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
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
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.