Water, Water, Everywhere

Little to Drink, Less for Development

Dysfunctional politics are unfortunately a part of reality. The sad thing is how they can adversely affect lives for years after our elected officials play games and/or turn their backs on their campaign promises. This particular rant is about something as critical as water.

I was delighted to see Peter Neushul’s op-ed in February on the duplicity of former directors of the Goleta Water District, Crawford and Myleod. Their votes supporting state water were critical in the 3-2 board vote that forced state water on Goleta.

This pro state water position was contrary to Myleod and Crawford’s own platforms when elected in 1987. For younger readers, both were elected as strongly opposed to state water, and state water was the one and only contentious issue in their campaigns.

Gordon Fulkes, PhD, an astrophysist and myself were both Goleta Water Board directors at the time. We argued against state water. We reasoned that in a drought, state water would be unreliable. For whatever reason, Myleod and Crawford turned their backs on their clear campaign promises and joined director John DeLoreto in voting for state water and against Goleta having our own desal plant.

$100 Million Solution to a $40 Million Problem

These three not only ended up spending $80 million on state water but another almost $20 million for an option to use Santa Barbara’s R/O [reverse osmosis] for five years. (Goleta used nary a drop.) At least DeLoreto was consistent with his campaign promises, which favored the importation of state water. State water as advertised has proven to be unreliable in drought conditions.

By all three voting for state water, they discovered a $100 million solution to a $40 million problem. A Goleta steam desalinization plant would have cost $40 million and furnished the 3,600 acre-feet to replenish the ground water deficit. It would have left a surplus of several hundred acre-feet for responsible growth.

This water demand of 3,600 acre-feet could have been met by six steam distillation units, each of which would have produced 600 acre-feet of potable water. These were sold by an Israeli company at $6 million apiece. Plus it would have cost another $4 million for permitting and site preparation. If more water were needed in the future, the plant was expandable merely by purchasing more 600 acre-feet units at $6 million apiece. The funding for such expansion would have been put to a vote of the people, thus giving the voters control of both the checkbook and on growth. We lost that opportunity.

The ratepayers’ cost for the water deals, when you add in interest, very conservatively comes to well over $200 million for an unreliable solution. A majority of voters in a straight up campaign favored desal over state water.

City of Goleta Comprises One-Third of the Valley

With the city making up one-third of the Goleta Valley, LAFCO really dropped the ball. The Independent Fiscal Analysis presented to LAFCO during the cityhood hearing process clearly documented that this city would have a surplus of $17 million at the end of 10 years if Isla Vista were included, but it would only have a $3 million surplus excluding Isla Vista. The city borders excluded Isla Vista, leading to a city that was dependent on growth from day one to fund basic urban services. To compound LAFCO’s poor decision, Goleta ended up negotiating the worst revenue neutrality agreement for a new city in the state of California.

The folks at the Bren School at UCSB are likely to agree that from an urban planning perspective, annexing the entire Goleta Valley to Santa Barbara — as the Santa Barbara City Council unanimously supported at the time — would have made the most sense. The fault for this annexation not happening does not fall completely on LAFCO. Santa Barbara County earned its share of the responsibility. At least that’s how it appeared.

In negotiating a fiscal neutrality agreement between Goleta and the county, the county looked to drag their feet beyond the time for LAFCO to consider the City of Santa Barbara’s request at the same time as the Goleta cityhood proposal. This meant LAFCO could not consider that annexation to Santa Barbara option at the same time as Goleta cityhood. In a 6-1 vote, LAFCO approved a clearly underfunded City of Goleta.

At least in part because of flawed decision making by both the Goleta Water Board and LAFCO, we, the residents of Goleta, are still saddled with high water rates, an underfunded city, and excessive growth. This growth is needed to support the services, such as they are, of this underfunded city. The increased housing, hotels, and shopping center have indeed generated increased revenues as well as excessive traffic increases.

LAFCO failed to do away with even one of the multitude overlapping government jurisdictions in the Goleta Valley. They had the chance to do so and neglected their duty.


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