District approves sheriff’s substation lease

Garner Valley (GV) residents verbally battled Lake Hemet Mutual Water District at the district’s monthly meeting Thursday afternoon in its Valle Vista office.
The Garner Valley Annexation was one of the last agenda items.
District Counsel Joe Wojcik’s memo to LHMWD General Manager Mike Gow, attached to the agenda, brought firey comments from GV residents in attendance, apparently an ongoing issue.
The memo included a Feb. 7, 1972 agreement among LHMWD, the Eastern Municipal Water District, and James P. Edmondson, owner at the time of Pine Meadow, now Garner Valley.
Wojcik’s memo laid out that Edmondson, who wanted to develop the 2,200 acres in Pine Meadow into 3,700 residential homes on ¼-acre lots (including a golf course), requested water supply through annexation.
LHMWD required three conditions:
1. Water rights must be conveyed.
2. Annexation into the water districts, if necessary.
3. Sufficient groundwater availability.
Then Riverside County became involved rezoning GV into a minimum of 5-acre lots, changing the development from 3,700 to only 306 lots. “Engineering studies at the time concluded that there was sufficient ground water to sustain water service to the lots without the use of imported water,” wrote Wojcik.
He later wrote, “Furthermore, it states that Mr. Edmonson irrevocably appoints the District as his trustee and agent for holding and exercising all riparian [rivers, lakes, stream [[sic]], ponds] and overlying [groundwater/aquifer] water rights owned by him in the Garner Valley area …”
It is that term “trustee” that rose the ire of one GV resident at the meeting as he said he consulted a water rights expert who told him “trustee” means to protect the water but that the property owners own the groundwater under their property. “Our groundwater rights are not separate rights …,” he said.
Residents are seeking help from Riverside County and the Local Agency Formation Commission with one accusing LHMWD directors of not being able to do more than “tying their shoes.”
The property owners want to drill wells because they contend that LHMWD rates are too high. One man said that some younger families who relocated into the area “can’t have pastures or a garden.”
LHMWD directors did not take action on this agenda item.
Earlier in the meeting, after some discussion over a 1% versus a past 2% annual rate increase, directors approved the sixth amendment to lease office space to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for a Lake Hemet substation.
The current lease expires Aug. 31.
The new lease term is from Sept. 1, 2021 to Aug. 31, 2026. Monthly rent is $1,917 with an earlier-stated increase of 1% per year. In the past, the lease has required a 2% increase per year but, according to Gow, the department “ram-rodded” the 1% increase through to Riverside County supervisors and acquired their approval before proceeding with LHMWD.
One director debated whether that shouldn’t be renegotiated but Gow discouraged this, saying negotiations had been six months long already and the difference between about $20 and $40 a month wasn’t cost-effective.
Reporter’s note: I attended this meeting through teleconference so I was unable to determine the names of people speaking on either side in the Garner Valley Annexation issue. The situation appears to be ongoing so anyone who wishes to speak to the Town Crier on this matter, please email [email protected] with your contact information.