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Our View: Voting ‘yes’ makes us suckers

The Signal Editorial Board

Posted: July 24, 2010 5:28 p.m.
Updated: July 25, 2010 4:30 a.m.

You might as well tattoo “sucker” onto the Santa Clarita Valley’s forehead and paste a “kick me” sign to our back.
Our collective condemnation of a crippling sewer-tax hike will have been for naught if the Santa  Clarita Valley Sanitation District board votes to impose it Tuesday night.

Who’s the Sanitation District board?

They aren’t mysterious people you’ve never heard of.

They’re Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste, City Councilwoman Marsha McLean and county Supervisor Michael Antonovich, with Councilman Frank Ferry as backup.

They’re not the sort of people to go down without a fight — but that’s exactly what they’ll do if they vote “yes” Tuesday on a proposal to hike our sewer fees to suck chloride, a naturally occurring salt, out of our water before it flows to the ocean.

Can’t have salty water flowing into the ocean now, can we?

If Weste, McLean and Antonovich vote “yes,” it would mean all Santa Clarita Valley homeowners would see a sizable increase in the cost of flushing their toliets and washing their dishes.

A “yes” vote would mean we won’t see any big, new restaurants in town because they’d have to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars for a sewer hookup.

A “yes” vote would mean existing restaurants and other businesses that use lots of water would have to pay exorbitant fees or shut their doors.

A “yes” vote would mean we Santa Clarita residents would finance a new, $210 million water-treatment plant down Highway 126 that won’t even be needed or used if the state builds a peripheral canal for the San Joaquin River Delta.

A “yes” vote would mean we don’t care that there is no science to support the notion that we’re dumping more salt into the Santa Clara River than the downstream avocados and strawberries can handle.

(Take a drive out Highway 126, stop at a fruit stand and you’ll see the beautiful, healthy looking avocados and strawberries on sale there really don’t support the notion, either.)

A “yes” vote would mean we’re perfectly willing to subsidize Ventura County farmers, even when they grow things that aren’t supposed to grow in Santa Ana wind conditions.

A “yes” would mean game over. It would mean we capitulate and give up all hope of beating any sense into the brains of the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Who’s the Regional Water Quality Control Board?

Mysterious people you’ve never heard of.

Unelected political appointees with the power to impose their will on us, even when it makes no sense.

People who, for no scientific reason, have decided that Ventura County’s avocados, strawberries and nursery crops (flowers) are more sensitive to chloride than any other avocados, strawberries and nursery crops in the world — and have ruled, therefore, that the SCV must reduce its chloride discharges to a lower level than any other community in California.

One problem: There is no science concluding the present chloride levels are harming strawberries, nursery crops or, with the exception of their leaves, the avocados.

So what happens if Antonovich, Weste and McLean vote “no?”

For starters, cheers erupt from the audience.

The next day, the members of the Regional Water Quality Control Board could begin fining our Sanitation District for thumbing its noses at them, and everybody could go to court.

This is California. We’d lose in court. We’d lose because we’re in violation of rules that the other side is empowered by state and federal law to make.

Ultimately, the water quality people could take over our sanitation district and force us to pay for the new treatment plant, and anything else they want.

But a “no” vote by the Sanitation District board means we still have a fighting chance to change the rules.

As Assemblyman Cameron Smyth has noted, much of the chloride we’re blamed for is already in the water we get from the State Water Project.

It comes to us that way.

We’re being forced to pay 100 percent of the cost to remove the chloride from the water, even though we’re responsible for only about half of it.

If the downstream Ventura farmers expect us “upstreamers” to send them clean water, then we, as downstreamers, should expect the upstreamers in the Sacramento Delta to send us clean water.

Smyth has offered to help — in fact, he already is putting the wheels in motion — to create a climate in which each party pays its own fair share.

Meantime, the Sanitation District, the Ventura farmers and the water quality board need to work together and conduct some real science to determine just how much chloride an avocado and a strawberry in the Santa Clara River Valley can withstand.

And somebody, perhaps the state Legislature, needs to determine what’s “fair” when a Ventura farmer decides to grow a variety of avocado or some other crop that can’t survive the contents of state water — water that’s perfectly suitable for human consumption.

From 1961 to 1996, self-regenerating water softeners — the type that has you change out the salt and dump it into the groundwater — were outlawed in this valley.

The water-softener companies sued, and the state courts — the state of California courts for Los Angeles County — overturned the ban.

The state courts said it was OK for water-softener companies to sell thousands of self-regenerating softeners to unsuspecting SCV homeowners — and so they did.

The chloride level in the Santa Clara River went through the roof.

In 2003, the local sanitation districts banned those softeners again. In 2008, the SCV electorate voted to pay to remove all of the self-regenerating softeners that the water-softener companies sold from 1996 to 2003.

The chloride level in the river came way down — well below the 190 milligram per liter limit that was in place prior to 1999.

According to experts on the sanitation district staff, it was a mistaken interpretation of an obscure study that compelled
the water quality people to reduce the threshold to 100 milligrams per liter — a number later changed only slightly to 117 milligrams per liter.

Today, the chloride level is well below 190 milligrams per liter, but above the nonscientific 117 milligrams per liter level.

We’ve done our part.

We did our part from 1961 to 1996 when we banned self-regenerating softeners.

The state courts of California are responsible for raising chloride levels from 1996 to 2003.

We did our part again in 2003 and 2008 by banning and removing the softeners.

We’re still doing our part.

Today we’re being penalized as a result of a mistake by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

If Weste, McLean and Antonovich, vote “yes” on Tuesday, we will accept the mistake forever — and pay for it the rest of our lives.

The only way to correct this mistake is for the Sanitation District board to vote “no” on Tuesday and keep working at it.

SCV property owners can take action into their own hands and say “no” to the unjustified expense. Turn to page C6 of today’s paper and you’ll see a form to fill out to protest the rate increase.

Find an old property tax bill, get your parcel number and fill out that form in the paper.

Then attend Tuesday’s Sanitation District public hearing at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, located at 23920 Valencia Blvd., and submit your “no” vote.


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