Board regrets agreements were not discussed before consummation
On Wednesday, Oct. 24, the Idyllwild Water District has scheduled a special meeting to review the performance of General Manager Jack Hoagland. The decision for the special meeting is an outgrowth of several issues discussed during the Oct. 17 regular meeting.
Hoagland’s role and decision in these issues were questioned throughout the meeting. Members of the San Jacinto Watershed Watchdogs were most vocal in their objections to his recent actions, as well as some of the directors.
The issues involve a replacement pipeline along Oakwood Street, north of Pine Crest Avenue, the trade of new meters for the pipeline’s installation and fire suppression water service to the Idyllwild Community Center site.
These were separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly announced that they would be held until last and discussed collectively.
“One director asked that [agenda] items 3, 7 and 9 go together,” Schelly said. “They are separate on the agenda, but the director felt they ran together.”
In August, IWD and the owner, Shane Stewart, of the Rustic Rental properties near and bordering Oakwood Street, signed an agreement for Stewart to install a pipeline from Pine Crest to the district’s well off of Oakwood and continue the pipeline toward Jameson. This would deliver water to three 2-inch meters to be installed on the Rustic Rental parcels, where zoning permits multi-family dwelling.
IWD acquired the well several years ago. It was not until last August that Hoagland was able to obtain the state permits to begin using the well. However, questions arose about the adequacy of the pipeline from the well to the mainline under Pine Crest Avenue. Hoagland then scheduled the Oakwood pipeline replacement for fiscal year 2019-20. This was part of the capital improvement plan presented to the Board in December 2017 and again in March 2018.
The approximate cost of the meters is $66,000. Stewart installed the pipeline for about $84,000. In addition, he will be responsible for monthly water fees of $635, although he does not plan to develop the parcels for several years. These fees will generate about $45,000 for the district. Consequently, Hoagland said he approved a project, which had a benefit to cost ratio of 1.89.
The directors, especially Peter Szabadi, felt the agreement should have been presented to the board before approval. The work was done during August and September. Szabadi felt especially frustrated because he had requested a special meeting to discuss the project in late August, but it was never scheduled.
“It was a bad deal. Fundamentally no wrong doing, but terrible judgment,” he stated. “We rushed to a deal without understanding the benefits.”
Members of the Watchdogs were concerned about the effect of the possible development of the parcels with the subsequent population growth on IWD water and sewer resources. They opined that IWD should not be adding more demand to the waste treatment plant, and the district should recognize its water condition and not permit new demand on its tenuous water supply.
Earlier in the meeting, the board did approve entering a water emergency Stage 1; however, prior to that evening, IWD was in no water emergency stage.
During late winter, Stewart offered to install new pipeline in exchange for the three meters. He had already received a “will serve” letter from the district indicating it could provide the water.
In his report to the board, Hoagland wrote, “Well-established policies and practices throughout the Water [sic] industry make landowner driven projects very common.” He then quoted two sections from the District’s “Water Rules and Regulations,” and 5.3.07 reads, “DISTRICT may, at its sole discretion, accept facilities in lieu of a facilities connection fee. For purposes of this section, ‘Facilities’ means public water facilities infrastructure required, or anticipated to be required, to properly support development within Idyllwild area …”
While the section says the “DISTRICT” has authority to enter into these types of agreements, Szabadi told his colleagues, that “DISTRICT” is not defined. Does it mean the general manager or the board?
This ambiguity is why he felt Hoagland should have brought the proposal to the board for approval before the developer began the work, which is now finished.
“I do not appreciate Jack’s approach on this subject and his disregard for the concerns of at least a certain number of board members,” Szabadi said. “… Mr. Hoagland should have had the sense to bring the issue to the board so we could consider the pluses and minuses. I’m upset.”
He recommended revising the rules and regulations to clarify the general manager’s authority and suggested that disciplinary action might be considered.
Director David Hunt supported Hoagland saying, “I think, personally, the water district benefited.” However, colleague Steven Kunkle disagreed. He pointed to the Rules and Regulations, stating that only one meter was allowed per parcel and this project violated the district’s rules. He also expressed his dismay that the board was not involved in the decision.
“The project is done, what can we do?” he asked rhetorically. “Is there anything we can do? I hope nothing comes back on the district.”
Speaking for the Watchdogs, Vic Sirkin, Idyllwild resident, argued that there were other alternatives for connecting the well to the system without giving away the meters.
But the principal objection was the issuance of the meters when, they felt, Idyllwild is in a drought. Sirkin stated there would be no 2-inch meters issued after Oct. 17 because the district is in a Stage 1 emergency. Stage 1 only limits new will-serve letters which expire 12 months after issuance, unless the meter is purchased.
“We are facing a big water shortage and a 2-inch meter is not for a single-family house,” he stated. “Riverside County is a pro-growth county. Idyllwild is not a pro-growth community. The general manger doesn’t live here and know the culture and view as does the community.”
Apparently, members of the Idyllwild Community Center approached Hoagland about a water line for fire suppression as their initial construction is beginning and expectation of the amphitheater is in the future.
He suggested connecting to a fire line down the Strawberry Plaza parking lot. However, that is privately owned. He approached the owners about giving the line to IWD.
Then a line can go down the hill, onto the ICC property and up to the Highway 243 areas. But he stressed to the board that there is no deal yet with ICC. However, the ICC participants felt they had permission to make the connection with the Strawberry Plaza pipeline since their plans had Hoagland’s approval.
However, Kunkle and other directors are concerned about IWD providing this pipeline on private property and having responsibility for future maintenance. Their point was that IWD brings a pipeline and connection to a parcel, then the owner is responsible for the pipeline across the private property.
Both Kunkle and Szabadi agreed that this issue also deserved board attention before committing the district.
Rules and Regulations
The final issue was a review of the district regulations regarding these issues and the general manager’s authority. However, because they were going to make revisions, the board agreed to wait until the next meeting so the agenda could specifically state which rules and what actions would be considered.
However, they did agree to a special meeting to review Hoagland’s performance.