The Montecito sanitary and water district boards recently approved funding for a consolidation feasibility study.

The Montecito Water District serves the Montecito and Summerland communities, and the Montecito Sanitary District provides wastewater collection and treatment services to Montecito-area customers, while the Summerland Sanitary District serves Summerland.

The joint strategic planning committee with water and sanitary district board members directed staff to reach out to qualified firms that do these types of studies, said Brad Rahner, the general manager of the Montecito Sanitary District, at the board’s Feb. 24 meeting.

Each of the four firms approached in the “informal request for proposal process” submitted proposals for a consolidation feasibility study, according to water and sanitary district staff, who presented board members with two of them to consider: proposals from Berkson Associates and Raftelis.

Berkson Associates did the feasibility studies for Goleta’s incorporation, the Isla Vista Community Services District formation and the Los Olivos Community Services District formation, while Raftelis has done rate studies for several local agencies, including the Montecito Water District.

Both district boards voted to enter a contract with Raftelis and split the cost, which at $47,250 was about twice as much as the Berkson Associates proposal cost.

The districts also will split the cost of a contract with Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley PC as special legal counsel for a consolidation evaluation.

The water district board chose Raftelis’ proposal at its Feb. 22 meeting, and the sanitary district board agreed at its Feb. 24 meeting.

Woody Barrett, a Montecito Sanitary District director who is also on the joint strategy committee, said the feasibility study will see if there’s a cost savings or operating efficiencies from consolidating the two special districts.

He also said one decision-making board could theoretically make decisions faster than two collaborating boards on issues such as recycled water.

“I don’t think there’s going to be much cost savings in the consolidation of the districts; I think efficiencies will go way up,” Barrett said during the recent meeting, in which members met over Zoom. “It may not go up in the first year or two; it might take five or 10 years.”

Any consolidation evaluation most likely would take years, with the study being the first step, Barrett said.

Board chair Dorinne Lee Johnson said the district is not trying to rush anything, and is not committed to doing the consolidation, just a feasibility study.

“We do have the obligation that we at least take a look at that for our community,” she said.

The sanitary district board voted 4-1 to approve the contract with Raftelis. Member Gary Fuller dissented, saying he questioned where the public support is for consolidation.

“It seems our board has a lot of support for it, but I don’t see it as coming from the public in any way, shape or form,” Fuller said.

The water and sanitary districts have staffs of about 30 and 20 people, respectively.

Rahrer joined the sanitary district last year after the previous general manager and several other longtime employees left around the time of the 2020 board elections.

In recent years, the water district has focused on increasing supplies for local customers through purchase agreements, such as the 50-year contract to buy water from Santa Barbara.  

The sanitary district board also voted in late February to reactivate its pilot recycled water plant to gather more data about treating the local wastewater supply as it considers a larger-scale system.

The Montecito Water District headquarters is at 583 San Ysidro Lane, adjacent to the Montecito Fire Protection District headquarters and Upper Montecito Village.

The Montecito Sanitary District headquarters and wastewater treatment plant are located at 1042 Monte Cristo Lane, adjacent to the Santa Barbara Cemetery.

Any consolidation would have to be approved by the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at