In my last blog, we looked at financial information that factually identifies the remodeling and development activities that SLVWD (District) engaged in from 2004 through 2013. What does that tell us? Mainly, that the intent to develop the Campus has been a primary activity for which the District has been willing to engage even though there were other projects listed in their Capital Improvement Program that may have required more immediate attention. This approach towards making management decisions also reveals a perspective that may not be compatible with accepted best practices. However, one thing that was not touched on by the financial discussion, were much more critical issues that have to do with the preservation of the ecological balance of our sensitive watershed inheritance.
What will be the impact of development in that sensitive wetland area on which the Campus is to be built? I do not have the professional qualifications to claim expertise as an environmentalist. The only recourse immediately accessible to me is to look at the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration ( IS/MND) and its' Appendix which were issued for the Campus project. By doing so, I can determine what the environmental issues are by noting the mitigating measures listed which could be taken to lessen an environmental impact of intrusive development. When they applied for Proposition 50 Grant money to fund the Intertie system they also prepared an IS/MND. However, since my neighborhood was described incorrectly in that IS/MND and several descriptive sections were just plain false, I discovered that you cannot always depend on such a document to provide all of the truth about an area or situation. I also realize that just because that a particular IS/MND study may not accurately represent the conditions of a given area, it does not mean that this one carries the same kind of error. Never-the-less, I have reason to be cautious about the level of accuracy in the Campus IS/MND based on prior experience.
One point that I noted in the IS/MND, is that the portion of the property that is nearest the water way, has standing water during several months during the year. A drainage system would have to be built to mitigate this problem. What I did not see listed is the impact that this mitigation would have to the overall environment which would include the steelhead fish which are an endangered species. Additionally, what would the impact be to altering the streambed by constructing a drainage system to clear standing water from the building site? How would this effect the fish life? What is the impact of draining water from a site where heavy chemicals are used and stored? Could the standing water be contaminated that will ultimately drain from the property into the stream ?
I have another question that so far, I have been unable to find any evidence that it has even been considered. I want to know if there are other options that could be pursued as an alternative to building the Campus on wetlands? What other solutions to obtaining suitable facilities could have been considered that would not require the vast investment as the Campus requires? With over $3 million spent and $6 million yet required, it seems that a significant amount of rate payer investment could be saved by choosing a more economical solution.
I don't know about what kind of house you live in, but I know that many people who live in the San Lorenzo Valley do not have brand new houses. It is typical for many of the homes to be older structures that need maintenance, such as reroofing, or re-flooring or some other expensive work. Not all of us can afford to attend all of these issues at the same time. You tend to see tarps on roofs as evidence that re-roofing is being deferred to a future time. Many families are accustomed to these circumstances and although we might like to move into a different house, we are reluctant to leave our beloved property site, or we cannot afford to do so. We cannot always see financial alternatives for ourselves much less grasp the magnitude of spending $9 million to create a new Campus facility for SLVWD.
We can certainly understand anyone's desire to move into better facilities and we do not fault SLVWD for cultivating that dream. When the well-being of one's employees is at stake, then an employer should be looking for a safer place. We consider it to be very bad taste to expose one's employees to an unsafe and perhaps life threatening work environment.
A friend of mine recently had business to conduct in the SLVWD office. She was appalled when an employee described their 'pre-renovation' work conditions when the floors were sloped so badly that the office safe had to be shored up on one side and the rooms were obviously moldy. I have heard rumors from other people that the staff currently is nervous that an earthquake could bring the building down on them.
I think that SLVWD should find more suitable office space. However, I still question the wisdom of spending about a half million dollars on remodeling if the results yielded an unsafe condition and did not fix obvious problems. If you know that you have a building that is 100 years old, then you should realize that it may have some serious structural issues... particularly when the floor is not even and your safe is leaning over. Would it have been better to move into a different building instead of remodeling the old one, or set remodeling priorities to begin with the structural flaws first so that it would be safer should an earthquake occur?
Staff already stated that there was no investment analysis performed on the Campus Project. That being the case, I would suspect that little if any effort was given to finding alternative solutions for the Campus Project. Now, it seems that they are publishing statements to justify their actions. Instead of providing a financial analysis to support the reason for further development of this property compared to other options, they resort to relying on multiple emotional claims for how this investment will benefit the community. It is interesting to note that some of the arguments offered are contrary to Proposition 218 requirements. Many of their justifications for the decision to create the Campus have nothing to do with the delivery of water. Should ratepayers challenge these uses, how would a court decide the outcome? I suspect that It might be difficult for the District to justify their position. What an awful thing to have happen. Pondering that possibility, I am left with these additional questions: Is there a more rational course that could be taken? Do we really need a 9 million dollar facility that is located on a wetland area, or is there a much less expensive set of alternatives?