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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 17th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 11

West Santa Ynez annexation lawful but lacked coordination

By DAVID MINSKY

The Santa Ynez Community Services District (SYCSD) and the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) followed the law to annex West Santa Ynez into the district, according to a county grand jury report released on May 11. However, the process lacked coordination and communication with the more than 500 homes in the affected area, the report said.

The report came in response to numerous complaints from the affected residents who, upon failure of their existing septic tanks, have the option of either upgrading to more advanced tanks or connecting to the SYCSD sewer system. Both options would cost residents tens of thousands of dollars, according to the report.


ANNEXED
More than 500 homes in West Santa Ynez were annexed into the Santa Ynez Community Services District, which drew complaints from some residents.
MAP COURTESY OF THE SANTA YNEZ COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT

A protest vote was held among landowners in July 2016, but only 131 protests were filed, which was less than the required 25 percent needed to bring the matter to a formal election.

In March 2016, LAFCO approved the SYCSD’s request to annex West Santa Ynez following a county assessment taken in 2000 that identified septic tanks at 531 homes in the area as a potential source of groundwater contamination.

But West Santa Ynez residents complained that they weren’t properly notified of the upcoming annexation. The report found that the SYCSD mailed announcement letters to each affected landowner with the option to mail in a protest, but it didn’t clearly indicate that the protest form was on the back of the notice or explain how the process worked.

A public notice was printed in the newspaper as required by law, the report found, but it was only printed in the local daily newspaper as a paid advertisement.

Plus, an informational letter sent to residents by the nonprofit Heal the Ocean told residents they had the option to not connect to the sewer system. Many residents threw away that notice since West Santa Ynez isn’t along the ocean, the report said.

Jeff Hodge, general manager of the SYCSD, called the annexation process “cumbersome.”

“Both for LAFCO and myself as the manager, it’s hard to follow as to who does what and when,” Hodge told the Sun. “I think now, not just on a local level, but on a statewide level, everyone needs to have a better understanding of what that process is.”

Hodge said the report didn’t address the money constraints he was faced with. For Hodge, it was a “horse and cart” situation, since he’s limited on what and how much money he can spend outside the district.

In this case, he had to spend roughly $2,000 to send notifications to residents not yet in the district.

Another problem came up—whether the SYCSD would be able to handle the additional effluent coming from the newly annexed land.

In September 2016, Solvang shot down a request by the district to purchase an extra 120,000 gallons per day of wastewater flow from the city.

“The SYCSD does not have the sufficient capacity to accommodate addition of its entire sphere of influence,” a Solvang report from May 2016 stated.

But Hodge said that wasn’t a problem. If all of the 483 homes opt to connect to the district’s system, the district would still have an additional 25 to 30 percent capacity.

Currently, the SYCSD’s system can handle up to 300,000 gallons per day (GPD) of wastewater. Combined with the 800 homes already in the district, Hodge said, the annexed homes could bring the flow up to 200,00 GPD.

On May 16, Hodge was at the state capitol in Sacramento during a special legislative day to receive better guidance for future processes and get a little more leeway on spending district money.

“We’re limited on the amount of money we spend,” Hodge told the Sun. “We need to find other ways of reaching out.”