OPINION by JULIE TACKER
In 1984, the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury recommended the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District add members to its three member board to allow for “a greater distribution of decision makers among the users of the system.” To date, nothing has changed.
The makeup of the three member board is dictated in the California Health and Safety Code; the presiding officer from each community is to sit as its representative on the sanitation district board of directors. Today, Mayor John Shoals of Grover Beach, Mayor Jim Hill of Arroyo Grande and Karen White, the President of the Oceano Community Services District, govern the sanitation district.
The sanitation district owns and maintains approximately 9 miles of sewer trunk line and treats and disposes waste through the 5 million gallon per day wastewater treatment plant located next to the Oceano Airport, in Oceano.
Ironically, Karen White lives in Halcyon; her home is served water from a well and uses a septic system for waste treatment. As a decision maker she has no “skin in the game” yet has equal say in district matters.
The breakdown among sanitation district ratepayers is dramatically skewed with Arroyo Grande hosting the majority of users, 17,252; Grover Beach, 13,067 and Oceano only 7,600. The sanitation district representatives have equal say in how the districts monies are spent, even though a clear majority of funds come from Arroyo Grande.
The recent political climate has put Arroyo Grande’s Mayor Jim Hill in a corner; the latest iteration of the bylaws requires a 2/3’s majority to get an item on an agenda. This violates the spirit of the Brown Act,
Mayor Hill has been shut down on countless requests to have matters important to his constituent’s agendized; including the $800,000 missing money question he raised months ago.
The idea of expanding the board to include more members has been toyed with in the past, but when the phrase “special legislation” was spoken — the subject was dropped. Special legislation is not scary or costly; the board should simply open the question up to the community for input and take the results to our Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, to consider passing. Cunningham is eager to serve his constituents.
The biggest resistance so far has come from Oceano. Over the years its representatives have made it clear that because the sewer plant is within its boundaries they are more impacted by its presence and should have as much say as the larger communities. But, at the same time sing its praises for being a good neighbor over the last 50 years.
They can’t really have it both ways. Ideas on how to expand the board to include additional members include taking the agencies out of the equation and simply opening the board up to a district-wide election. Anyone who is a ratepayer would be eligible to serve.
Other ideas leave the presiding officers in place and add “at large” positions for election. Perhaps the District 3 and District 4 County Supervisors should serve as additional board members? Really any combination or hybrid should be considered. The real question lies with the people of the district, how do they want to be served?
Maybe, after all the wasted time and money, it may be time to dissolve the district and let the county manage it. It’s up to the tri-communities to decide.
The district is at a crossroads; recently severing ties with its administrator and superintendent. Perhaps it’s time for a full make over; new administration, new operation and new representation.