Council opts out of helping to fund VC Watershed Coalition director

October 30, 2013
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

The Santa Paula City Council split 4-1 on whether to have the city contribute $4,000 toward a coordinator for the Santa Clara Valley Watershed Protection District, a coalition that will oversee millions of dollars in state funding.

The council made the decision at the October 21 meeting; whether or not to become a part of the watershed protection district was the only item of business on the agenda.

City Manager Jaime Fontes noted there were potential pros and possible cons to such a coalition and that staff had taken a “neutral position” on whether or not the city should contribute $4,000 towards the approximately $63,000 annual cost to hire a coordinator.

Councilman Bob Gonzales questioned whether grant funds overseen by the coalition to implement projects could include a fish ladder.

“It could be,” said Fontes.

Fish ladders, said Gonzales, have been a waste of money and the sliding scale of opt-in fees for coalition members could influence which projects are tackled.

“I have a problem getting my hands around this position,” and who they would answer to.

Millions have been garnered through grants by just such coalitions in the past including those that benefited local projects said Councilman Martin Hernandez, the only one to vote against the motion not to fund the coordinator’s position.

He noted that the voter approved water bonds have provided significant revenue to help local agencies with infrastructure and water quality improvements among other needs

Such funding could be used, Hernandez said, for a desalination project as the amount of sodium in Santa Paula’s treated wastewater now exceeds the amount allowed by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“The coalition has done a very good job,” of benefiting local projects including Fillmore that received, “millions for their wastewater treatment plant.”

Hernandez added the $4,000 requested, “Seems like a fairly reasonable 

Investment,” in return for possibly millions of dollars of grant funds.

Vice Mayor Rick Cook said his “first concern” is the coalition had two co-chairs including one that “works for a state agency.... “

The Nature Conservancy, which would house the position at their offices, “is a nonprofit” that Cook said he would have “trouble” partnering with.

Cook also mentioned the status of steelhead trout the fish ladder was constructed for, and noted, “I have some really serious questions right now.”

“What I see here is another layer of bureaucratic red tape, I see another obstacle, another reason not to put people to work,” and the “Continued strangulation of the economy,” said Councilman Jim Tovias. 

Mayor Ralph Fernandez said he agreed with other councilmen that an issue is “Who is the boss?” as the list of coalition members is not confined to municipalities but also includes public and private agencies and environmental advocacy groups.

“I think,” he added, “this would be a political nightmare.”  

Among other duties, the coordinator would plan and implement projects and make sure all coalition members are informed on a timely basis of issues regarding the Santa Clara River.

The river is one of the largest river systems in the state known as the last wild river in Southern California that flows about 84 miles from its headwaters in Acton in Los Angeles County west through its namesake Santa Clara River Valley. The river empties into the Pacific Ocean between Oxnard and Ventura. 

Planning Director Janna Minsk told the council entities that have or will join the coalition include Oxnard, Ventura, Limoneira Co., Castaic Lake, the Ventura County Watershed District and county Waterworks District 16 Piru, United Water Conservation District, Fox Canyon Ground Water, Ventura County Farm Bureau, Friends of Santa Clara River and others; those not yet signed up include Fillmore and Port Hueneme.

A goal of the coalition is to have a place at the table with other regional watershed districts, “Work in concert,” with local members on needs and issues while not creating more legislation.

Minsk added that The Nature Conservancy would only provide office space for the position, as others in the coalition did not want it housed in a governmental entity. 

Hernandez said three separate watersheds have garnered $60 million in grant funding in about six years and “Created a lot of jobs with that success.... “

He added that the state Department of Water Resources has designated Santa Paula a needy community that would be able to forego providing traditional matching grants, a potential savings of millions on local projects. 

“At this time in the life of the city of Santa Paula I can’t support this,” said Gonzales, although he noted he might consider it in the future.

For now, he added, the issue is “kind of abstract to me.... “ 





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