Water district receives OK to form new agency.

Leaders of effort to dissolve district want to put measure on November ballot.

By Jim Johnson

Monterey Herald, Published 02/17/2011, Updated 02/18/2011

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Correction by the Herald: WaterPlus' bid to dissolve or reorganize the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has not been approved, but can proceed under the purview of the Local Agency Formation Commission. The water district is not involved in the effort. A headline on Thursday was inaccurate.

A bid to dissolve or reorganize the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and form a new agency as part of an effort to purchase California American Water's local system can proceed under the Local Agency Formation Commission.

That is according to a letter from LAFCO's executive officer, Kate McKenna, to Ron Weitzman, leader of WaterPlus, the group pushing the bid.

McKenna's letter detailed the process involved in initiating a successful petition and, ultimately, an election seeking voter approval for such a move.

McKenna predicted Wednesday it would take at least a year to get the proposal on the ballot, including a six-month application process. Leaders of the effort to dissolve the district said they wanted to put the measure on the November ballot.

A group of prominent Peninsula residents, led by Weitzman, announced plans to circulate a petition aimed at getting a measure on the ballot, and asked LAFCO for a legal opinion regarding whether it had the proper jurisdiction over the water management district, which was formed by state order.

The answer from LAFCO's general counsel is yes, said McKenna, giving WaterPlus the go-ahead to begin the Advertisement petition process. While the opinion has not been publicly released, McKenna said she will recommend the commission authorize its release at its Feb. 28 meeting.

Meanwhile, McKenna said the opinion gives WaterPlus the go-ahead to begin the petition process.

"The next step would be that the WaterPlus association may continue with their consideration of a petition," McKenna said. "We need to sit down with the petitioners, and we've offered to do that."

Under the petition process outlined in McKenna's letter, WaterPlus would be required to file a notice of intention to circulate a petition with LAFCO. The process requires counting the number of registered voters in the proposed special district; disclosing all contributions and expenditures associated with the effort; circulating the petition, then submitting it to LAFCO after signatures have been gathered; having it examined by a county elections official; and having LAFCO present a certificate of sufficiency.

Petitioners are required to pay for all work by county elections officials.

After the petition has been certified, an application for reorganization must be submitted to LAFCO, including proof the proposed district can carry out its purposes, would have sufficient revenue sources, and can provide service in a "more efficient and accountable manner," according to the letter.

LAFCO staff would then analyze the proposal and make a recommendation, followed by commission review and consideration in a public hearing. If approved, the proposal would be sent to the state Department of Justice for pre-clearance, and LAFCO would request the Board of Supervisors approve an election at least 88 days later.

Weitzman did not immediately respond to The Herald's phone calls Wednesday.

Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie said LAFCO will require WaterPlus to prove public ownership would be more efficient.

"LAFCO really laid out that this would be a long and arduous process, as it should be," Bowie said. "It's a very serious and significant proposal. We're pleased to see LAFCO would require the applicants to prove necessity as part of the process. It's a relatively high standard of really proving feasibility and what the benefits would really be."

Darby Fuerst, general manager of the water management district, did not return a phone call from The Herald.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 753-6753 or jjohnson@montereyherald.com.

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