"SPECIAL" JULY 20TH CITY COUNCIL MEETING TACKLES THE USUAL WASTEWATER AND MORE
20 item agenda released just 2 days prior to meeting
The City released another packed City Council agenda on Monday morning, just two days shy of the Wednesday, July 20 meeting. The Brown Act requires the release of regular meeting materials at least 72 hours in advance so that the public has sufficient time to review the actions their city is planning and submit comments or plan to speak at the meeting. In our City, this means agendas are released on Thursday for a Tuesday meeting, since City offices are closed on Fridays.
But since this City Council meeting is not in the usual week or on the usual Tuesday, it can be classified as a “special” meeting under the Brown Act. For “special” meetings the obligation to release materials is reduced to at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting. I feel fortunate to have an extra 24 hours! Still, given the short time frame, just going to focus on three items out of the 20 listed:
Item #15: Authorization To Place Sewer Fees And Delinquent Sewer Charges On The 2022-2023 Tax Roll (and subsidy for businesses subject to the fees)
As we wrote about on July 8 this authorization only affects the 15 or so businesses that are accessing the Project Phoenix community septic system via sewer collection lines. The authorization is for adding the already approved fees to the property tax bills of those businesses.
The rates businesses are paying were set in February 2021 with a goal of not exceeding rates charged by the Hi-Desert Water District (HDWD)1 in and around Yucca Valley. Unlike HDWD the City is not charging businesses connection fees - which seems reasonable since the new system is replacing individual septic systems with a community septic fed by new sewer collection lines. The community septic will be replaced by a package treatment plant projected for completion in March 2023.
Per the staff report, the fees are “intended to fund operations and maintenance (O&M) costs and capital maintenance costs for this specific system.” However, the fees are not sufficient to cover costs. Again, per the staff report, “To ensure the rates were comparable to HDWD rates, the City of Twentynine Palms General Fund will have to subsidize the sewer enterprise fund up to $67,500 annually.”
It is expected that Council Member Daniel Mintz will recuse himself from discussion of the decision due to a family interest in one of the businesses affected.
Item #17: Water District Ad Hoc Committee
This appears to be addressing the desire of LAFCO that the City and Water District do a better job of collaborating particularly when it comes to the development of a wastewater system. The committee will consist of two City Council Members and two Twentynine Palms Water District Board Members, in addition to City Manager Luckino and Water District General Manager Matt Shragge.
Item #19: Contract with Carollo Engineers for $391,592 for the furtherance of the City Wastewater Treatment Project
Back in February 2022, City Manager Luckino pitched a 150 - 200 million dollar wastewater project to City Council which 29 Palms Neighbors addressed in a March 2022 editorial: With their 5-0 vote, Council is rushing city residents into a grant that will cause issues down the line. It is unlikely the City will get more than $50 million in funding given the number of applicants. Yet the City is obligated to show full funding for the $150 million to $200 million project in March 2023. Where’s that difference going to come from IN A YEAR?
The project has since been cut to around 80 million dollars for “phase one.” There will still be a gap in funding and the source of those funds, be it a tax or assessment, remains unresolved. Similarly, despite five months passing since City Manager Luckino presented to Council, the language used to describe the project’s scope remains very general:
As population growth continues and more lands are urbanized, water usage, and therefore, septic loading within the City is anticipated to increase. Given that groundwater is currently the area’s only source of water supply, understanding the potential effects of growth on water use and sewer loadings to the groundwater is very important. Based on the previous plans developed, it was shown that the creation of a regional wastewater collection system and wastewater treatment facility will ensure the City’s residents are equipped with lasting, sustainable, basic infrastructure, while also removing a barrier for future growth within the City.2
City Manager Luckino has yet to define this project in specific terms so that the general public understands what’s being planned and funded. What level of “future” growth is projected and where is it located? And most importantly, what is the actual service area for the planned wastewater and sewer system?
29 Palms City Manager Frank Luckino was once CFO of HDWD
City of Twentynine Palms Staff Report, “: Wastewater Treatment and Owners Representative” released July 18, 2022