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SCV Chloride plan due to be released Wednesday

District investing nearly $1 million in community outreach

Posted: April 23, 2013 4:58 p.m.
Updated: April 23, 2013 4:58 p.m.

When Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials release their proposal Wednesday to remove chloride from the Santa Clara River, with it will come close to a million dollars of advising, polling, presenting and translating “engineer-speak” into English, organizers say.

The price tag is worth it, two of the three local representatives on the Sanitation District say. The district could be fined $20,000 every day for not complying with state chloride standards.

In November the district was hit with a $225,000 fine.

The bill for the fines, or for the cost of a chloride-reducing system for the river, would be borne by the ratepayers. But in 2010 the ratepayers said “no” to a plan for four rate increases over a four-year period to pay for a reverse-osmosis plant costing at least $250 million.

The plan to be released Wednesday is expected to be less costly. District officials are determined to convince residences the plan is a necessity.

“There is no question in my mind, at this juncture, that this is absolutely required to move forward on behalf of the citizens of the city of Santa Clarita,” Mayor Bob Kellar said last week as he and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich voted in favor of hiring Venice-based Community Conservation Solutions to take the rate-increase message to the ratepayers.

The Sanitation District answers to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board on issues of water quality. And that board says chloride must go because farmers downstream say it damages their strawberry and avocado crops.

The three-member Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District directors agreed to pay Community Conservation Solutions $334,000 for public outreach for the new plan.

It’s not the first time the district wrote out a check to Community Conservation Solutions.

In November 2011, district officials paid the nonprofit firm $350,000, according to sanitation district documents.

Less than a year later, the same company received a “supplemental” payment of $201,000 for outreach work.

Last week, it received a second supplemental payment of $334,000, bringing the total amount of money paid to it by the local district in the last 18 months to $885,000.

None of the money goes toward actual preparation of the chloride-reduction plan.

City Councilwoman Laurene Weste abstained from the vote. She sits on the Community Conservation Solutions board.

She remains an active member of the nonprofit in an effort to stay on top of cutting-edge solutions proposed for environmental problems, she told The Signal last week.

“I got to know a lot of people,” she said, describing her environmental work with the group.

She met President Esther Feldman through work the two did with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, she said.

“I got very involved in improving and creating policy,” she said. “My goal is to find a lower-cost solution that allows us to meet state regulation and resolve this issue.”

Since 1998, at least two dozen public agencies — including the Los Angeles County Assessor’s office and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board — have hired Community Conservations Solutions, according to the agency’s list of clients.

One of the jobs Community Conservation Solutions is expected to carry out is to convince the public — through a heavily-researched understanding of the chloride issue — that the next rate increases are necessary.

“There’s a lot of confusion expressed over the chloride issue,” Feldman said. “We have a specific challenge.”

When asked about selling the next round of rate increases, she said: “The bigger question is: What are the choices?

“What is the choice residents and business owners have, and what happens with each of those choices?”

With an operating budget of about $52 million, the SCV Sanitation District pays Community Conservation Solutions from a $1.43 million expense budget called “Capital — Regulatory Compliance Issues.”

Community Conservation Solutions’ task entails eight specific parts, three of which have been completed.

In completing each of the first two tasks, the company reviewed and evaluated technical data, identified problems and concerns expressed by the public and those involved in the process, sent out emails, made phone calls and circulated “public outreach materials.”

It hired a survey firm to gauge the concerns of Santa Clarita Valley residents, then crunched numbers and interpreted his data.

In completing the third task and part of the fourth the company compiled data into a “public engagement plan” on the issue of chloride compliance.

“We have spent a considerable amount of time ... figuring out how you tell that story in words and how you tell that story in pictures,” Feldman said.

“We help translate engineer-speak into English with handouts for the public, information meetings and big presentation materials.”
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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