The Buena Vista Water Storage District held its Wednesday, January 18, 2023, board meeting at its Buttonwillow headquarters and on Zoom. I’m guessing Chairman Terry Chicca called the public portion of the meeting at 1pm. I’m guessing because I wasn’t allowed on the Zoom call for the first 10-minutes. Don’t know why but I missed the approval of the minutes and public comments. I’m also guessing public comment took longer than usual. BVWSD has had some very short meetings and you can miss a good bit of the goings on if you show up late. As it happened there was a legal conundrum regarding director elections that took a while to wade through.
The board had already sat through a closed session that began at 12:30pm and had 10-items listed under pending litigation and one item under potential litigation. One of these days I’m going to spring for a Blacks Law Dictionary, just as soon as I can’t find a helpful attorney to explain things to me off the clock.
Consent Calendar and Financial
Chicca removed items 6 a and b, both dealing with financial matters. Controller Marybeth Brooks gave the board her report and it was approved. The board was asked to adopt a resolution calling for maintenance and operation assessments that are delinquent. That passed.
Before we go further it would be helpful to have the 30,000 feet look at elections for water related districts. Water and irrigation districts are political subdivisions of the State of California. But there are different election laws for them. Of course, there are some exceptions but in general to vote or run for a board seat in an irrigation district one must be a registered voter in and live within the irrigation district’s boundaries. You get one vote.
In a water district you can live on Mars, but you must own land within the water district to vote and the vote can be weighted based on the land. A simplified method would be one vote per acre. For example, I can live in Louisiana but if I own 1,000 acres in Bob’s Water District I get 1,000 votes. I can use my 1,000 votes to vote for my farm manager who lives in BWD to be a director. Or I can vote for myself if I choose to run or I can vote for someone else running if I wish. It usually a little more complicated with maybe some parts of a district paying for more services getting perhaps1.25 votes per acre. Apparently Buena Vista WSD gives one vote per each $100 of land value. So a landowner could have 100 acres of land valued at $1,000 per acre and have 100,000 votes. Another landowner could have 75 acres valued at $1,750 per acre and have 131,250 votes. Why is that fair? Why shouldn’t the guy with more land get more votes? Because most likely the higher land value is because that land has better water resources and actually pays more to the district for those resources. Also, if a director is running unopposed or a seat if vacant, directors can be appointed. As you’ll see in a bit. Please, if one of you off the clock attorneys sees a flaw in this explanation let me know.
BVWSD holds elections in odd years. I wasn’t sure who was speaking. It sounded like attorney Isaac St. Lawrence who explained about available procedures to the board. It turned out to be St. Lawrence who said according to the state water code a landowner may vote and one vote equals each $100 of assessed land value or a fraction thereof. The voters in Division Four gathered enough signatures to request a vote for a new director representing Division Four. The election will be held on March 7th at the district headquarters.
Director Jeof Wyrick asked to have this run past the State Attorney General. He said he had questions about Director John Vidovich’s efforts to get his paperwork in on time. Someone else said the signatures on one of the two petitions represent 69 square feet of property in the district. There were other questions about the validity of the signatures and predictions of lawsuits. Chicca said he wants the growers to decide this and that’s what St. Lawrence suggested – take it to an election instead of appointing a director.
Lest things get too easy General Manager Tim Ashlock said the eligible voters list given to Vidovich was incorrect and contained names of folks not in Division Four. It sounds like 10 signatures from a division are enough to nominate someone as director and force an election. It appears a group wanted someone to run against Vidovich and was able to get enough signatures. Perhaps Vidovich wasn’t expecting that and had to get a petition together in a hurry.
A grower spoke up saying it was a sad day. He said the majority of landowners are in the room and they are losing confidence in the district’s management and its board. Wow, that’s a strong statement. The first item was a motion to call for an election in Division Four and seconded. The motion passed with Wyrick voting no from what I could tell. Landowner Steve Houchin is running against Vidovich.
The next item was about appointing a committee with the authority to appoint one judge and two inspectors. Presumably to oversee the election. There was a good group of growers in the room who were making accusations and inuendoes about how this process was rigged. One of the speakers said to open up this committee to non-board members. Chicca pointed out, rightly I believe, the board was elected and is responsible for board duties such as this. So, Director Julien Parsons and Tim Ashlock were elected to the committee with Vidovich abstaining. The third part of this filling of board seat exercise was adopting Resolution No. 4422 appointing Parsons as Director of Division Two. That was unanimously adopted.
Chicca pulled item 9a dealing with Lake Isabella Dam safety. The Army Corps of Engineers will have a meeting tomorrow to explain the new capacity at Lake Isabella. Amrit Mangat gave a water report and the estimated snow in the Kern River watershed is at 125 percent of April 1st, which is big. Ashlock estimated allocation of two-acre feet per acre for BVWSD which he said should cover the evapotranspiration. The board approved a one-third a/f allocation at this time if I understood. Grower Matt Klassen asked about growers not on the main pipeline, how can the district accommodate their needs? He suggested a policy revision to take that into account. Chicca said that will be taken up with Ashlock and a solution can be reached.
Next was setting the water rate. The board approved, but I couldn’t understand what was said, maybe $70 per a/f. The next act was adopting Resolution No. 4423 to apply for 215 Water off the Friant Kern Canal.
St. Lawrence said this is probably the last Sino Cooties meeting with Zoom. That emergency is over and it will be going back to in person. I hope not, Zoom saves gas. With that the meeting adjourned at 2:28pm. Go be good to each other and yourselves.
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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 Amrit Mangat, Controller: Marybeth Brooks, Attorney: Robert Hartsock or Isaac St. Lawrence
Board-President: Terry Chicca, John Vidovich, VP: Secretary: Julien Parsons, Jeof Wyrick, Craig Andrew