Sewer Insanity

By Ian Smith

Thank goodness it’s not often one has to think about sewers. They aren’t usually a topic of discussion except maybe here in San Juan. At a recent Utilities Commission meeting we learned that some of our aging sewers urgently need repair. In addition, we learned that our City Water Enterprise is at least $8.2 million in debt.

Recently, City staff gave a slide presentation of a sewer investigation which revealed pictures of cracked, deteriorating piping and manhole covers that have been paved over, prohibiting access to sewers. They also discussed complaints from residents about foul odors from sewer gases in the neighborhoods. The repairs will of course increase the current indebtedness of the utility department. There has been no discussion yet regarding funding of the repairs. 

Despite this knowledge the May 4th Council agenda listed an item requesting approval to extend water/sewer lines to the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park. Staff claims this is needed to provide water and toilets for the equestrians and other park visitors. The Riding Park is currently leased to an equestrian event promoter who generates significant revenue from equestrian and soccer events. We taxpayers have paid dearly for the property but we cannot use it unless we pay a fee! The City gets none of the revenue and the paltry lease amount we collect pays only a fraction of the principle and interest on the property. Why then should taxpayers pay even more to install toilets for an equestrian event promoter and outside visitors? 

The staff report states that the water/sewer lines will also connect to the Rancho Mission Viejo Company’s new city they’re building on our Eastern border. To connect utilities to any part of this new city seems foolhardy, considering the state of our sewers and the fact that water is already nearly unaffordable for many San Juan residents. City staff still has not come up with the total cost of the extension of utility lines and they have not yet secured a signed agreement from the Ranch to pay for any portion of the water/sewer connection to their development. Toilets will require design, plans and construction at an unknown cost. 

Residents have implored the Council to stop bending over backwards to accommodate the Ranch’s planned development. They have urged this Council to take care of its own residents first. Our sewers are in need of repair, our water department is in debt, our water bills are already sky high and thanks to the previous council majority, our water rates will continue to automatically increase starting this July 1 for the next 5 years! 

Despite all this and over the objections of residents, the Council majority approved the water/sewer extension 4-1 (with Councilman Derek Reeve opposed) at Tuesday’s Council meeting. Residents wrote letters and asked pointed questions about the total cost of this water/sewer extension (Council admits they don’t know); where the money is coming from since we’re in such deep debt (not discussed); why this is taking priority over the much-needed sewer repairs (not addressed) and why they are planning to provide a connection to any of the Ranch’s planned development (they attempted to minimize this by claiming that it would “only” be connected to “Phase I”). 

Perhaps the actions of Council members Allevato, Freese, Kramer and Taylor on Tuesday provide some 
insight into why our small town has such big debt. With no apparent regard for cost or how it will be funded, much less whether we can afford it, these Council members approved a non-essential “wish list” item while completely ignoring a basic, essential necessity. 

We have a chance to put a stop to this fiscal insanity in November of 2012. In the meantime, stay informed and stay involved!

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