Leon Worden

Fingerprints in the water agency election

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, October 7, 1998

ell, here we are again. Election time. If it's autumn in an even year, that can mean only one thing in Santa Clarita: water wars.

It's like clockwork. Every time there's a Castaic Lake Water Agency board election on the horizon, the pages of your local paper are filled with rumors and misinformation from the opposition candidates. It happened two years ago, the last time there was a CLWA election, and it's happening again this year.

In 1996 the word was that the CLWA board directors weren't really committed to letting the city build a nice, new Central Park on their property. As I think we all now know, the CLWA board directors were and are VERY committed to letting the city build a nice, new Central Park on their property. The only party throwing a monkey wrench into the plan at this late date seems to be the city.

This year the Central Park is again an issue, and not just because the city apparently stalled on building it for six months while it "explored alternatives." This year the issue is a story about water connection fees that appeared in local papers last week — a non-issue that one of the water board challengers, a gadfly named Ed Dunn, tried to fabricate into an issue.

It's the same Ed Dunn whom voters kicked off the Newhall County Water board a year ago for failing to improve the quality of water in Newhall or drive down the price in Castaic or Pinetree — things that really ARE issues.

Curiously, our city manager's fingerprints were all over both fabricated stories. In 1996 the false rumors about the CLWA directors balking over the Central Park came from City Hall. This season, Dunn told a Signal reporter that the city manager supplied him with figures in preparation for taking his bogus "story" to the papers. Sorta makes you wonder if the city manager's office doesn't have an agenda of its own when it comes to who controls water in this valley.

It would make sense. The city has tried — and may be trying again — to purchase the Santa Clarita Water Co., one of the SCV's four water retailers. Putting opposition candidates on the CLWA board couldn't hurt the city's efforts to seize control of our water.

Of course, it could simply be a personal problem. The animosity between Caravalho and CLWA General Manager Bob Sagehorn is no great secret. It was Sagehorn and the current directors of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, after all, who stymied the city's plan to create an illegal redevelopment agency that would have cost other public entities, and ultimately taxpayers, $1.1 billion-with-a-B over 30 years.

To me, that weighs darned heavily on the side of the current CLWA directors.

I understand lawmakers in Sacramento still use Santa Clarita's attempted $1.1 billion redevelopment scheme as a prime example of how redevelopment can go wrong.

Who are these CLWA directors? They're a bunch of people who just care about water. Go figure. They really don't give a damn about politics. Which makes it tough sometimes. It explains why you don't see them writing a lot of letters to the editor to counteract the absurdities you're accustomed to reading in the editorial pages. They're just doing their thing.

And in case there's any confusion, their thing isn't to build roads through parks, or give away tax dollars to other public agencies, or control growth. The job of a CLWA director is to provide an ample supply of high-quality water at a reasonable cost.

Richard Balcerzak, Donald Froelich and Randall Pfiester have been doing that for the last four years. They'd like your approval to keep doing it. Peter Kavounas looks promising, too. He's running for the only vacant CLWA seat this year.

You'll see two of these names on your ballot. Chances are, you've never heard of them. And that's OK. At least remember their names until Nov. 3. Write them down if you have to.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.

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