The “Campaign” Begins
Election campaign season is about to begin, and the local election for Montecito Sanitary and Montecito Water Districts is on the November 6 ballot. I have served on the Montecito Sanitary District for 12 years, and this is the first time I have run in a competitive re-election campaign. Who would imagine that this year, wastewater has become trendy? Until now, we have been content to hum along in the background of your lives, certain of our efficiency and solvency that we deliver to you, our citizen customers.
This year, we are facing a challenge from a slate of five candidates: two directors and two challengers for the Sanitary District’s director positions, and three for the Water District positions.
Where did the slate of candidates come from? They were recruited by a group of investors with a campaign slogan of “Water Security.” Two years ago, the same organization of investors elected two directors to the Water District. When I first heard the slogan “Water Security,” I wondered, “Who is for water insecurity?” My second thought was, “Why are they running two candidates for the Sanitary District?” My third thought was, “Why aren’t these investors running for these offices themselves, instead of recruiting people with no acquaintance with the issues and are at the beginning of the learning curve?”
The investors (originally called the Birnam Group, but who now wish to be called the Campaign) want the option to build a desalination plant on Montecito Sanitary District Property or combine it with a recycle plant and control the operation. They propose storing treated water in the groundwater basins until needed.
I am amazed at how little our local private sector investors know about public law. While investor profit incentive drives private enterprise, public utilities are owned by you, the residents of Montecito. The directors of our little public enterprises are responsible to you, not investors. The grand plans proposed by he Campaign may cost millions of dollars. If private capital implemented, who will pay for it? You will, that’s who!
The ideas in slick Campaign literature will not include basic laws that govern Special Districts. The law limits wastewater districts to the elimination of wastewater. There are stringent laws regulating the process. The dream of consolidating the districts will not change this. The one consolidated board would have two sets of laws to govern because the water district also has stringent laws governing the safe delivery of water to its customers. It must finance and convey water from whatever its source.
The Montecito Water District must pay for the water produced on Montecito Sanitary Property. Montecito Sanitary is not being “mean” to point this out, because it is the law. For example, The Goleta Water District paid for the entire recycle plant on Goleta Sanitary District property and its conveyance of water from there to its customers. The two parties can enter into a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) to achieve desired goal without consolidation.
This is done all the time, yet avoided by the Montecito Water District. Why? How are they going to pay for all of this? Is it necessary?
What You/We May Lose
We have been in this place before, and as soon as the rainy season hits, the urgency evaporates. This time we have investors who have put more than $100,000 into the election of their slate alone. They want a return on their money.
Because two Montecito Water District incumbents dropped out of the election process, the Campaign Slate will own the Water District policy for at least the next two years. If the remaining Water District incumbent loses, the Campaign will have total control of the Water District.
This leaves the two candidates running for re-election to the Montecito Sanitary District to bear the brunt of the $100,000 war chest. Well, what do Montecito citizens lose if I, Judith Ishkanian, lose? Here’s what:
1) 12 years of experience on Montecito Sanitary District (president, four times);
2) Member of the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara County Chapter of the California Special District Association (past president); and
3) My position as commissioner on LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission), a State commission that adjudicates all issues about consolidation, cityhood, and orderly development.
Do you see why the Campaign Investors would campaign against me? Their slate candidates have no experience, and one of them has, as of this writing, never attended a MSD Board meeting. I solicit your support and your vote. Thank you.