By Collin Breaux | Email: cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com | Twitter: @collin_breaux

An annexation agreement between the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) and City of San Juan Capistrano was approved by the San Juan Capistrano City Council during a regular council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

The agreement means the city’s water and sewer utility systems will be transferred to SMWD. City Finance Director Ken Al-Imam said the agreement was a “major milestone” in the reorganization of utilities and builds upon a previously approved memorandum of understanding between both agencies.

The SMWD Board of Directors approved the annexation agreement during a meeting of their own on Friday, Jan. 17. There will be a “modest” initial rate reduction, though water rates will then gradually rise over the years.

“Water costs go up. They just do,” City Councilmember Derek Reeve said. “When I advocate for this, I always say, ‘Your water rates are not going down.’ The reason this is important is because they’re not going to go up as high as they would have if we ran it ourselves.”

Reeve also said San Juan Capistrano residents will be able to vote for SMWD board members.

The annexation agreement will provide for $25 million of capital investment over 10 years by SMWD and transfer of assets, water rights, and responsibilities of ownership to SMWD. Benefits cited by SMWD representatives include residents being able to participate in regional water reliability projects.

Betty Olson, president of the SMWD Board of Directors, said it “seemed hard to believe a year has passed since the district presented its case for annexation.”

“I would like to thank both the staff of the City of San Juan Capistrano and the district for their comprehensive and excellent work in preparing this agreement,” Olson said.

Roger Bütow, executive director for Clean Water Now, a regional organization devoted to safe and sustainable water supplies, said the agreement will bring a consolidation, and people having power over government is critical.

“Our water districts should be controlling water. The world of water has become so complicated,” Bütow said. “Let the water districts handle it. I think you’re making a very intelligent decision.”

The annexation agreement now moves into the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) consideration phase, whereby LAFCO staff will review the agreement and then present it to the LAFCO Board of Commissioners. Once the City of San Juan Capistrano and SMWD have completed all aspects of the LAFCO process, LAFCO is expected to issue a certificate of completion.

“Barring unforeseen setbacks or difficulties, we expect the utilities reorganization will be completed and the transfer executed sometime in the summer or fall of this year,” Al-Imam said.

SMWD is constructing the Trampas Canyon Reservoir and Dam south of Ortega Highway on land acquired from Rancho Mission Viejo to store recycled water. In other city council meeting news, the council also approved a resolution for a five-year lease with SJC Mission Ventures, LLC on portions of land around the former Mission Grill site downtown. In addition, the council recognized the San Juan Capistrano Garden Club for their work to beautify the La Sala Courtyard. It was also announced the council had decided during a closed session to defend a lawsuit the City of Santa Ana had brought against San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, and San Clemente regarding homelessness.

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comments (1)

  • Hopefully my use of “controlled” wasn’t nor will be misconstrued., I didn’t mean to imply dictatorial: I meant relieve them of the burden of the increasing complexities of water regulations, supplies and infrastructure.
    This should include redistributing, re-directing the responsibility & accountability factors for the public’s benefit by making provider utilities answerable via the ballot box.
    My home town of Laguna Beach got pushy, annexed our water district 20 years ago and since then our council appoints via campaign nepotism, our residents no longer have a direct say-so vote. We’re stuck with political rubber-stamping appointees, extensions of elected mischief that as long as they toe the party line sit on our board indefinitely.
    I have begun dialogue with Laguna’s community activists to reverse that annexation, having learned the multiple benefits from the SJC/SMWD merger—–I do believe that divesting, turning Laguna’s drinking and wastewater systems over to South Coast Water District would be a smarter, better fit.
    As I said at the Council podium, SJC is an example of situation that begs for specialists, a small city that like many in SOC has more than enough burning issues on their plates.
    The better our science, the more we learn about persistent (some termed “forever”) substances/chemicals entering our supply chains by inadvertently.
    Water utilities are highly regulated, their personnel trained and staffed to be more thorough guardians and stewards of safe, healthy supplies.
    Their boards are populated with savvy veterans, extremely knowledgeable water people. No offense to council members in our SOC cities, but water is not their forte or sole focus,
    Then too Councils are not full-time employees either, no one should expect expertise in esoteric fields by barely part-time servants.
    A reasonable analogy is that GP doctors don’t perform advanced diagnostic and surgery tasks like specialists do. We should want the best fit for our mutual future in the water world, You aren’t just what you eat, but perhaps more importantly what you drink and bathe in too!

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