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Gaviota Annexation Plan Placed on Hold

LAFCO delays decision on Goleta Water District plans for Gaviota property.

The Goleta Water District‘s application to annex 131 acres of Gaviota property  stalled last week when the Local Agency Formation Commission  continued its public hearing on the subject to a later date.

The reason for the delay, said LAFCO executive officer Bob Braitman, was the last-minute submittal of letters by local environmental groups like the Gaviota Coast Conservancy  and Surfrider Foundation.

The property is in the district’s "sphere of influence" and was approved for annexation in 1998. But the application lapsed after the district failed to annex the property despite two LAFCO extensions.

The 131 acres, some of which are part of the historic Naples subdivision, were intended to be part of a golf course, a plan approved by Santa Barbara County but denied by the state Coastal Commission in 2003. The development project has changed but the water district’s obligation remains the same.

The district project currently proposed for the area is to provide water hookups to two residences on those parcels, which have not yet been built. Other structures that may be built include greenhouses and other buildings allowed under the area’s agricultural zoning.

The GWD’s ability to repay money given to it in 1998 by the owners of the property is another question raised by critics. The money paid to the district was contingent upon the annexation.

"It was over $4 million," said Fran Farina, a Goleta resident, water law attorney and close GWD observer. "And if the annexation does not go through, the owners may ask for the money back."

It is not clear from the district’s 2007-08 budget   whether the GWD would have funds on hand to repay the owners. When asked by Noozhawk if the district had the money to repay the property owners, GWD president Chuck Evans said, "We pay our debts."

Last week was not the district’s only setback recently. Two weeks ago, the GWD’s revisions to its SAFE ordinance  came under fire from local planning organizations, causing the board to continue the public hearing.

According to the ordinance, 1 percent of the district’s total potable water supply would be made available every year to new or additional developments if certain conditions had been met the previous year with regards to elements like drought buffers and total water supply. The district would release the 1 percent and then commit to a higher total minimum water supply to accommodate the new development in times of drought.

Critics spoke out against the district’s plan to reinstate a policy allowing them to rollover unused portions of the 1 percent for new development to any future year, a policy that the board rescinded in July. By rolling over, the GWD has accumulated almost 1,500 acre feet for new developments.

The reinstatement had a new provision that capped the total amount of water available for new projects at any one time to 300 acre feet, but, according to opponents of the plan, still made large exemptions that defeated the purpose of SAFE.

Another question that was raised at that meeting was the definition of potable water.

"Reclaimed water delivered for landscaping is not ‘potable,’ nor is untreated water delivered for agricultural purposes from Lake Cachuma," stated a letter from Naomi Kovacs, executive director of the Citizens Planning Association.

For its part, the district says it needs the rollover to accommodate developments that take more than a year to complete.

"There’s the matter of issuing meters, the long time it takes to get approvals, and we need to have a cushion to provide for those projects," Evans said.

To its credit, said Farina, the Goleta Water District has consistently kept good supplies of water on hand. But to allow for a large allocation might jeopardize both old and new customers in the event of a water shortage the next year, she said.

"The public vote says you have certain responsibilities," she said. "They have to know what their supplies are and what their system’s ability is to deliver."

The LAFCO hearing to consider GWD’s Gaviota annexation will be rescheduled early next year. The continuation of the public hearing on the SAFE ordinance has no firm date yet, but is expected to come up again in January.

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