First, I wanted to thank you for covering a topic that is very important to members of our community, particularly, Rincon ratepayers in Eden Valley and Harmony Grove. Nonetheless, the article you published last week entitled, “Rincon expecting big crowd Thursday for sewer expansion meeting” includes several inaccuracies we would like to address.
Our main concern is that two facts were not even mentioned in the article:
1. The projects Rincon is portraying as “a done deal” are far from ever becoming a reality. They are not allowed under the current General Plan (GP), the county’s “land constitution,” because they violate our Community Plan and elements of the GP, which is why they need a GPA, a General Plan Amendment – none has been granted since the GP was approved in August 2011. Previous incarnations were turned down by the same Board of Supervisors who will need to grant them what would amount to an enormous exception to the land use regulations currently governing the parcels these speculators have targeted.
2. The Harmony Grove Village Water Treatment Facility (WTF) is subject to a prohibition to expand the WTF in order to prevent sprawl throughout the valley. Under current management and ownership, the WTF cannot be expanded – it is only through a loophole exempting special districts from zoning and land use laws that Rincon could by taking it over eliminate that prohibition.
The communities of Harmony Grove, Eden Valley and Elfin Forest negotiated in good faith with the County to accept our “fair share” of growth through the 742-home Harmony Grove Village project, which doubles our population. Part of the hard fought compromise was a specific prohibition to ever expand the onsite sewer plant to serve more developments, as a way to ensure density would stay constrained within the Village Limit Line. Unless Rincon takes it over, that prohibition is currently in effect and remains.
Specific inaccuracies in the article include:
1- “…although not so much from the ratepayers who actually live in the district”…This gives the impression opposition emanates from outside forces and that ratepayers are mostly fine with the whole thing. The majority of the people at the meeting were ratepayers or representatives of ratepayers in Harmony Grove and Eden Valley. Not a single attendee spoke in favor of the plan.
2- “…disingenuous E-alert…” This is simply not accurate. The community concerns on this matter expressed in the E-alert are entirely heartfelt, sincere and candid. It appears the reporter went to press without speaking to the FEVRD or the EFHGTC side. All he did was include a link to the FEVRD site at the end, and an inaccurate one, at that.
3- “…land grab…” While it is accurate this is not literally a land grab, the expression is a common metaphor for power grab, which is what was meant. Rincon is explicitly “exercising latent powers”, i.e., seeking more power.
4- “…the district is in good financial shape…” Not according to the May 2015 independent third party rate study found on their website: http:// www.rinconwater.org/images/Rincon/ ratestudy.pdf – see page 12. It says they will have to fund operations from reserves beginning in FYE 2015-16 unless they raise rates 5% a year for the next five years in addition to any pass through of rate increases from the SDCWA. It also suggests they will run out of money to fund “necessary capital investments” after two years “without an influx of revenues.” It further recommends the district borrow $10mm to fund capital investments. A sizeable sum for a low margin $15 million enterprise that will place significant debt service demands on ratepayers. Further, the district will assume additional operating cost financial risk by taking over the sewer service. Since the district as a water only agency has no expertise or resources in sewer operations the risk of execution failure is high and any budget overruns will have to be paid for by the ratepayers.
5- “…attacks have come from Elfin Forest Town Council.” We object to the term “attacks” – we are simply mobilizing our community to make them aware of an attempt to overturn a painfully crafted compromise, which will affect community safety in emergency evacuations and quality of life through increased traffic. We are also called the Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Town Council (www.efhgtc.org). Omitting “Harmony Grove” is a misleading and disingenuous omission which implies we are outsiders trying to influence a matter we have no stake in, when in fact we represent Rincon ratepayers in Harmony Grove and stakeholders in Elfin Forest whose lives may depend on access to safe egress routes through Harmony Grove and Eden Valley in the event of a wildfire evacuation like the Coco’s Fire.
6- “If Rincon doesn’t provide this service, the County is going to do it.” While it is correct that the County is taking over the current facility at HG village to serve only the HGV residents, the County is constrained from expanding the HGV treatment plant to serve other proposed GPA’s, which is the center of the Rincon proposal.
The County is legally prohibited from expanding the HGV treatment plant, which is the center of the district proposal. The economics and logistics of building their own water treatment facility is one of the key obstacles to the two developments seeking an exception to current land use laws. In fact the reverse is true if Rincon takes over and expands the facility: Rincon through this take-over attempt is sending a lifeline to out-of-town speculators betting they can overturn current approved land use for their profit. Perhaps this is why the developers intend to pay the district for the $200,000 cost of the EIR as we were advised at the scoping meeting.
7- The General Manager stated repeatedly that the County had approached them to take over the WTF. We have spoken to numerous contacts at the County and were specifically told that the County did not initiate this, particularly since they were a party to the original agreement not to expand.
ANGELIQUE HARTMAN, Rincon Water ratepayer and board member of the Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Town Council * * *