In response to complaints from water providers in Pomona, Walnut and Rowland Heights, the Three Valleys Municipal Water District voted last week to expand its board of directors from five to seven members.
Under the planned expansion, four of the seven directors would represent water agencies in the southern area of the district. Currently, only two of the directors represent these agencies.
The vote to expand came after years of discontent on the board, during which the Pomona Water Department and the Rowland and Walnut Valley water companies threatened to withdraw from Three Valleys and form their own district.
Serving as a water broker, Three Valleys buys water from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District and sells it to water providers in Claremont, Pomona, Walnut, Rowland Heights, Diamond Bar, La Verne, San Dimas and portions of Covina, West Covina and the City of Industry.
Water agencies in Pomona, Walnut and Rowland Heights have demanded greater representation, arguing that the southern area provides 60% of the district's funds, through water sales and property tax revenue. They complain that most district projects, such as the recent construction of a water treatment plant to serve San Dimas and La Verne, benefit agencies in northern communities only.
"The district was being controlled by three directors up north," said Director William Koch, who represents Walnut and western Pomona. "They were able to spend money to benefit their communities while utilizing money from the entire district."
"There has been no project ever brought forth for the southern agencies," said James Lundie, manager of Pomona's water department. He called the expansion "the right step forward to take care of inequities that have existed for years."
The board of directors voted 3 to 2 in favor of the expansion proposal. Both southern representatives--Koch and Carlton Peterson, who represents Diamond Bar and Rowland Heights--voted for the measure, as did Douglas Miller of Glendora.
Although the expansion will dilute Glendora's representation on the board, Miller said he supported the measure because of its fairness.
"The question of equity is more important than the question of Glendora's clout," Miller said.
However, the expansion was vigorously opposed by Muriel O'Brien, who represents La Verne and San Dimas, and Sandra Baldonado, who represents Claremont and the eastern half of Pomona.
"It's an increase in bureaucracy, it's an increase in expense, it's completely unnecessary," Baldonado said.
Three Valleys General Manager Richard W. Hansen said the cost of two additional directors will add $21,000 to the district's administrative budget of about $500,000.
However, Baldonado said the district could have increased the representation of southern agencies without this expense by redrawing the boundaries of the areas served by the various directors. She accused the board's majority of "caving in" under the threat by southern water agencies to quit the district.
"Let 'em go," Baldonado said of the three agencies. "I would oppose their detachment vigorously, but my feeling would be to let them go through the detachment procedure. I don't think they would have been successful. I doubt they would have received approval from (the Local Agency Formation Commission)."
In addition to approving the expansion of the board, the directors also voted to seek an amendment to the state Government Code permitting city council members and elected directors of water districts to serve simultaneously on the Three Valleys board. Currently, such "interlocking directorates" are against the law.
Baldonado said such an amendment would be "bad government."
"People who already hold public office have a certain amount of notoriety and name recognition," Baldonado said. "That gives them an unfair advantage (in elections)."
Hansen, Koch and Miller all said they doubted that city council members would want to run for the Three Valleys board. Koch said the change in the law would enable board members from the Rowland and Walnut Valley water companies to have a greater voice in how money from their areas is spent.
Under state law, the Legislature must approve both the expansion of the board and the amendment to allow elected officials to serve as water district directors.
Koch said he does not foresee any opposition to the board's expansion, but added that groups such as the Assn. of California Water Agencies (ACWA) may lobby legislators against the proposal to permit interlocking directorates, since it would set a precedent affecting water districts throughout the state.
"I am convinced that ACWA will do everything it can to oppose interlock," Koch said. "These water people don't want to have to run against some well-known mayor or councilman in their districts."
Baldonado said she sought to have the measure to permit interlocking directorates considered separately from the expansion proposal, but representatives of the southern agencies insisted that the two be voted on as a package.
'Wasn't Going to Cave In'
"They refused to bifurcate that issue," Baldonado said. "They basically said, 'If you don't play our game, we'll take our marbles and go home.' I wasn't going to cave in to that kind of pressure."
The district is contacting local Assembly members and state senators to sponsor legislation to approve the directors' actions. Koch said the two issues may be separated if the proposal to permit interlocking directorates meets strong opposition.
"We'll ask for both of them," Koch said. "But we'll take what we can get."