In the News

LAFCO to weigh litigation threats over water by Santa Cruz, university

By Shanna McCord
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 6/2/12

SANTA CRUZ - The ongoing fight over water expansion at UC Santa Cruz is simmering with new legal threats aimed at the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission.

University and city officials have threatened lawsuits in opposition to new conditions narrowly approved by the commission in March.

The conditions relate to a proposal to increase city water and sewer services for future development on a 240-acre section of campus that sits outside Santa Cruz city limits.

The commission, which is charged with approving boundary and utility service changes, voted 4-3 at its March 7 meeting to support the new conditions introduced by Commissioner John Leopold.

LAFCO will address the litigation threats in closed session Wednesday, followed immediately by a public hearing in which LAFCO staff recommends approving the March resolution.

Leopold's recommendations call for not permitting any new water to be delivered to UCSC until negotiations with fisheries regulators are completed. He's also called for lowering the university's baseline level of annual water use by 15 percent to 176 million gallons a year, which represents UCSC's average use during the past five years.

Under the LAFCO conditions, the university would have to pay $6,500 for each 85,000 gallons of water greater than that amount.

Those fees would be used for off-campus conservation such as replacing lawns or low-efficiency appliances, according to the policy.

Commissioners Jim Anderson, Roger Anderson and Jim Rapoza supported Leopold's conditions.

A minority of commissioners, including Don Lane, Daniel Dodge and Chairman Neal Coonerty, preferred to finalize the water expansion as outlined in December when LAFCO gave the controversial expansion a tentative approval.

"We don't think LAFCO has the authority to tell the city Water Department how to conduct business with its customers," Santa Cruz City Attorney John Barisone said Friday. "That was pretty alarming to us."

Leopold said it is essential for the commission to ensure there is enough water to provide the university at a time of drought-year shortages and uncertain reductions in North Coast surface water supplies.

The conditions, he said, were created to maintain "an adequate, reliable and sustainable water supply for current and future" water customers of Santa Cruz.

On Friday, he said, he stands by the new policies.

"You can't shy away from making good policies because some actor threatens to sue you," Leopold said. "Good policy decisions are made free from intimidation of lawsuits. I think the proposals are still good conditions."

Several community groups, including the Community Water Coalition, have opposed the university's growth and any major expansion of city water.

They've pressed the commission to deny the applications, citing the city's own prediction of critical shortfalls in severe droughts.

The university could use up to 100 million gallons more per year - a 50 percent increase over current levels - if it grows to its proposed limits, which few expect given the state's poor fiscal health.

© 2008-2013 scwd2 Desalination Program, All rights reserved.