The political climate surrounding the Carpinteria Valley Water District seems to be heating up as customers’ dissatisfaction with the rates they are paying for water reaches fever pitch. Already the idea of exercising the right to freeze rates that rate payers are guaranteed by Proposition 218 has bubbled to the surface of the issue, so next week’s public hearing regarding rate increases promises to be interesting as irate customers list their concerns. Most notable among them are capital improvements – a costly cover for the Ortega reservoir and a three million-gallon, underground storage tank at Rancho Monte Allegre – that the district defends as necessary to meet federally mandated drinking water standards.
Another issue brought up repeatedly has been Chip Wullbrandt, general counsel for the Carpinteria Water District and his representation of both the district and parties with which the district was negotiating. Some claim that a conflict of interest existed, at least at one time, although the district’s general manager, Charles Hamilton, said that Wullbrandt’s involvement in District matters has been scaled back significantly since conflict of interest accusations were lobbed at the attorney during the controversial Rancho Monte Allegre deal in 2005. “That’s when [conflict of interest charges] surfaced, and we got a lot of questions at that point because [Wullbrandt] was representing the Ranch and the District,” said Hamilton, who said that the ranch might think that the district fared better in the deal.
A loose coalition formed by a group calling itself Carpinteria H2O, the Carpinteria Valley Association, and Concerned Friends and Citizens of Carpinteria have said that Carpinteria currently pays the highest water rates in the country. The public hearing will be held on Wednesday, May 27 at 7 p.m. at the Carpinteria City Hall.