1995-1996 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 17, 1996
Contact: Spencer Boise, Foreman
Phone (805) 568-2292

 

GRAND JURY EXAMINES STATE WATER ISSUES IN SOLVANG/1991 to 1996

The 1995-96 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury today issued a 48-page comprehensive report on the consequences to the City of Solvang and its water ratepayers as a result of two actions in 1991:

With a 75% approval and a 38% voter turnout in the June 1991 election, Solvang voters authorized revenue bonds "not to exceed" $18.4 million to finance local pipeline construction and water treatment facilities and "any and all expenses incidental therein or connected therewith."

Currently, the projected costs to Solvang for its share of State water exceed $84 million. Payments for State water have already begun. While the exact amount of annual payments is still unknown, Solvang expects to pay approximately $2.4 million per year, beginning in 2000. The cost per acre foot of State water has risen from an estimated $970 per acre-foot in 1991 to about $1,550 an acre foot in 1996. In addition, the city was informed in January 1996 that it must spend nearly $4 million to upgrade its water delivery system to receive State water.

As a result of the confusion and dissension caused by the uncertainty of the costs, in March 1995, the Solvang City Council requested an independent investigation by the Grand Jury. More than 350 Solvang residents also petitioned the Grand Jury. Because of the large amount of time required for such a complicated investigation, that request for an "informational report to the City Council and the citizens of Solvang" was passed on to the 1995-96 Grand Jury impaneled in July, 1995.

The 1995-96 Grand Jury began its investigation in August 1995. During its ten month study, the Grand Jury found that the K91 June ballot measure and the accompanying Impartial Analysis "failed to fully inform the voters what, exactly, they were voting for." The Grand Jury concentrated on the need to improve ballot readability and voter awareness in future bond elections. Among its 18 recommendations in the report are six to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors including one to consider appointing a special commission to oversee county and Special District ballot measures for accuracy, impartiality and readability.

The Grand Jury determined information was available to show that Solvang did not need to take the 1,500 acre-feet of State water that its council agreed to purchase. The report states that Solvang city officials and senior staff in 1991 "failed to perform the necessary study to make an informed decision on taking State water; and they did not hire an independent analyst to assist in making that decision." Two of the present City Council members were members of the City Council in 1991. The same people on senior staff in 1996 worked in the Solvang city government in 1991.

The Grand Jury suggested changes in how the Solvang government functions. It recommended that the City Council have an in-depth financial analysis prepared before any vote involving financial issues. The Grand Jury report said that all city contracts should be reviewed and summarized in writing by the city attorney, and there should be "full opportunity for discussion and explanation" before the City Council votes. The report stated: "No City Council member, staff member or employee should negotiate for the City of Solvang without written authorization from the City Council."

The Grand Jury report also recommended that the City Council develop multi-year budget projections "to be able to plan effectively." The Grand Jury urged there be a three to five member elected and appointed Finance Commission replacing the present two member City Council Finance Commission.

The Grand Jury learned that the two trustees elected from the geographic base of Solvang to the Santa Ynez Improvement District No. 1 (ID #1) are not required to consult with Solvang officials as to water decisions contemplated by ID #1. The report concluded that "interests of the seller of water, ID #1, and Solvang, the largest customer of the water, are not necessarily identical." The report stated that because of the long association of Solvang with ID #1, "Solvang City Council and staff relied on ID #1 to inform them of all facts relating to the taking of State water, including the total costs projected into 1996 and beyond. ID #1 and its General Counsel expected Solvang to do its own research."

The Grand Jury found that water rates will have to rise "substantially" to cover the costs of State water and that there has been no rate study to apportion those increases. The Grand Jury also recommended that Solvang hire a water rate specialist and consider the adoption of a "Lifeline" or "Block" water rate for low usage residents.

The Grand Jury also stated that "the absence of public input has created an atmosphere of suspicion and disenfranchisement." It recommended that the City Council immediately schedule public meetings to hear citizen opinion.

In addition, the Grand Jury made 14 suggestions for consideration by the City Council that would enhance Solvang's revenues to meet the water, management and operating and capital costs that will be required to pay for the State water.

The full report is posted at on the Grand Jury’s World Wide Web page. Copies of the report are also available at the Superior Court Jury Services office at 1100 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, or call 568-3139. The report will also be available at the City of Solvang Public Library.

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