Water past, present and future, according to Charles Hamilton
By Lea Boyd
When Charles Hamilton retires as general manager of Carpinteria Valley Water District next week, it will be the end of 21-year era bookended by two of the worst droughts on record and all the challenges they delivered. The valley’s water district, a complicated blend of agriculture and urban customers, became the object of local ire when rates rocketed in the late 1990s. In the current drought, however, the district has managed to avoid painful rate hikes while watching surrounding agencies struggle to keep water in the taps.
“We’ve done relatively well in the drought so far,” Hamilton said. “We’ve had to raise the rates, but nothing like other agencies have.”
Hamilton was hired locally in 1995 after spending four years as general manager of the East Contra Costa Irrigation District. Before that he’d worked at the Camrosa Water District in Ventura County and the Mesa Consolidated Water District. His experience in both ag and urban water management made him an attractive applicant to lead CVWD, which he describes as “two districts under one roof.”
Hamilton moved to town a half-decade after Carpinterians had voted to participate in the State Water Project and uncomfortably shoulder a $3 million annual debt before even using a drop of the Northern California water. His new district came with rising rates and a massive new problem just beginning to surface.
At that point CVWD relied almost exclusively on Lake Cachuma water, which arrived in local homes after pausing in two open reservoirs, Ortega and Carpinteria. Chlorine-treated water from the lake had to be treated again in Carpinteria thanks to its uncovered storage, and as a result, disinfection byproducts accumulated. Water quality became a bigger issue as regulations tightened on the compounds that formed after chlorine treatment.
Covering the reservoirs was an expensive necessity that would have to be passed along to customers already feeling the State Water pinch. “That created a double whammy on the rates,” Hamilton said.
Customers began to decry water bills that were high before any water charges accrued due to capital service charges. Hamilton said, “That started to rattle people in small homes who weren’t using a lot of water.”
Frustration with the district grew as water rates increased annually. CVWD tightened its belt, but couldn’t do much to offset its ballooned debt. Rate hikes were contentious, and though residents petitioned to stop the increases, they never reached the required majority to halt changes under Prop 218.
The makeup of the board changed, and the board’s activity adjusted as well. Meetings were televised and moved to times when more customers could attend. The district fired a controversial attorney and worked to inform the public of budgetary challenges behind high rates.
According to Hamilton, public angst has calmed in the last four or five years. While other districts are scrambling to find water to feed thirsty customers in the drought, CVWD has methodically worked to bring its wells online and almost completely shifted its reliance on Cachuma water to groundwater. The district anticipates weathering at least another year of drought without having to ration water, and its rate increases have been relatively small.
The future of the district is bright, Hamilton said. Water conservation is morphing into “water efficiency.” Habits picked up in the drought should stick, and new water saving products and approaches to landscaping should help Carpinteria pivot more permanently away from Cachuma and State water.
Leasing a portion of the district’s too-big State Water allotment could help pay for innovations such as a recycled water project that’s being analyzed by the city, sanitary district and CVWD. We’re paying for water we’ll never use, Hamilton said of State Water. “It’s like we have this house with eight bedrooms and we only need four or five.”
Retirement for Hamilton will likely mean a part-time gig in the water world, along with more traveling and relaxing. He hadn’t planned on a 2016 retirement, but a health issue that arose earlier in the year pushed plans up a bit.
Looking back on his 21 years, Hamilton said that he’s most proud of the big projects completed on his watch—reservoir covers, storage tanks, well rehabs and pipeline replacements. He’s quick, however, to note that all these accomplishments were a team effort.
He will pass the baton to longtime engineer Bob MacDonald on July 1. “It’s a great sense of satisfaction that the board would recognize that Bob MacDonald was the best guy for the job,” Hamilton said.
City spay-neuter ordinance dawns July 1
By Peter Dugré
In an effort to reduce unwanted dogs and cats that need rescuing, a new city spay and neutering ordinance will hit the books on July 1. Dogs and cats over 6 months of age will have to be fixed under the ordinance, a new regulation devised in response to a rise in strays rescued through the city’s animal control services.
The law passed the city council last fall and includes exceptions for breeding, service animals and pets at-risk for health issues. The city will offer a breeder licensing program for a $100 fee.
As has been ongoing for months, the city’s initial efforts to enforce the ordinance will be education and outreach. Flyers have been posted at pet stores and veterinary offices in preparation for implementation. “It’ll be a soft roll out to help people understand the requirement,” said Steve Goggia, Community Development Director. Additionally a free spay and neuter clinic will be offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 16, at Animal Medical Clinic, 1037 Casitas Pass Road. The C.A.R.E 4 Paws sponsored event is free by appointment (963-2273) or $10 for walk-ins.
While language in the ordinance focuses more on dogs, Goggia said cats are also included to help control the local population of feral neighborhood cats.
Additionally, the ordinance mandates a minimum 6-foot leash for dogs. Goggia said city code enforcement officers will have extra leashes on hand to supply should people be spotted with off-leash dogs or leashes that are too long. There is no legal public place within the city to walk dogs off leash.
In support of the ordinance, retired Community Development Director Jackie Campbell at a September meeting said, “There are over 2,000 animals that are euthanized, dogs and cats, in Santa Barbara County alone each year. Some other behavioral benefits can come out of spaying/neutering: helping prevent aggressiveness and roaming in dogs, urine-marking and cat-spraying and barking and mounting in dogs.”
Wall to wall artistry
Photos by Robin Karlsson
Dozens of hands, scores of paintbrushes and quarts of color performed an incredible transformation of blank panels at the Carpinteria Arts Center on June 16. The annual Teen Mural project overseen by local artist John Wullbrandt has taken a new twist this year. Since they were painted last week by several young artists, the narrow vertical panels have been interspersed and angled to create a gamma-graph, which will be on display at the arts center after the Independence Day Parade on Saturday, July 2.
Saving the rest of the Bluffs
By Peter Dugré
Open space advocates scored a knock out punch over developers this week. Prime Carpinteria coastal property long coveted by hotel builders was acquired this week by The Land Trust of Santa Barbara County in a move that will protect the property—known as Bluffs III to city planners and Thunderbowl to locals—from development, announced the Land Trust at a June 15 onsite press conference.
The 21 acres overlooking Rincon and currently consisting of dirt bike scars and patchy vegetation stretching from Rincon Engineering in the bluffs business park to nearly the east end of Carpinteria Avenue was purchased for $6 million, of which half has already been raised, but the Land Trust together with Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs is fundraising for the remainder plus another nearly $2 million for improvements and longterm maintenance.
Land Trust Executive Director Chet Work characterized the acquisition as monumentally important considering the dearth of undeveloped coastal land remaining between Goleta and Ventura. Development plans for the property have come before the city several times over the past decade, most recently for a 162-room hotel, two restaurants and a conference center, but few have made it even to conceptual hearings owing to groups like Citizens for the Bluffs scrutinizing plans which were generally considered too large and incompatible with the small beach town.
“We constantly call developers informing them if they’re sick of the process we’re willing to buy the property,” Work said. “Another buyer fell out of contract, and we were prepared and lucky, really. We were waiting. That’s what we do.”
After the opportunity arose to purchase the property, which includes all of the easternmost portion of the bluffs other than uppermost 2.5 acres, private anonymous donors kicked in $3 million for the purchase. The former property owner, Burton Hancock Trust, provided a loan for the remainder of the money to the Land Trust. “The purchase is closed subject to the loan. We’re on the hook to pay it off and need to work with the community to find those funds,” Work said.
Arturo Tello, President of Citizens for the Bluffs, said he and the group, which spearheaded the 1998 acquisition of the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, “could not be more ecstatic.”
“If you consider the long term, it’s going to be there for generations to come. When there’s more development infill in Carpinteria, it’s going to be even more important to have access to open space,” Tello said. A painter and curator of Palm Lofts Gallery, Tello said he has spent more and more time at the property painting and walking since the quiet campaign to purchase it began months ago. “People use it quite a bit. There’s a lot to be done. People certainly are going to need to step up and put their money where their muse is,” he said.
Overall, the Land Trust estimates it will need $7.9 million to complete the purchase, improve the property and start an endowment fund for future maintenance. So far, $3 million has been donated plus another $2 million in pledges. Additionally an estimated $1 million in grant funding could be available for the acquisition, leaving $1.5 million in need. Citizens for the Bluffs and the Land Trust will work to raise the funds and both expressed confidence that it can be done in similar fashion to the acquisition of the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve in 1998, when $4.5 million was raised in four months. Work commented that the deadline for raising the remaining funds is ASAP since the loan is accruing interest.
The Land Trust delivered a letter to the City of Carpinteria prior to closure of its acquisition to ask for the city to accept the 21 acres as a gift in the same way that the city was gifted the Carpinteria Bluffs as a conservation easement. City Manager Dave Durflinger commented that the city council would review the request in a private session on June 13. The Land Trust has also asked the city to partner with it on grant writing that could raise $1 million toward the purchase.
Pending fundraising, Bluffs III could prove to be a key portion of the Coastal Vista Trail, a grouping of trails along the Carpinteria coastline currently composed of disjointed segments. Eventually, the city and county plan to create a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks between the bluffs and Rincon County Park.
Tello said that in addition to the open space adding to Carpinteria’s recreational offerings, preserving the property from resort development spares the community from negative impacts like traffic congestion and air pollution. “Even though there won’t be revenue from a development, those things never pay for themselves. Nobody had come up with a proposal that made sense for Carpinteria,” Tello said.
“The Bluffs and Franklin Trail and now this are such a resource for our bodies and souls,” Tello said.