Riverside Supervisors Contemplate $350 Million Tax for Salton Sea

A proposed tax district would help pay for restoration of the upper half of the Salton Sea if approved.

By California News Wire Services, News Partner | May 21, 2019 5:26 pm ET

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved a four- month postponement of a meeting on a proposed tax district to pay for restoration of the upper half of the Salton Sea.

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the Board of Supervisors moved the previously set June 11 meeting to Oct. 15, at the same location — the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club at 9115 Sea View Drive in Mecca.

The meeting time is currently set for 11 a.m. Any changes will be publicized.

According to Executive Office staff, the date change was necessary because drawing up specifics of how the proposed Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District will work requires additional time, and sending notices to everyone who may be impacted by the tax district has also proved to be a chore.

Supervisors Manuel Perez and Jeff Hewitt are seated on the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District Authority formed by the board last October. Both men are slated to attend the October meeting.

The Salton Sea EIFD will require voter support to be established.

EIFDs were authorized under Senate Bill 628 in 2014 and permit bond sales to finance construction of private and public projects. The estimated cost of shoring up the north end of the receding 360-square-mile lake is $350 million, according to the Executive Office.

The proposed EIFD would be fixed between the Imperial County line to the south and the boundaries of Coachella and Indio to the north, as well as west to the city limit of La Quinta and roughly 40 miles east of state Route 111. Torres-Martinez tribal land would be exempt.

An EIFD relies on “tax increment” to pay off the bonds issued in support of it. Tax increment is generated by projects within specified locations that increase property values.

Perez, whose Fourth District encompasses the Salton Sea’s north side, has been advocating measures to pay for projects aimed at preserving and fortifying what’s left of the dying lake, most of which is in Imperial County.

According to the Executive Office, the Salton Sea EIFD would ensure funding for an earthen dam to control water loss.

Sorting out what strategies to employ for preservation of the Salton Sea has been a two-decade process lacking results.

Executive Office staff pointed out in October that $25 million from Proposition 50 in 2006 was expended on research but no game plan for saving the Sea. Similarly, $400 million from Proposition 84 in 2014 was earmarked for projects to mitigate environmental damage from the shrinking body of water, but there was nothing proactive done.

Proposition 66, the $4 billion water bond measure approved by voters last June, set aside $200 million for Sea projects. If the state continues to tarry without applying funds to a fix, evaporation will continue, exposing more lakebed and raising public health risks, according to the county.

Water reclamation by local agencies and Mexico, plus the loss of Colorado River supplies that originally fed the Salton Sea, have caused water levels to drop and salinity to spike.

For 15 years, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to replenish some of the water drawn out of the sea in order to limit lakebed exposure, but that mitigation effort ended on Jan. 1, 2018, leaving the area’s future ecology in doubt.

— By City News Service

From the Desert Sun: Bill requiring IID board seats for Coachella Valley paused until 2020; IID says divestment still an option

Sam Metz, Palm Springs Desert Sun

Published 6:30 p.m. PT May 16, 2019 | Updated 2:59 a.m. PT May 18, 2019

Assemblymember Chad Mayes’ controversial bill to add Riverside County representatives to the Imperial Irrigation District’s Board of Directors hit a roadblock on Thursday when the Assembly Appropriations Committee put it on hold until 2020.

The bill, A.B. 854, failed to advance to the Assembly floor but also avoided being relegated to committee’s dreaded “suspense file,” which would have effectively defeated it. The Appropriations Committee will next consider the bill in 2020.

After Thursday’s hearing, Mayes said the fight over voting rights and representation for IID ratepayers residing in Riverside County was far from over. Mayes said he planned to meet with the IID Board of Directors in El Centro Friday morning to discuss his concerns about Riverside County representation on IID’s board.

“This bill’s not dead. We’re continuing to work on it. It’s incredibly important for all the local stakeholders to get together,” Mayes said. “We have to figure this out.”

IID and Coachella Valley residents have fought about representation for almost a century, since the irrigation district and the Coachella Valley Water District reached an agreement to expand IID’s jurisdiction to sell electricity in the Coachella Valley. Local officials from the Coachella Valley have lobbied for additional seats on IID’s board since at least seats 2007. Mayes said he remained committed to ensuring Coachella Valley ratepayers won representation on the IID board.

“IID has the ability to change utility rates, determine investment in communities or cut service altogether,” he said. “This power over 92,000 disenfranchised voters must be balanced with representation.”

Mayes’ bill proposes adding six seats to IID’s five-member board to give the 92,000 Riverside County customers who account for 60% of IID’s electricity sales proportional representation. The bill generated swift backlash from both IID’s board and Imperial Valley activists, who called it a Riverside County power grab and said it threatened their water rights.

After preliminary discussions with Mayes, IID board President Erik Ortega sent the assemblyman a strongly worded letter rejecting future conversations.

The tactic backfired when the Assembly Local Government Committee advanced the bill with a 6-2 vote on April 24 after some committee members said they voted in favor of it largely due to their disapproval of the letter.

A week later, Ortega said, if the bill advanced further, IID would consider withdrawing services from the Coachella Valley.

IID lobbyist Antonio Ortega said the district was pleased with Thursday’s outcome and committed to sitting down to talk with Mayes, Coachella Valley Water District and ratepayers about representation.

“Regardless of the outcome of today, the purpose was to continue to have this dialogue at the local level,” he said. “It’s easier to have a discussion without having the threat of A.B. 854 hanging over our heads.”

Even though IID threatened to divest from the Coachella Valley if the bill advanced, Ortega said the district felt under threat by A.B. 854. He said the bill threatened the delicate relationship between IID and the Coachella Valley Water District, IID’s current governance structure and potentially the district’s water rights.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Ortega said, citing Newton’s Third Law. “Divestment isn’t a threat, it’s an option.”

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, condemned IID’s political brinksmanship after it proposes divesting from the Coachella Valley, but on Thursday, he echoed the district’s talking points and said fights about representation on IID’s board would be best solved locally.

The powerful Democratic lawmaker represents both the eastern Coachella Valley and the Imperial Valley in the Assembly and has said he opposes the bill but thinks questions about Riverside County representation merit a discussion.

“The willingness of parties to come to the table demonstrates good faith efforts on all sides to resolve this matter locally without the need for legislation. Putting A.B. 854 on hold will allow for these negotiations to move forward,” he said.

https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/16/iid-board-coachella-valley-remake-bill-pause-until-2020/3694964002/