County Supervisors support IID’s fight against AB 854

By TOM BODUS, Editor in Chief Imperial Valley Press
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Board of Supervisors Tuesday responded to proposed bill in the California Assembly that would give Riverside County majority representation on the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors essentially with a hell no.

Imperial County District 3 Supervisor Michael Kelly.

Actually, that’s precisely how District 3 Supervisor Michael Kelly expressed it shortly before the board voted unanimously to oppose Assembly Bill 854. The proposed legislation was introduced by Republican Chad Mayes on Feb. 20. It would add six seats to the IID Board of Directors, all of which would be filled by Riverside County in an election to be held in 2020.

Kelly did question whether IID shouldn’t consider another option, which is to drop power service to Riverside County altogether.

“I suggest IID just get out of the electricity business in Coachella Valley,” he said. “Turn it over to somebody else and see what they like about rates then.”

That’s not the first time that notion has come up in either a Board of Supervisors meeting or an IID meeting. When asked about that option, IID communications specialist Robert Schettler replied by emphasizing the position the district has held to from the start: “This is a serious matter for the IID and can only be seen as a direct attack on the authority of the IID Board and the water and energy rights it holds in trust and to which it is duty-bound to protect.”

Schettler noted the long-standing 1934 agreement with the Coachella Valley Water District, giving IID the right to serve energy to in Riverside County and for which IID pays Coachella Valley Water District 8 percent of its energy net proceeds. Those payments have totaled $45 million to date, he said.

Schettler also referred to a letter to Mayes on Feb. 27 from IID general counsel Frank Oswalt. It explained both districts about bound by federal law to honor the 1934 agreement.

“In short, IID has done nothing more than what is in the best interest of its residents and customers and fully authorized by federal and state law, which has been memorialized in contracts with several parties,” Oswalt said in the letter.

IID and Riverside County have been embroiled in a lawsuit filed by IID that would have required the utility to renew its net metering program in the county. In November 2018, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing the county of Riverside from implementing the ordinance.

Mayes’ bill is largely seen as an extension of that conflict. Riverside County represents approximately 60 percent of IID’s electrical customer base, and the argument is that those ratepayers can’t vote in IID elections and have no voice in its decision-making.

However, the AB 854 would also give Riverside a majority voice in the district’s water management, and no one in Imperial County appears to be interested in yielding on that point.