[KHTS] – After tens of thousands of dollars in outreach, the city of Santa Clarita is not likely to formally endorse an option for chloride treatment to the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s governing board, officials said Tuesday.
A potential conflict of interest, getting ahead of themselves and trust in their colleagues were reasons for the council members’ decision, according to a discussion at the council’s regular meeting at City Hall.
There was concern initially that if Santa Clarita City Council members made an official endorsement for one of four chloride options that have been deemed feasible by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, it could represent a Brown Act violation.
If the council made an endorsement, there would be a potential conflict of interest that could jeopardize the legality of a Sanitation District decision, City Attorney Joe Montes said.
The Sanitation District is statutorily comprised of two members appointed by and from Santa Clarita City Council — currently, Laurene Weste and Mayor Bob Kellar, as well as a member of the county’s Board of Supervisors from the Fifth District, Michael Antonovich.
“If the council takes a position on the (proposed chloride options) before the Sanitation District considers the (options), the Council members who participated in the decision concerning the (options) would have a potential conflict at the Sanitation District board level,” Montes said, explaining a conversation he had on the matter with Wes Beverlin, the special counsel of the Sanitation District.
The state-appointed Regional Water Quality Control Board is ordering the Sanitation District to lower the chloride level to 100 milligrams per liter, which was deemed the beneficial chloride level for downstream users, i.e. Ventura County farmers, based on the Clean Water Act.
The data this number is based on has been contested by local officials but upheld by the state’s RWQCB.
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Santa Clarita has spent more than $40,000 on outreach regarding the chloride-treatment options in the Santa Clarita Valley, but has yet to weigh in with an official opinion.
The public comment period for the Sanitation District’s report on the options passed July 24, with the city’s formal response to the options being several questions about the nature of the data and the necessity for the options from Robert Newman, the city’s director of public works.
At City Council’s previous September meeting, and several others, City Councilman TimBen Boydston asked about the process for putting chloride-treatment alternatives on the City Council’s agenda.
“We have two members of our council who are representatives on the Sanitation District. Those people will be making the decision, which will result in possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes for the people of Santa Clarita, as well as for those people living outside of the city of Santa Clarita in the unincorporated areas,” Boydston said.
“Two of those people sit on the council, so we as a council can not meet to look after our citizens as a council?” he asked rhetorically. “We will not have a voice to recommend to the Sanitation District, which is a separate entity, because we will be prejudicing the Sanitation District just by them making a recommendation to themselves.
At that point, Boydston asked if the remaining three council members who are not on the Sanitation District could meet to make an endorsement on the city’s behalf, with the two governing board members on City Council recusing themselves.
That would be OK, Montes said, provided that the City Council did not plan to have a discussion on the Sanitation District’s decision, because any action that resulted would be considered a potential conflict of interest the other way.
At that point, Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Marsha McLean cautioned Boydston against “putting the cart before the horse,” because the City Council did not know how the Sanitation District board members would act once all the information was presented to them.
“Let’s wait and see,” McLean said, “we don’t know what they’re going to do.”
However, the city would have little recourse on any decision or influence on the chloride options cited once the Sanitation District made its decision, Montes said.
Because the approval of a majority of council members is needed to agendize an item, Boydston would need the three remaining City Council members’ say so in order to discuss a chloride-option endorsement.
At that point, City Councilman Frank Ferry stepped in to put the kibosh on any potential for such an agenda item.
“Let me make this easy,” he said. “I’m not going to entertain this motion. I trust the two members on the Sanitation District will do what’s best for the citizens — based on the Regional Water Board, based on the penalties out there, based on the laws, based on all the facts — I trust these two,” he said.
Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar expressed frustration toward the end of the discussion, likening Boydston’s concern to “innuendo that we don’t listen to our citizens, and it’s just not right,” Kellar said.
“We might as well be beating our heads against the wall for all (the Regional Water Quality Control Board members) care,” Kellar said, regarding the financial impact for local ratepayers.
“Nobody is agreeing to what is happening to the citizens of the Santa Clarita Valley,” Kellar said. “If you think we’re not fighting a gorilla here, we are.”
The Sanitation District’s governing board is expected to approve one of four options, all of which will have varying degrees of financial impact for local ratepayers, by Oct. 31.