Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 April 2017 10:38
Published on Friday, 07 April 2017 15:53
Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water member Richard Hajas prepared this chart this week showing the projected savings to the typical Ojai service area customer for the next 10 years.
Ojai Valley News photo by Tim Dewar
This sign appeared in Libbey Park during a 2013 rally celebrating the election results that provided the funding mechanism for the buyout.
Bill Warner, Ojai Valley News reporter
An agreement that would remove Golden State Water Company (GSWC) as water purveyor for its Ojai service area could be signed as early as April 12.
According to an April 7 press release from the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) its Board of Directors will meet April 12 to possibly sign the three-way agreement between Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.), CMWD and GSWC.
The release went on to say that June 15 is the target date for the switch, but that date is contingent on the sale of Mello-Roos bonds that will finance the acquisition. The agreement authorizes $30 million to GSWC for its interest in the service area, along with an additional $4.4 million for money owed GSWC for surcharges that would have been added to future billings. Technically, the GSWC holdings will be purchased by the Ojai Community Facilities District (CFD), which in turn would be administered by CMWD.
“It's been quite a journey, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” CMWD General Manager Steve Wickstrum said April 7. “We want to make sure the transition happens smoothly, and we want to pick up the ball and make sure the system is the very best system to serve the people up there.”
Ojai voters approved CMWD's acquisition of GSWC's Ojai service area in 2013. GSWC responded with a lawsuit aimed at blocking CMWD's plan to form a CFD for the purpose of raising money for the buyout. After rejections by the superior and appellate courts, the lawsuit made its way to the Supreme Court of California, which likewise rejected it in 2015. That same year, CMWD retained the services of the Ventura-based Bruce W. Hull & Associates to conduct an appraisal of the Ojai District. Based on that appraisal, in February 2016 CMWD offered GSWC $23.7 million for its local holdings. That offer was rejected by GSWC in March 2016.
In January 2017, the eminent domain bid was set for a phase-one “right to take” bench trial June 12 and a phase-two jury trial involving valuation and damages Dec. 11.
The agreement eliminates the need for further legal action.
“I'd say we're all elated,” said Pat McPherson, chairman of F.L.O.W., the grassroots organization largely responsible for bringing the issue of acquisition to public referendum in 2013 at which Ojai residents voted overwhelmingly to place a community facilities district bond on their property to finance the acquisition. “We're really pleased we didn't have to go through the court, that we could get it done quickly,” he explained.
In January, Ventura Superior Court Judge Vincent O'Neill found F.L.O.W.’s seven-member Board of Directors liable for $23,209 in fees and costs payable to GSWC and its legal staff for services associated with the eminent domain suit. This agreement would release them from that liability and requires the other two parties to pay their own legal fees associated with this effort.
The agreement does not address the issue of repairing the Ojai Playhouse building, damaged by waters from a July 2014 water main break on Ojai Avenue. It also does not determine who will take over the seat currently held by GSWC on the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency.
The CMWD meeting will be held April 12 at 3 p.m. at the Oak View Park and Resource Center, 555 Mahoney Ave. in Oak View. The meeting will be open to the public.
Contacted for comment, GSWC officials had not responded by 4 p.m. April 7.