By David Handler, Daily Nexus, January 17, 1972
Failing to halt the machinery of the past board, the “no-growth” Goleta Valley Water Board Thursday night voted 4-1 to save the taxpayers some money rather than leave themselves flexibility in finding future water sources.
The special public meeting was called to discuss whether the board should install a filtration plant with an 18 million or a 24 million gallon a day (m.g.d.) capacity, the latter being victorious.
While such a decision may not seem particularly weighty, the guesswork and implications for future growth of the Goleta Valley inherent in the decision are vast.
Keobig and Koebig, engineering firm for the district, is about sixty per cent completed with plans for a 24 m.g.d. plant which they began on instruction from the past board. Primo Innocenti, project engineer, estimated the cost of the work at $200,000.
In addition, roughly $300,000 has been expended in rudimentary ground site grading and construction contracts. Thus, if the new board had voted to halt the proceedings and redesign the plant for a smaller capacity, that money would have been wasted.
Most of the evening’s discussion revolved around the money, rather than areas potentially more crucial to the voters who elected a slate of directors pledged to limited growth.
Voicing her lone opposition to the larger plant, Director Llana Sherman said, “We must maintain maximum flexibility. We can’t be closed to any options.”
The options relate to where Goleta will obtain more water when it is needed — a serious problem which looms in the not-to-distant future.
A key assumption of the prior board was that Goleta would import water from Feather River when needed. Since that water will be run through the new filtration plant, the larger capacity would be necessary.
In effect, however, the 24 m.g.d. plant excludes several other future alternatives to water importation, such as waste water reclamation, consumer restraint, reduction of water pressure to homes and a growth ceiling for the Goleta Valley.
The larger filtration plant would doubtless be too large if these channels were activated.
Sherman also feared that the vote for the larger plant was an encouragement by the board for urbanization of the Goleta Valley. She maintained that urbanization could be discouraged by the board, especially in consideration of the fact that the three new members were elected on such a position.
Because of the board’s inability to see into the future, a great deal of guesswork revolved around Goleta Valley population projections used by the engineers in considering the size of the plant.
The 24 m.g.d. plant is designed around a projection of 195,000 residents by 2010 (The present population is approximately 66,000). This is in fairly close agreement with county figures which project 175,000, with a maximum holding capacity of 185,000.
Several members of the audience felt these glimpses 38 years into the future were an exercise in futility.
With stinging accuracy, another participant maintained that two years ago the people sitting on the board could have in no way foreseen that the public would elect members sworn to limited growth and be packing the meeting each week armed with tape recorders and notebooks, so how could they foresee the future of the valley?
Even District Manager Robert Watson admitted, “All we can do is make the best possible guess.”
Just before the board’s decision to install the larger plant, Fred Eissler of the Sierra Club presented to them a possible violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. (The board unanimously passed a motion the previous week to uphold both the letter and spirit of state and national environmental laws).
According to Eissler, one of the statutes of the state environmental laws is that not only must a complete impact study be performed on the short and long terms [sic] effects of such a project, but also on possible alternatives.
He suggested the board may not have acted properly in this area.
Watson had said at the previous meeting, that he made such a study last March but the Santa Barbara County Council ruled this project was not of “significant environmental impact” and informed him that his report need not be sent to the state.
On Eissler’s recommendation, the board voted unanimously to ask for legal advice from their attorney, Robert Jones, on whether they are violating state laws (with the stipulation that they continue construction until told otherwise.).
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is presently conducting a 120-day impact study on the project before giving the district a $1,500,000 grant needed for completion.
HUD feels the proposed plant is of “significant environmental impact” to warrant the study.
When Eissler suggested the board halt a decision on the size of the plant until the study is completed, Board Director Dee Pagliotti became enraged. He called studies, “Organized delay by people who, for some reason, are against doing anything constructive.”
Pagliotti, a member of the board since 1948, insisted, “I’m all in favor of ecology and environmental studies but I’m against studying it to death.”
He concluded, “You people are all caught up in this emotional environmental thing. What about the people that elected us to watch their tax dollar and to provide them with good tasting pure water?”
The board members agreed that any further delay wouldn’t be fair to the taxpayers and proceeded to a hurried vote and adjournment.