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Goleta Water District Q&A: Bill Rosen

[Editor’s note: One in a series of five candidate Q&As for the Goleta Water District board of directors. Click here for the main story. Click here for Harry DeWitt’s Q&A. Click here for Lauren Hanson’s Q&A. Click here for Jim Marino’s Q&A. Click here for Larry Mills’ Q&A.]

NOOZHAWK: Why are you running for the Goleta Water District board?

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Bill Rosen
BILL ROSEN: I have been involved in government for a long time. I am interested in capable and effective governments. I became involved with the Goleta Water District based on comments I heard about the performance of the board. I went to meetings. I concluded that many objections were correct — including budget issues, meeting cancellations, committee structure, enforcement of water-allocation laws and compliance with the Brown Act and public records act. The board has lost the confidence and trust of significant members of its community. I believe I can make a difference. I can restore confidence and trust in the board. I will bring open and transparent government to the district.

Budget: The board will review and make available a public line-item budget. The budget will be used to fund specific projects. The current year’s budget is a product of the staff and not the board. The 2008-09 budget was adopted in May without a single change based on a Jan. 15 staff report.

Committees: Meetings will be held at consistent, convenient times. Minutes will be recorded. Ad hoc committees will only be used as an exception, not the rule.

Meeting agendas and information: Agendas will be available at least seven days before a meeting. Agenda information will be available as soon as possible.

SAFE and other ordinances: Provide a framework for the consistent and effective enforcement of laws and ordinances.

Public records: Fulfill document requests as soon as practicable.

Rate increases: Oppose any long-term rate increase plan without thorough examination of the spending plan of the district.

I have 30 years of expertise representing local governments in New York state, as a county attorney and town attorney. I also represented a number of municipalities and school districts in private practice. I have extensive experience drafting laws and regulations enforcing governmental policies. I have extensive experience in municipal labor relations, contracting, purchasing, public bidding and litigation. My experience as a national bank board member; a regulated, private water company board member; Santa Barbara International Film Festival CFO; labor negotiator; Democratic Party leader; homeowners association president; and member of the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury have prepared me to serve on the water district board of directors.

NOOZHAWK: What is the biggest issue facing the board and the district’s ratepayers, and what would you do about it?

BILL ROSEN: a. Carry out the provisions of the SAFE Water Ordinance.

b. Preserve agricultural lands by ensuring water is available for crop and farm purposes at the lowest possible rates. I think that agricultural land must be preserved not only for their economic value but also for open space and fire protection.

c. Ensure strict compliance with public record laws and the Brown Act and publish detailed budget information. Lauren Hanson and I have issued “Ten Principles for the Governance for the Goleta Water District,” a document that sets forth our plan for a change in the culture and operations of the district. The principles cover budget and finance, committees and minutes, document availability and enforcement of ordinances and policies. If adopted it will put an end to the secrecy and promote open, transparent and accountable government in the district.

NOOZHAWK: Clean water is still a relatively cheap commodity, but it is becoming more precious with increased development and population. Do you see any future need to raise rates and why?

BILL ROSEN: Based on recent reports, the district revenue and its net income exceed budget estimates. The district’s reserves are healthy and in excess of $6 million. Nonetheless, the district plans an annual rate increase program for the next several years. I oppose any rate increase planned in advance for an extended period of time. No one can know if the projected financial condition for an extended period of time will, in fact, be accurate. For the next years, preparations for a 218 review is being planned. I do not believe there is any ground for such an increase. The district has published only a general financial statement with no details of expenditure. If I were a board member, I would require a complete review of a line-item budget before proceeding with any rate increase consideration.

NOOZHAWK: How do you reconcile the general need to use less water (conservation), with the district’s need to make profits? Can the district make money even as ratepayers use less water?

BILL ROSEN: The district is a governmental agency. It really does not make a profit. It must cover its reasonable and necessary expenses and provide for a reserve to cover future capital and other contingencies. To the extent that it makes more money than it costs to deliver water, that difference goes to the reserve. Profits are a subject for private business. The concern I have is whether the district may be charging too much for its water. Based on my observations, the board did not examine the budget, it did not have a process to provide as open examination of the budget. All I saw was a summary report produced by management that the board accepted in its entirety. The process was like receiving a bill from a credit-card company with only the totals listed and a demand for payment.

I am sure the district will prosper in an environment in which conservation is a primary goal.

NOOZHAWK: There’s a lot of disagreement over the SAFE ordinance, the policy that ensures a buffer in times of drought, and recent reports regarding groundwater levels — whether we have enough to satisfy SAFE and continue to plan for new allotments. Where do you stand on the issue of SAFE and the 1972 groundwater levels required by the ordinance to be reached before new allotments can be made?

BILL ROSEN: SAFE is a wise protection for the Goleta Water District. SAFE was adopted by the district voters. SAFE deals with two issues: the maintenance of a drought buffer with a required annual contribution and the grounds for allocation of water on an annual basis to new and additional uses.

Drought buffer: The drought buffer is water stored in the central basin aquifer. To maintain the drought buffer, the district must make an annual storage contribution.

The annual storage contribution is an amount equal to 2,000 acre-feet plus additional water based on new and additional uses. The annual storage contribution is required so long as the water level of the central basin is below its 1972 water level. When the level is at or above the 1972 level, the district may utilize the yield of the central basin to reduce the cost of water services to existing customers. It is assumed that use of central basin water is less expensive than the purchase of water from other sources and would reduce the cost of such water to existing customers. The determination of compliance with the 1972 water-level requirement requires a groundwater management plan and an acceptance of the method of measuring the water level and the appropriate number of data points to be used. The dispute is over the method used to measure the water content in the central basin and the number of data points.

SAFE is intended and designed to provide a permanent, reliable water supply. In drought years when water deliveries from Lake Cachuma are reduced, the drought buffer can be pumped. Existing customers are all customers of the district at the time of the drought.

New and additional uses: The district is “forbidden” from providing new or additional service connections to any property not previously served until the district is receiving 100 percent of its normally allowed deliveries from Cachuma, the provisions of the Wright decision (a court decision that determined the rights to central basin water) have been complied with, water rationing is eliminated, and the annual storage contribution has been made. If so, the district may release 1 percent of its total potable water supply to new or additional service connections.

I support the implementation of SAFE. I believe it will protect the residents of the district and prevent development.

NOOZHAWK: How would you clear up the confusion?

BILL ROSEN: Recently, the board attempted to declare the central basin at the 1972 level. Unfortunately, the district’s hydrologist was unable to state that the central basin was at 100 percent of the 1972 level as required by the law. There was a dispute as to whether the level is a dip-stick level or a volume level. Indeed, to add to the confusion, there was an admission that certain wells were below the 1972 level. I believe the district will have to undertake a thorough review with independent experts and subject to public input to establish a means of measuring the central basin water level. The district will have to adopt a groundwater management plan to regulate the use and application of the water in the central basin. Once that is done and there is common understanding of the water the district will be able to determine, the water level in the central basin and water availability for new and additional uses will be known.

Click here for more information on Bill Rosen.

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