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/

IID statement regarding Assemblyman Mayes’ legislation

Below is a statement form the Imperial Irrigation District regarding legislation authored by Assemblymember Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley). Immediately after the statement is the five-page letter from IID General Counsel to the Assemblymember.

IID statement regarding Assemblyman Mayes’ legislation

Post Date:03/01/2019 9:24 AM

Imperial Irrigation District and the IID Board of Directors have proudly served and represented its valued customers in Imperial and Coachella valleys with some of the lowest energy rates in California.

Ten local residents from the IID service area in the Coachella Valley serve on IID’s Energy Consumers Advisory Committee, which meets monthly and advises the IID Board of Directors on energy matters.

The legislation introduced last week by Assemblyman Mayes 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.

The district is concerned about the far-reaching impacts of this bill as well as the potential legal matters, which would surely ensue.

The IID Board is expected to discuss the matter during a special meeting Friday, March 1, and will be meeting with Assemblyman Mayes next week to discuss in greater detail.

As part of the long-standing compromise agreement with the Coachella Valley Water District to serve energy to the area, IID pays CVWD 8 percent of its  energy net proceeds ($45 million to date), an additional benefit to the Coachella Valley.

Desert Sun: Norma Sierra Galindo wins third term on IID Board.

Despite big money donations from farmers opposed to the IID water policies to serve all Imperial County residents, Norma Sierra Galindo leaves her opponent in the dust.

Norma Sierra Galindo

Imperial County voters re-elected Norma Sierra Galindo to the Imperial Irrigation District’s board of directors, rejecting a bid from Carlos Zaragoza, who was backed by a handful of farmers seeking greater control over the region’s Colorado River water.

With all precincts reporting early Wednesday, Galindo had won 53 percent of the votes, compared to 47 percent for Zaragoza, a property tax consultant. Zaragoza declined to share his opinion on the Abatti lawsuit during the campaign, saying only that he would “support the law as determined by the courts.” He received at least $5,000 from farmers who had previously supported Imperial Valley First, a group that has fought IID over water rights and campaigned against sitting board members in several elections.

Zaragoza received $1,000 in campaign funds from Jimmy Abatti, Mike’s brother and the immediate past president of the Imperial County Farm Bureau, who has previously sued IID several times over its water policies. Zaragoza also got $1,000 each from farmers Kevin Grizzle, Mike Morgan, Jack Vessey and Doug Westmoreland. Separately, Morgan gave $5,000 to Imperial Valley First, which registered to campaign against Galindo.

The complete article can be accessed on the Desert Sun website by clicking here.

Imperial Valley Press: IID scores initial win in legal battle with Riverside County

Riverside County Slammed by Judge Granting a Preliminary Injunction Requested by the Imperial Irrigation District…..In granting the injunction, the Judge found that the county’s ordinance conflicts with state law and, if enacted, would cause irreparable harm to the district, said Frank Oswalt, IID general counsel. 

IID Also Believes Riverside Violated Brown Act 

IID scores initial win in legal battle with Riverside County

By IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS STAFF

https://www.ivpressonline.com/news/local/iid-scores-initial-win-in-legal-battle-with-riverside-county/article_201256da-e248-11e8-a656-574c5f5502d2.html

Nov. 7, 2018

 LOS ANGELES — A County Superior Court judge here on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction preventing the county of Riverside from implementing an ordinance that, if enacted, would bypass the authority of the Imperial Irrigation District to set electric rates for its customers, according to an IID press release.

In granting the injunction, Judge Mary Strobel found that the county’s ordinance conflicts with state law and, if enacted, would cause irreparable harm to the district, Frank Oswalt, IID general counsel, reported.

Although no final rulings were made, Oswalt said the court determined that there was a likely probability that IID would prevail if the matter were fully contested, according to IID. Further, should the ordinance be enacted, the IID board and staff would be irreparably harmed by the prescribed criminal penalties in the ordinance, and the district harmed by the millions of dollars in unrecoverable costs to implement it, according to the district release.

In June, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved Ordinance No. 943, which would have required IID to scrap its publicly vetted and board-adopted solar tariff, net-energy billing and create a new solar tariff that closely resembles that of a privately owned utility, Southern California Edison.

All this came at the request of a private business owner whose business is located in Riverside County and stands to directly benefit financially from the impacts of this ordinance, according to the IID. The district is referring to Renova Energy owner Vincent Battaglia.

“The notion that Riverside County would usurp IID’s ratemaking authority and adopt an ordinance that violates state law is inherently unreasonable and unprecedented,” said James Hanks, IID board president. “Today’s action by the court is a win for the district and its ratepayers.”

In making her ruling, Judge Strobel also noted several potential areas in which the county’s ordinance may conflict with the Public Utilities Act.

Among those areas are:

“First and most critically, section 2827 (of the Public Utilities Act) provides that a [public owned utility], such as the petitioner (IID), is not required to offer NEM (net-energy metering) programs beyond its 5 percent participation cap provided for under that statute,” the judge wrote. “The ordinance directly conflicts with this general law because it imposes NEM requirement on [IID] ‘as expansive’ as NEM 2.0, which does not have this participation cap.”

Second, the same section defines the ratemaking authority of a publicly owned utility as the board of that utility. “That board has the authority to determine when … the utility is not obligated to provide NEM to additional customer-generators. … The ordinance, in contrast, grants [Riverside County] the authority to regulate [IID’s] rates for NEM credits, and it purports to regulate [IID’s] NEM activities as if it were an [investor-owned utility] under the ratemaking authority of the [California Public Utilities Commission],” the judge wrote in her decision.

Riverside County officials did not comment when contacted by the Imperial Valley Press.

Recently, IID alleged Riverside County was in violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, when Riverside officials “lined up votes” outside of the public’s purview on Ordinance 943.

What’s more, due to the alleged Brown Act violations, the district sent a letter from one of its attorneys demanding that the ordinance in question be rescinded or that Riverside County face additional legal challenges from the district. From the date of the letter, Oct. 12, the IID has given Riverside County 30 days to respond or be subject to legal action.

Backdoor politics: IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance

From the Imperial Valley Press:

Backdoor politics

IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance

By IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS STAFF

 LA QUINTA — The Imperial Irrigation District is alleging Riverside County was in violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, when Riverside officials “lined up votes” outside of the public’s purview on an ordinance the district is now suing over.

What’s more, due to the alleged Brown Act violations, the district sent a letter from one of its attorneys demanding that the ordinance in question be rescinded or that Riverside County face additional legal challenges from the district.

The allegations were made public Tuesday at the district’s monthly meeting in La Quinta during a presentation by attorneys for Aguirre and Severson LLP, an outside law firm hired by the district to make a California public records request on its behalf.

The district is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Riverside County over the approval of Ordinance 943, a law passed by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in June compelling the IID to provide additional incentives to electrical customers who have installed solar panels on their properties.

IID officials are opposed to the ordinance, saying that at stake is the district’s authority to set its own rates and that the district is already in compliance with California state law.

“IID’s business model allows the district to offer its customers some of the lowest residential electric rates in California — rates that are as much as 50 percent lower than that of neighboring investor-owned utilities. The ordinance, should it be implemented, jeopardizes these rates and sets a bad public policy that has the potential to impact other public power providers across the state,” IID communications specialist Robert Schettler said in a statement.

The ordinance passed by Riverside County — which is not in effect, but in a court-ordered stay while the suit makes its way through legal proceedings — establishes new regulations and procedures for irrigation districts like IID that are operating net-energy metering programs. Net-energy metering is a program designed to benefit customers who generate their own electricity, usually via rooftop solar panels.

The Brown Act violation allegations are believed to be contained in a series of correspondence Aguirre and Severson requested between Riverside County officials and staff and principals in Renova Energy, a private solar installation company based in Palm Desert that appears to have pushed for the ordinance according to a series of emails.

“Because of the rather troubling aspects of the way this thing was passed, we asked outside counsel to make a public records request,” IID General Counsel Frank Oswalt said.

Oswalt said Riverside County responded to the records request Oct. 2 and within a series of email correspondence attorneys believed they found two emails, or examples, in which the Brown Act was violated.

The Brown Act states, Oswalt said, that a legislative body such as the Riverside County Board of Supervisors “shall not outside a meeting, use a series of communications to discuss, deliberate or take action” on a subject within its jurisdiction.

In a letter to the Riverside County board from IID Deputy County Counsel Joanna Smith Hoff:

“Email correspondence produced by [Riverside] County reveal extensive, non-public solicitation and collection of votes by Supervisor V. Manuel Perez at the insistence of [Renova Energy owner Vincent] Battaglia. For example, by email dated May 5, 2018, Supervisor Perez urged Thomas S. Freeman, a senior Perez staff member:

‘Tom, let’s count the votes. Use this information and the fact that Renova will indemnify. If votes still not there, we will need Vince (Battagalia) to knock on those doors to get us there.’”

Smith Hoff’s letter goes on to cite a second email where Perez lobbies Riverside County Deputy Chief Executive Officer Brian Nestande on May 1:

“Hey Brian, what are we waiting on now? Let’s move this forward. Let’s count the votes. V. Manuel Perez”

Smith Hoff writes: “It is clear from the above emails that Supervisor Perez worked through intermediaries to develop concurrence on Ordinance 943 out of public view and prior to any public consideration of the matter by the board.”

Further, IID alleges in Smith Hoff’s letter that the email correspondence also shows “a secretly negotiated indemnity agreement between Mr. Battaglia and his companies (Renova and ERA) on the one hand, and the county of Riverside on the other, that preceded any public board consideration or action in connection with the adoption of Ordinance 943.”

“We see this letter,” Smith Hoff writes, “as providing you [Riverside] an opportunity to rectify an illegal action avoiding the need for further litigation.” From the date of the letter, Oct. 12, the IID has given Riverside County 30 days to respond or be subject to legal action.

Riverside County officials deny any wrongdoing.

“The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has and will continue to adhere to the requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The allegations by the Imperial Irrigation District have no merit. Board members did not engage in any serial meetings in advance of the ordinance’s introduction and adoption. The recent disclosure of emails in response to IID’s public records request does not change the fact that there were no serial meetings,” Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.

Aguirre and Severson partner Maria Severson took the IID Board of Directors and those assembled at Tuesday’s meeting through a history of the “behind-the-scenes” development of the ordinance by way of a chain of emails outlining negotiations between Battaglia, Perez and others. There was a specific call to arms against the IID from Battaglia, according to the emails. Battaglia makes references to going to “war” with IID and in another instance calling the IID Board of Directors “rogue, corrupt and environmentally tone-deaf” through the development of the ordinance and the alleged negotiation of the indemnity agreement.

IID is “wasting rate payer money challenging a law they know they have no right to challenge,” Battaglia said Wednesday. “We addressed this Brown Act business. They are throwing anything at the wall to try to make it stick.”

Battaglia said the IID is trying to “paint it as if this greedy solar guy is trying to bring net-metering back. … It’s a just a game they are playing now trying to smear me. … It’s a cartel down there. I understand that mentality; I’m just not going to put up with that.”

He added that any dealings he had with Riverside County officials was above board and legal.

No action was taken on the Brown Act issue by the IID board, as the issue was placed on the meeting agenda as an information-only item. None of the board members nor IID General Manager Kevin Kelley commented on the issue; Oswalt advised, “In fact, it would probably be inappropriate for the board to comment on it.”

Meanwhile, IID filed suit against Riverside over the ordinance back on July 13 in Riverside County Superior Court. The ordinance in question has not gone into effect, as the IID won a stay pending further consideration of the merits of the case. The parties are next due in court Nov. 6 in Los Angeles, seen as a neutral site by the court.

First page of letter written to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors

 

 

 

Commentary (from AgAlert): Proposition 3 water bond represents important step

Below is a snippet from an article published on the California Farm Bureau’s AgAlert by Justin Fredrickson, environmental policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“Indeed, it’s no accident that numerous, solution-oriented conservation groups strongly endorse this bond, along with representatives of agriculture and business, flood-control districts and water districts throughout the state. Conservation groups supporting Proposition 3 include the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Planning and Conservation League, Sustainable Conservation, California Trout, Natural Heritage Institute, Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association and Save the Bay.

“That’s because Proposition 3 includes funding for conservancies, recycling, water conservation, stormwater capture, fish, waterfowl, Salton Sea restoration and forest management.”

You can read the entire article here.

LA Times: As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other states that take water from the lower Colorado River are nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway.

Under the proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking order. California’s huge river take would drop 4.5% to 8% as the shortage progressed.

With occasional years of relief, the river that greens farm fields and fills faucets from Colorado to California has been stuck in drought since 2000. A shortage declaration has been looming over the seven-state basin for more than a decade, only to be narrowly averted time and again when rain and snow in the upper basin pushed reservoir levels above the trigger point.

Nearly two decades of drought in the Colorado River Basin have taken their toll on Lake Mead, a major source of water for Southern California. (John Locher / Associated Press)

But flows into Lake Powell — one of the Colorado’s two massive reservoirs — fell to a little more than a third of the average for the April-through-July period this year. And September’s inflow was negligible, less than 1% of the average. Looking at those numbers, federal officials say the U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage in 2020.

“It’s pretty clear we’re in a deepening long-term drought cycle,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has been importing Colorado River water to the region since the early 1940s. “It’s in everybody’s interest to prevent the system from cratering.”

The basin’s entire storage system is 47% full. Lake Powell, which stores runoff from the upper basin and releases it to Lake Mead, is 45% full. Mead, the source of Southern California’s river water, is 38% full.

The Interior secretary has never declared a shortage on the Colorado. But it has been known for years that the river is over-allocated. The basin states divvied up the flows in the early 20th century — a period that in hindsight was unusually wet and presented an unrealistic picture of what the Colorado could produce year in and year out.

Diversions are regulated by a complicated system of river compacts and water rights that call for Arizona and Nevada to take the first cuts in times of a lower-basin shortage. California, with some of the oldest river rights, is further down the line.

The sprawling Imperial Irrigation District and other farm districts in southeastern California control roughly 75% of California’s 4.4 million-acre-foot share. Imperial is the single largest user on the entire length of the river, which starts at the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies and has an average annual flow of roughly 15 million acre-feet.

Metropolitan has nearly doubled its base allocation of 550,000 acre-feet through agreements with Imperial and other irrigation districts that fallow crop land and sell their unused river supplies. Those deals would help cushion Metropolitan, which serves Southern California, if a shortage is declared. (An acre-foot is enough to supply more than two households for a year.)

Metropolitan would also benefit from water it has been able to bank in Lake Mead under 2007 drought guidelines that have allowed states to leave unused portions of their river allocations in the reservoir. Under the previous use-it-or-lose-it rules, states had to take their full allocation every year.

The 2007 framework specified that the Department of the Interior would declare a shortage when Lake Mead’s elevation hit 1,075 feet. Nevada and Arizona, which have rights junior to California, would then start delivery reductions.

Under the proposed drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would continue to take the first cuts, which would be deeper than outlined in 2007. At the same time, California would reduce its river diversions when Mead levels hit 1,045 feet — earlier in the shortage than previously envisioned.

California’s cuts, shared by Imperial and Metropolitan, would increase as the lake level dropped but be no greater than 350,000 acre-feet a year.

Arizona is still working out the details of how to apportion its cuts among in-state users. And the lower-basin water districts have yet to approve the drought plan, which parties are hoping to finalize by December.

“I’ve got my own people asking tough questions. But I believe we can do it,” Metropolitan’s Kightlinger said.

A drought plan will not end debate among lower-basin users, who are confronting the fact that their use is outstripping the long-term supply.

“It’s not sustainable,” Kightlinger said. “We have to push it down or grow supply” with other sources.

The complete article by Betine Boxall can be read here.

ACWA: This November Vote Yes on Prop 3-Says Californias Association of Water Agencies


Passage of Proposition 3 is Dependent Upon Educating the Public

  • by Timothy Quinn
  • Oct 5, 2018
  • Voices on Water

With one month left before the Nov. 6 general election, water agencies should seriously consider making a concerted effort now to educate their communities about Proposition 3, if they have not already done so. Numerous reasons can be listed as examples of how passage of this water bond will not only benefit Californians, but their children and grandchildren. In the bigger picture, Proposition 3 builds on momentum from the passage of Proposition 68 passed in June, and it will require a tremendous amount of momentum to overcome the many challenges culminating within California water before our eyes.

Climate change, the increasingly catastrophic natural disasters that result from it and aging water infrastructure have compounded in the already uniquely challenging era in California water affecting us on a daily basis. Meanwhile, we remain well aware of the unacceptable fact that some disadvantaged communities lack access to safe drinking water – a problem that we strongly agree must be solved, but not through bad policy that leads to unanticipated consequences that benefit no one.

Please click here to read the complete article.