Escondido, CA

City, Rincon water dispute could be long, litigious

A dispute over which agency should serve the sewer needs of the Valiano Project, which is outside of the Escondido city limits, but within its Sphere of Influence, but also within the boundaries of the Rincon Del Diablo Municipal Water District, appears as though it will go forward—and Rincon’s general manager is predicting that it could be a long and potentially litigious process.

The item was on the May 15, Wednesday city council agenda. So it will be decided after this edition of the Times-Advocate goes to print. We will have a full report on the decision in next week’s paper.

No matter how the Escondido City Council votes on the matter, it will still be up to the Local Agency Formation Commission to decide who serves the Valiano development.

April 10 the Rincon water district sent a delegation of Gen. Mgr. Greg Thomas and director David Drake to ask the city not to adopt the resolution.

Thomas told the council that the Valiano Project sewer treatment was assigned by the County of San Diego to his district, and that it is in the unincorporated area, although within the water district’s boundaries. The development is the 326 single-family residential development Valiano Project that the Board of Supervisors approved last July, but which is now the subject of litigation.

Despite this, city staff has recommended adopting the Sewer Flow Agreement between the City and the developer of the Valiano project.

“Yes, it will all have to go to LAFCO,” Thomas told the Times-Advocate this week. “This could be time consuming, costly and potentially litigious.  I asked they delay so staff could better discuss options, but seems they determined they are going to proceed anyways,” he said.

Last month the council asked city staff to work with the Rincon staff to try to compromise on the issue, and also to give the fifth member of the council, John Masson, a chance to attend this week’s council meeting. He was absent the last time this was voted on, and the council was split 2-2 on the issue.

After the April meeting the fact that this motion was a “consent item” prompted Rincon board president James B. Murtland to send a letter to the city:   “It was quite a lengthy discussion from both councilmembers and city staff, as well as members of the public, especially for a ‘consent’ item, which items are normally reserved for routine administrative matters and usually have little to no dialogue associated.”

Murtland added, “The process of placing it on the consent calendar did not lend to the topic as a very open and transparent process for discussion. In fact, we only found out about it being on the agenda late Monday morning, yet this item has ramifications for Rincon Water as well as all our current and future customers in the unincorporated area west of Escondido city boundaries.”

Thomas noted that the city’s agreement with the Valiano developer contained language that indicated the city was interested in not only annexing the Valiano project, but also eventually absorbing the Rincon Del Diablo district.

Thomas told The Times-Advocate: “Not the best way to ‘work’ together for future discussions of potential merger or consolidation.  Constant talk of annexation has the locals all roiled up also!”

Answering Murtland’s letter, Mayor Paul McNamara  conceded that the city is interested in annexing the water district.   He wrote, “[T]he language regarding a merger between Escondido and Rincon, or regarding Rincon becoming a subsidiary district, should really come as no surprise. I made it very clear during our recent meeting that the merger or consolidation of the two agencies would make sense. Indeed, if you review the history between the two agencies, such discussions have occurred before, and have even come close to fruition. It is not prudent to ignore this history and indeed, maybe now is the time for wise policymakers to actually make such a merger or consolidation happen. As I am sure you would agree, prudent and responsible leaders will look for long term solutions to regional needs.”

When Drake and Thomas appeared at last month’s council meeting, one of their complaints was that the proposal was done under the radar as a part of the consent calendar.

In his letter, McNamara defended how the matter came to be on the agenda last month. “Our agenda item and the proposed Agreement were publicly noticed, and your staff were notified that the item would be considered,” he wrote. “Furthermore, the Agreement itself will not become effective until it is approved by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and needed changes are made to the City’s Sphere of Influence (SOI). This will continue a very public process and continue to give all stakeholders, including Rincon Water, an ongoing and ample opportunity to participate.”

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