Special Favors Questioned
By Kim Lefner
At the October 21 council meeting, resident Clint Worthington addressed the council about an agenda item which amends the lease of city-owned property to Ortega Equestrian Center owner Kathy Holman. Holman who is reportedly a relative of retired Sheriff Brad Gates. Gates was famously referred to as “the 6th Councilman’ by a former council member, due to his influence on the council majority.
Worthington asked the council why Holman is being leased the city property for what amounts to about $246 per year. The lease agreement states that Holman will pay “25% of City sponsored programs" for use of the property. According to the staff report, since 2009 Holman has paid the city a total of $1,232.
Worthington then produced an email exchange between Councilman Sam Allevato and Holman dated November 7, 2011, in which Holman asks for a reduction in the high water bills at her equestrian center. The subject line of her email is: “Water bill is killing me”. Allevato responded with an offer to help by suggesting ways to get a special agricultural (reduced) rate set for stables. He also assured her of votes from Larry Kramer and John Taylor if she could get other stable owners to also make the case for obtaining agricultural rates. Here’s the text of the email response from Sam Allevato:
The real issue is getting a special rate set for the stables. As you may remember, during the discussion on Agricultural rates, I asked the question lithe stables received a lower rate for their water like the farmers did and the answer was no and that this issue was going to be addressed next time we looked at water rates. Perhaps we could look at this issue sooner than later if all the stables could get together and ask for a special rate based upon it fitting our community character, revenue to the City, similar to the Ag users reasons, etc. Working through the Chamber of Commerce and the new Equestrian Council, this would be a worthwhile endeavor to take on. You know you would have my support, and Larry's, and John's, and ...
Holman was granted the agricultural rate, which appears to violate the city’s requirement that agricultural rates be billed only for agricultural purposes. It is unknown whether other stable owners also got the reduced rate. Worthington pointed out that billing equestrians at lower rates violates Proposition 218, which states that the city can only bill customers for what it actually costs to deliver the water. “The city cannot bill customers for something we do not derive direct benefit from. Subsidizing businesses by giving them a reduced rate amounts to charging residential customers more for service they are not receiving. That violates the law,” Worthington said. Besides, Worthington pointed out, an equestrian center is not “agricultural use”.
“This is just more evidence of the favoritism displayed towards those the council majority likes, while sticking the rest of us residents with the tab,” Worthington said.