fear of fines
The topic of Santa Clara River water quality has become a hotly contested subject in the last couple of months as chloride levels continue to spur public debate over proposed sewer-rate hikes needed to pay for a costly salt-ridding plant.

The river runs through the Santa Clarita Valley, where treated wastewater is added before it flows into Ventura County, where it’s used to irrigate crops.

Among the crops are chloride-sensitive strawberries and avocados. Farmers expect to receive salt-free river water according to standards set by the 1972 Clean Water Act and enforced by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Current plans call for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to build a $210 million reverse-osmosis plant by 2015 in order to comply with the act and avoid being hit with fines.

The regional water board has the power to issue noncompliance fines of at least $3,000 a day to $10,000 a day for each of the district’s two sewer-treatment plants.

Los Angeles County was hit with a $2.3 million fine last year. Fillmore was handed a $231,000 fine. Santa Paula was handed an initial fine of $8 million, but ended up paying $350,000.

The tiny town of San Juan Bautista, population 1,549, is expected to be hit with a $39,000 fine over excessive chloride.

To avoid being fined, sanitation officials plan to build a $210 million salt-ridding reverse-osmosis plant by 2015, as promised to the board.

In order to pay for the plant, they proposed sewer-rate hikes over four years. That proposal was postponed following a heated public meeting July 27, with homeowners and business people voicing fierce opposition to the plan.

Pay for the plant or pay the fine seem to be the only options for Santa Clarita ratepayers.

Only now, the Santa Clarita Valley has a chance to help pick who makes the decision to fine.

Anyone can apply to sit on the board, and anyone can lobby the governor to pick their candidate simply by sending him letters of recommendation.

“Letters of recommendation are always welcome and are taken into consideration as part of the appointments process,” Connelly said. “But the Governor bases his final decision on an applicant’s qualifications and appoints those who are best qualified to serve the state and the people of California.”

Letters of recommendation should be sent to the attention of John Cruz, appointments secretary at the governor’s office.

No such letter post-marked “Santa Clarita” has apparently hit the Cruz desk so far, however.

Call for candidates
When Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste looks at the regional water board, she would like to see someone in our corner.

Weste is one of three people on the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District board that decided to put off discussion of proposed rate hikes that she said would deter new business in Santa Clarita.

However Weste is also worried about potential fines, and said she sees a real need for a local voice on the regional board.

“It would be appropriate for the north part of Los Angeles County to have some representation on regional water,” she said. “We have the whole high desert, Antelope Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley and the Santa Clara River that runs through it to the sea.

“It would really be appropriate to have representation with the population we have,” she added. “I would be delighted to see applications go in for that.”

There are nine regional water boards in California, each with nine members assigned to a particular scope of interest, such as overseeing issues on water quality or on irrigated agriculture.

If the regional board rules, for example, not to fine Santa Clarita Valley for discharging excessive amounts of chloride into the Santa Clara River, then that ruling stands until someone formally objects to the State Water Resources Control Board, says board spokesman William Rukeyser.

“Aggrieved persons can file a petition with the State Water Resources Control Board seeking review of most types of ad judicatory orders issued by the regional water quality-control boards,” he said. “These petitions are very similar to appeals.”

“If the State Water Resources Control Board determines that the order issued by the regional water quality control board was improper or inappropriate, then the State Water Resources Control Board can set aside, modify or remand the order,” he added. 

 “All water quality control-plan amendments adopted by a regional water quality control board are subject to review and approval by the State Water Resources Control Board,” Rukeyser said. “If the State Water Resources Control Board does not approve the water quality control plan amendment, it does not take effect.”

Representatives of more than three dozen farmers of salt-sensitive crops in Ventura County, who came to Santa Clarita Valley in 2008 and hammered out a Memorandum of Understanding with local water officials, would vigorously appeal to the state water board if chloride levels were not kept at 117 milligrams per liter of water.

It’s important to remember, however, that the chloride level is not something set in stone, says Mary Anne Lutz, chair of the regional water board.

“One of the things you do when you set the (maximum allowable chloride level) is you look at the beneficial uses of the water,” she said, citing uses for recreation such as swimming, drinking water and various household uses. “And agriculture as a beneficial use is definitely on the list.

“So we have to look at a range of beneficial uses,” she said.

Which one do you choose?

“That’s the rub,” she said. “That’s the rub. There’s no hard and fast rule. It’s a balancing act. ... Sometimes, when it seems by the dischargers that we’re over protective, it’s because their use and the main use are different.

“When you’re talking about chloride in the Santa Clara River, agriculture as a beneficial use trumps that one.”
Board disposition

Dan Masnada knows about water.

As general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which supplies Santa Clarita Valley with drinking water through four water retailers, he knows others who also have expertise on the subject.

Asked if he knows of anyone applying to sit on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, he said: “Not that I know of.

“If someone from CLWA applied for the position, that individual would have to recuse himself or herself from actions relating to CLWA and probably to the SCV as a whole,” he explained.

Mike Murphy, intergovernmental relations officer for Santa Clarita, was also asked if he knew of anyone applying.

“I haven’t heard of anyone applying.”

From a municipal point of view, Murphy pointed out that the regional water board candidate assigned to represent municipal interests is chosen by the City Selection Committee that represents each of the cities in Los Angeles County.

It’s still just a name in the hat.

“I would assume they could, conceivably, have two city council members competing for the same spot,” Murphy said.

Members of regional water boards do not get paid. They receive a $100 per diem compensation when they meet as a board, but that’s it.

Right now, there’s nobody sitting in three seats at the regional water board. The seats are reserved for people assigned to represent irrigated agriculture, water quality and water supply. Two more seats will be empty in November. Those ones are reserved for people picked to represent recreation, fish and wildlife and the public in general.

Once they’re picked by the governor, members serve four-year terms after they are confirmed by the state Senate.

They serve part-time and conduct their business at regular meetings, which on average amount to approximately 10 times per year, to make decisions on water-quality matters.

The state water board relies on the regional board staff to conduct the day-to-day tasks associated with water-quality management. Most of them are engineers, geologists and biologists.

Of the remaining four seats on the Los Angeles board, two are filled by people rooted in Ventura County agriculture, one in Oxnard - where the bulk of strawberries are grown - and one in Camarillo, which is directly northeast of Oxnard .

Here’s how the board looks now:

 Madelyn Glickfeld
Madelyn Janet Glickfeld, 61, lives about 300 feet from the Pacific Ocean shoreline in Malibu and represents recreation, fish and wildlife on the regional water board.

She was named vice chair of the board in February, and heads a company devoted to conservation planning, serving as president of MJG Inc. since 1977.

Through her consulting firm MJG Inc, she’s conducted statewide strategic planning for the California State Park System and has worked with local governments on conservation projects.

She’s also done research and consulting on storm-water management in large-scale developments to mitigate watershed and ocean-pollution impacts.

Glickfeld spoke out against a rush to build new homes in Malibu in 1990 as a member of the California Coastal Commission. She pressed the state to give closer scrutiny to any new seaside project, it was reported at the time.

She lectures at the UCLA Institute of the Environment but declined to talk directly to The Signal, referring all comment to the chair.

In an email she explained: “I have been following your articles in the Signal .... It may sound strange to you, since you have already talked with other Board members, but we have a Board Policy that all press contacts go to our Board Chair.”

She includes a tag on the end of her e-mail that reads: “Please consider the environment before printing this email.”

Her term ends in October.

Mary Anne Lutz
Mary Anne Lutz, of Monrovia, was named chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board in February.

For more than two decades, she’s run an electronic court-reporting agency as owner and president of Lutz and Company.

The governor appointed her to the board in 2004, two weeks before Christmas.

Her four-year term expires in two years.

All the voices on the current board are coastal ones except for Lutz and another inland member.

Lutz was asked earlier this month what it takes to get on the regional board.

“You need to have letters of support,” Lutz said, “from a variety of areas, such as the environment, business and the cities.

“You definitely need to have a connection to some of these entities.”

Finding that balance when ruling on fines is never easy, she said.

“When I very first started here, the executive director said, ‘If everybody is made at us, then we’re probably doing OK,’” she said.

Francine B. Diamond
Francine B. Diamond lives in a big rustic house built in the 1920’s overlooking the Pacific Ocean across the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades.

Diamond, a Democrat, lives with her husband, noted Los Angeles attorney Roger Jon Diamond.

Her term also expires this year.

The governor appointed her in 1999 to serve as a “public member” of the board.

Diamond continues to work as the principal of her own media firm called Francine Diamond Communications.

She worked in a similar capacity before her latest term, as principal of Media Partners from 1994 to 2003.

“There are many urgent water issues, but the most important issue is making sure we improve water quality,” Diamond said. “But the biggest pollution is from storm-water runoff. New storm-water permits have to be assessed for L.A. County.”

As for Santa Clarita, she said: “The Santa Clara River is probably the most natural river in Southern California.

“It is extremely important that it be protected. The (maximum allowable chloride levels) are based on what we thought and what we believe is sound science and according to the Clean Water Act.”

Diamond was referring to the threshold of 117 milligrams per liter of chloride, which is the current allowable level inthe Santa Clara River.

Jeanette Lombardo
Jeanette Lombardo, 45, of Ventura, is a Republican who knows about water and knows about farming.

She grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania,

In 2006, she moved to Ventura County from King County, where she worked on water issues, including those on naturally occurring arsenic and dairy farmers’ water use.

Now, she represents water quality interests at the regional water board. Her term expires in two years.

“Water is my passion,” she told The Signal recently. “Because I see things from that perspective, I do fight. I fight for all of Ventura County and all of Los Angeles County.”

Lombardo is endorsed by a coalition of Ventura business interests called the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara. The alliance represents scores of Ventura and Santa Barbara business interests, including many agricultural interests, through eight chambers of commerce, an alliance spokesman said.

Water aside, Lombardo has demonstrated leadership on a number of financial fronts — as collection manager for First Federal Bank in the late ’90s to 1999, and as an internal auditor for the Palace Indian Gaming Casino six years ago.

Maria Mehranian
Maria Mehranian lives in Flintridge, and was appointed to the regional water board in 2008, representing the category of Los Angeles County government.

She works for the Cordoba Corporation and is responsible for company’s financial planning. She has been the firm’s managing partner since 1992, and previously served as vice president of urban-transportation planning from 1986 to 1992.

She has a degree in urban planning from UCLA and an economics degree from the American College in Tehran, Iran.

Mehranian has served as commissioner on the city of La Canada-Flintridge Planning Commission.

Helping to raise money to improve drinking-water conditions in Martakert, Azerbaijan (and for a litany of other help community projects there including construction of a hospital), Mehranian took a lead role in the Armenia Fund Telethon 2005 as chairman of the fund.

The Cordoba Corporation lists many engineering projects on its website, including hydrology.

One of the featured photographs shows workers in hard hats working on salt flats that appear to be in Death Valley.

One of the questions left for Mehranian inquired as to what the workers were examining.

Despite repeated efforts to reach her by phone, email and through messages left with people at the Cordoba Corporation, however, Mehranian could not reached for comment.

Her term expires next year.

Steve Blois
For more than a quarter of a century, Steve Blois has made Camarillo his home.

The former Eagle Scout, who proudly includes his Order of the Arrow on his extensive building resume, lives on a heavily wooded lot with his wife, Barbara. They have two adult sons.

Two years ago, he was appointed by the governor to represent the category of industrial water use on the regional water board.

“Being appointed is at the pleasure of the governor,” he said.

Blois, owner of a consulting firm, built his business reputation on developing water infrastructure between the Santa Clarita Valley and the ocean. Many of Santa Clarita’s sewer pipelines were installed by Blois and his company.

When asked earlier this month about Santa Clarita Valley being expected to meet low standards of chloride in the Santa Clara River, Blois said: “I fully expect the 117 milligram-per-liter standard to be fulfilled.”

Asked if his voice and that of Lombardo might make it difficult for concerns from the SCV to be heard, he said: “I think Santa Clarita holds its own. Their voice is extremely well heard.”

“We are charged with maintaining good water quality,” he said. “And that comes at a cost, and it’s our job to be as reasonable as possible in these tough economic times.”

When he was president of Blois Construction Inc. in Oxnard, Blois managed $150 million in pipeline construction work, primarily in Ventura County, specializing in water and sewage-treatment facilities and pumping stations.

 

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