The Buena Vista Water Storage District held its Wednesday, September 15, 2021, board of directors meeting from its Buttonwillow headquarters and on Zoom. The meeting agenda states things will begin at 12:30pm in executive session, same thing as closed session. There are six cases of pending litigation and three matters under potential litigation. It looks like BV is about to have a legal fight with the State Board, Kern Water Bank Authority, City of Bakersfield, the state’s Department of Water Resources, LAFCo and the Kern County Water Agency. The subjects include Kern River appropriations, the James Banking project, annexation and Cross Valley Canal disputes.
Open & Closed
The Ralph M. Brown Act is the law that regulates how public agencies are to conduct their business. Meetings of entities supported by tax dollars have a specific regulatory framework to adhere to. Public meetings have to be public. The time, date, agenda and location of meetings have to be posted a minimum of 72-hours in advance. You can’t call a regular meeting to order in secrete, in fact you can’t call a secrete meeting period. A quorum of directors can’t discuss matters pertaining to the district without complying with the notification regulations. If three members of a five-member board where to have dinner together and mention anything even remotely related to the district that could be a violation since there’s a quorum. If one director calls another to discuss an issue involving a district matter and that director calls another director and discusses the district matter that is a serial violation and isn’t allowed.
There are provisions for emergency meetings under unusual circumstances to allow for meetings without observing the 72-hour posting. In like manner if an emergency or time sensitive issue arises after the agenda is posted the board can amend the agenda.Sometimes in order to conduct the public’s businesses and preserve confidentiality there is a need for privacy in some matters and the Brown Act provides for this. If an issue regarding legal strategy, personnel matters or real property negotiations needs to be discussed the board can do so in closed or executive session without public participation. So far so good and I’m glad for the Brown Act’s help in keeping the taxpayers’ business transparent.
However, I’ve been to literally thousands of public meetings and it is my belief whenever possible the closed session portion should follow the open session portion of the meeting. There are times when an attorney or special consultant can’t accommodate the regular schedule. Sometimes a decision must be made in closed session before an open session item can be resolved. I’ve seen meetings stop during open session, go into closed session and come back out and finish the meeting. Buena Vista usually meets at 8:30am and holds closed session after the open. I’m guessing today is an anomaly.
But there are boards that always hold closed session first and that’s not right. The public deserves to know what time the meeting will start. If a board starts in closed session it could go on for hours or mere minutes and the public has to wait or miss out on the public portion of the meeting.
With the increased ability to meet remotely adding flexibility to closed session participants the schedules for the open session should conform to prearranged start time. I suspect most of us have been in the virtual meeting’s waiting room and for some reason weren’t included in the meeting. If you know it’s supposed to start at X:30 and it doesn’t at least you can try to log back on. But if you’re just waiting in the ether then you fill up more than one page with thoughts on matters tangential to the subject at hand.
The Zoom opened at 12:57pm and it sounded like there was a jovial bunch in the boardroom so who knows beyond them what transpired? Actually, according to the Brown Act they are supposed to announce any action taken. And they said there was no reportable action taken. The minutes were approved. There was nothing removed from the consent calendar but for item 7a. The consent calendar was approved.
The treasurer’s report was given by Marybeth Brooks and approved in less time than it took me to type this sentence. Item 7a was about BV purchasing some property but the board decided against it.
Chairman John Vidovich spoke about a 2022 land fallowing program that would require any land to be fallowed be able to produce at least an acre foot of usable groundwater that can be used by others in the district. Vidovich said it needs a little fleshing out and the price mentioned was $1,000 per acre and the growers in the room perked up to at that amount. BV has done well with previous fallowing programs. Vidovich gave an example saying he had lot of land in the northern portion of the district without good groundwater so he’s not going to be growing without surface water anyway, so that wouldn’t be a case where there was a water savings. But if he had good groundwater and chooses to not plant then there would be a savings and the ability to get this water to other growers. A grower who leases asked about the benefit to those who don’t own the land. He suggested a different rate for landowners and leasers. Vidovich also suggested if you sign up for $1,000 an acre and it rains like crazy you can opt out for $500 per acre. None of the growers in the room were flat out against the concept. One call in grower asked if the price for fallowing be linked to a percentage of the water sales the district received. He was asked if a $1,000 per acre wasn’t enough to please come up with another price. The idea was to kind of twofold if I understood; it cuts down on the row crops from over pumping and provides some extra water for permanent crops. Vidovich said he’d like to have a committee formed and work this out. He said once again, in the past fallowing has really helped the district and this plan has that possibility as well. The board agreed to hold four or five public meetings with board members. It will be noticed so the meetings can have a quorum.
Attorney Isaac St. Lawrence said the Brown Act waivers will expire and although the board meetings can still be broadcast online. However, directors will have to abide by the old rules. Next the board approved the contract for painting the Corn Camp Pump Station.
The board then met as the Buena Vista Groundwater Sustainability Agency. General Manager Tim Ashlock spoke about an allocation for pumping ramp down or glide path as he called it. There was a handout prepared by Vidovich and Director Jeoff Wyrick. Some of the language was discussed but sorry, I didn’t have a copy to follow along. Evidently there is a provision for the white areas surrounding BV to pump. Grower Rod Stiefvater said that was generous. Vidovich said these folks asked to be a part of BVGSA and not the Kern Groundwater Authority. He said they deserve some kind of idea of what could take place. Ashlock said this deal won’t incentivize anyone to plant trees. Also the proposal is based on Kern River flows and not State Water Project supplies. The board directed staff to provide copies and this will be revisited at next month’s meeting. With that the meeting adjourned at 1:50pm and that was that.
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Buena Vista Water Storage District was organized in 1924 to manage the irrigation, drainage systems and water rights originally held by Miller & Lux. The district controls an average 130,000 a/f of Kern River water and approximately 21,000 a/f of supplies from the State Water Project. BVWSD is its own GSA. Board of Directors meetings are held the 3rd Wednesday of the month at district headquarters located at: 525 North Main Street, Buttonwillow, CA 93206. Phone: 661/324-1101 www.bvh20.com General Manager/Engineer: Tim Ashlock, Engineer Andrew Bell, Controller: Marybeth Brooks, Attorney: Robert Hartsock or Isaac St. Lawrence
Board-President: John Vidovich, VP: Terry Chicca, Secretary: Jeof Wyrick, Julien Parsons, Craig Andrew