‘I’m Outta My Water’

by Mark Scaramella, October 21, 2009

On October 6 the Board of Supervisors unani­mously approved the 200-unit housing development project south of Ukiah known as “Garden’s Gate.”

Ironists traveling Ukiah's State Street north of Gar­den's Gate will wonder where the garden is, but irony is as scarce in the Ukiah Valley these days as water at this proposed tract at a time of the collapse of the housing market.

The project was originally proposed four years ago. One would have thought that crucial considerations such as water and emergency vehicle access would have been addressed, if not resolved, by now.drinking water — not overall ade­quate supplies.

“But that's not really looking at the validity of the underlying permits,” continued McCowen. “I think the Chair is correct, we typically accept a will serve letter and call that good. And I'm not proposing to change that standard at this late date for this project, but I think we should say for the record that the issue of whether the Millview [sic, again, not Willow], all of the Millview wells are, or I believe they are what they refer to as Burke Hill well field, the issue of whether that is percolated ground water or underflow to the Russian River is very much an open question is my understanding. Where the EIR is deficient, I think, is they talked to the Department of Health Services, they don't talk to the State Water Resources Control Board. I think that's kind of a glaring admission, and I just wonder if staff has any response to, to that issue?

Note the heavy use of the words “I think,” “I believe,” “I wonder,” etc. And the repeated, inten­tionally misleading use of the word “they.”

Lynch: “You can disagree with the EIR and still cer­tify it. Bringing out this discrepancy is a valid point.”

McCowen: “I just wish they had acknowledged the issue. Which they failed to do.”

Total failure to acknowledge the water question. That’s right, Mr. McCowen.

McCowen continued.

“To Mr. Gustafson, you made some reference to possibly purchasing some additional water from the Flood Control district. Because currently Willow has a contract for 900 acre feet. So what was your com­ment in reference to?”

Gustafson: “Willow would receive an allocation from Flood Control upon this project being approved. The Flood control district has, and here's where I have to rely on my power point, has an amount of water rights. It's not all allocated. The unallocated portion would be directed toward Willow for this project. It wouldn't take away any water from any ratepayers within the water district itself. The project would purchase that water. It would have an annual contract with the, uh, um, I guess it would be with the Flood Control district.”

Mr. Gustafson again confuses water rights with actual water. He also isn’t clear on who the project will contract with. And his hearsay about what Wil­low would do and what the Flood Control District would do is completely unsubstantiated and not documented anywhere. And no one asked to speak to Mr. White or the Willow Water District.

McCowen: “Well, I guess I'm still a little con­fused. I think I understand you to be saying that if this project is approved then there will be an additional purchase of water from the Flood Control District.

Gustafson: “Correct.”

McCowen: “Beyond what Willow currently is con­tracted for.”

Gustafson: “Yes.”

McCowen: “And is that reflected in one of the con­ditions?”

Gustafson (nervously): “Um… It's embodied within the will serve. But not explicitly stated. That's, um, upon issuance of the will serve letter by the water dis­trict, it will have executed that contract or that trans­action, that allocation would occur.”

The will serve letter was issued in 2005.

McCowen: “Thank you. In the Planning Commis­sion minutes of July 16 you make reference to an agreement. It says you added that there were public concerns about the drought and those concerns would be mitigated by an agreement with Sonoma County relative to water drawn from Lake Mendocino.”

Gustafson: “Yes, and here, um, pun intended, I'm outta my water. There is institutional, um, uh, the Flood Control District and the Sonoma County water agency have an agreement that has to do with how water is being allocated, or being stored within a res­ervoir here in Mendocino County. Apparently Sonoma County water will not take as much as it has historically. There will be more storage within the reservoir which will increase capacity. And I must underscore here, this water, as Frank was saying, is a thick issue. And I had hoped that Sean White could be here to explain this but he was very reluctant to do so. I don't know if there are other members of the board that can speak directly to this issue.” (Mr. Gustafson looked around the room, hoping for some kind of back-up.)

McCowen: “A condition I would like to see staff develop would be to explicitly state that the water to serve this project will come from an additional alloca­tion that will be contracted for from, uh, the Flood Control district. They are representing that that's what the will serve letter says and I haven't read the letter, but, uh…”

Pinches reiterated the Vegas approach to water development.

“Well, first of all Willow has the ability and the right to drill another well,” said Pinches, as if that had anything to do with anything. “If they feel they need more capacity for more customers, they have that right. So to make this a contingent where it has to be… You know, the Russian River flood control allotment is only one source of water in this county and it's only one source that's available to Willow.”

McCowen: “It's the source that's available to them in the summer, primarily. They do have one other, I think, that provides for a portion of their needs dur­ing the summer. But the reason they need the con­tract with the Flood district is to cover the summer.”

Pinches: “Well, the city of Ukiah just drilled two wells to expand their capacity so the Millview, the Willow, or any other water district still has that right that they can exercise too.”

(Reminds me of that old joke about the plumber: “What did the plumber say when he saw two holes in the ground? “Well, well!”)

McCowen: “Well then, depending on whether that's percolated groundwater or underflow, they either can or can't use it during certain times of the year.”

Planner Lynch realized that there wasn’t yet enough muddled gibberish to move forward. So he jumped in to close the gibberish gap.

“I have an excerpt or a section from the Ukiah Val­ley Area Plan that is the drinking water adequacy assessment,” said Lynch opening a big impressively thick binder called the DRAFT Ukiah Valley Area Plan. “It summarizes that the State Water Board had notified Willow that they felt that a couple of their wells were potentially underflow. And, um, [reading] ‘SWRCB… that the diversion at the Burke wells was covered under its agreement with the, um, I'm blanking out, MCFC District, um, conservation dis­trict, district, for up to 900 acre feet per year that would be fulfilling a petition to add the Burke Hill well field as an additional point of diversion pursuant to … some permits. Willow retained its right to con­test that the water was underflow. In 2006, the [State Water] Board agreed to amend the district permit and license and consider the issue resolved. So they feel — I'm summarizing from this — that the issue of underflow for at least those wells was resolved. It goes on to say that with the addition of a 250,000 gallon tank that district will have the storage to meet 80% of the district's current requirements. By the year 2025 the district's storage sufficiency is projected to grow by, um, a large number of gallons, assuming the 2500 gallons is the source. But in summary I think that it says that the, um, the state has concluded that Willow has sufficient water to serve this project.”

The level of pure bullshit in that statement from Mendo’s high-paid Chief Planner sets a major league record for local bullshit.

But Supervisor McCowen had heard enough: “Thank you.”

Supervisor Colfax, however, hadn’t quite heard enough.

“How old is that will serve letter?” asked Colfax. “About five years?”

Lynch: “I believe it was 2005 or 6.” [It was 2005.]

Colfax: “I'm a little concerned about the fact that when we talk about DDR we invoke the LAFCO report.”

Colfax was referring to Local Area Formation Commission Director Frank McMichael’s official conclusion that when it comes to water the Ukiah Valley is not only tapped out, it’s way, way over-com­mitted.

“If we were to invoke the LAFCO report in this dis­cussion,” said Colfax, “which I'm not sure it would be helpful to do so, but we might be coming to some very different conclusions about whether or not there is the possibility of, uh, of, uh, providing water, having water provided. But, water, I guess the phrase right now is it's a very difficult and complex matter, so that's, uh, that's somewhat, uh, beside the point.”

Lack of water is beside the point.

During the discussion of his project, Jack May was completely unconcerned about the water problem and was so willing to eat the high cost of sprinklers in every home that it seemed like he didn’t really care what the Board of Supervisors did.

But, as the Supervisors were about to put away their rubber stamps for the day, Mr. May blurted out the true reason for his indifference.

Garden's Gate will die of thirst in the over-appro­priated water of the Ukiah Valley.

“Currently we can't finance this project because the market just sucks,” said May with the rhetorical elegance of a 12-year-old. “Hopefully the market will get better and, uh…”

May then free-associated into a discussion he had with his insurance broker; the broker told May that the mythical homeowners in his Never To Be Built Garden's Gate housing tract might get a little break on their fire insurance with sprinklers installed.

In other words, like DDR and DDR's hamfisted attempt to get a re-zone, we don’t want to actually build anything, we just want this plan we spent money on approved so we can turn around and sell the prop­erty to somebody else and get the hell outtahere.

As of last month, Chris Stone, Garden's Gate Developer Numero Uno lives in Chile, which is way outtahere.

The board then voted 4-0 on all the various motions to approve the EIR, the site plan, the devel­opment permit, and the project. Bang, bang, bang. Approved.

Supervisor Pinches summed up.

“Maybe in some counties a 200-lot subdivision is small, but in Mendocino County it's a big deal. Addressing all the neighbors concerns and having everyone walk out of this room happy is government at its best.”

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