Rainbow Municipal Water District Debt Approvals, Proposition A (August 2009)

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A Rainbow Municipal Water District Debt Approval Procedures, Proposition A ballot question was on the August 25, 2009 ballot for voters in the Rainbow Municipal Water District in San Diego County, where it was defeated.[1]

If Measure A had been approved, it would have amended a 1995 ordinance that requires the district to obtain voter approval before it is allowed to incur large debts. Officials of the water district sought the change because they wanted to get a $25 million loan to construct reservoir covers.[2]

The election was held on a mail-in ballot only basis. The last day to register to vote in the election was August 10. There are about 11,000 voters in the district.

Election results

Logo of the Rainbow Municipal Water District
Proposition A
ResultVotesPercentage
Defeatedd No2,50252.46%
Yes 2,267 47.54%
These final, certified, election results are from the San Diego County elections office.

Support

An open air reservoir in Santa Barbara

The water district has four open-air reservoirs. State law requires the district to install covers on them. It is estimated that this work will cost $48 million. According to Dave Seymour, general manager of the Rainbow water district, in 2009 the district was overdue in installing the covers. It had $20 million on hand to begin the construction project.

Seymour said that when the State of California makes low-interest loans available, the district does not have time to organize a local election to obtain voter approval during what he says is a "a small window of opportunity" allowed by the state for loan applications. According to Seymour, "The time window for the loans is, in some cases, a couple of weeks."[2]

If Proposition A had been approved, the water district planned to ask for $6.8 million in loans for the North and Northside reservoirs and $7 million for the Morro reservoir.[3]

Opposition

Jack Wireman and Ron Thompson, who fought to put the limits in place that were challenged with Proposition A, re-booted the Ratepayers Oversight Committee (ROC), which fought that battle. The reasons they gave for a "no" vote on Proposition A included:

  • Wireman said, "Ordinance 95-1 has been completely successful for 14 years and produced a debt-free district; you shouldn’t abandon that."[3]
  • According to Wireman and Thompson, Proposition A would "take away the ratepayers’ rights” to decide how much debt the district will be encumbered with at any given time."[3]
  • Wireman said that the water district is losing the opportunity for low-interest loans not because of the prohibition on entering into debt without voter approval but because the district repeatedly failed to properly plan. As examples, he mentioned:
  • "On April 2, 2008, RMWD was sent an invitation to submit an application for project funding for Beck Reservoir. This invitation was a result of a prior pre-application done earlier in the year. Hence, as early as February 2008, a public vote could have been ordered."[3]
  • Applications for federal stimulus money were open in February 2009 but the district's board members failed to satisfy "the requirements of 95-1 and hence, are in trouble again, this time with federal stimulus money.”[3]
  • Wireman also said, "Contrary to Rainbow’s propaganda machine, the existing 95-1 provides for using low-interest money and has for the last 14 years. Consequently, Proposition A will no doubt raise water bills, as it would give absolute power to the directors to put unlimited debt on the ratepayers."[3]
  • Thompson said, "A ‘no’ vote on Prop A will preserve your right to vote on all debt over $1 million. Don’t get sucked in and give a blank check for unlimited debt that we will be responsible for paying back long after current directors are replaced."[4]

Ballot question

The question on the ballot:

PROPOSITION A: "To minimize water rate increases necessary to fund utility improvements, including for the protection of drinking water reservoirs to comply with federal law, shall the Rainbow Municipal Water District adopt an ordinance amending Ordinance 95-1 to authorize participation in federal and state loan assistance programs that require incurring public debt to take advantage of favorable financing terms, and not authorizing any new taxes?” (Answer: Yes or No)"[5]

Lawsuit

On July 2, 2009, Judge Thomas Nugent ruled against a legal complaint brought by two residents of the water district, Jack Wireman and Ron Thompson, who on June 24, 2009 had asked the court to remove Proposition A from the ballot on the grounds that the language of the ballot measure contains "vague and misleading language."[2][6]

Wireman and Thompson were behind the 1995 ordinance that the water district unsuccessfully sought to alter with Proposition A. The 1995 measure, according to its supporters, was put in place to ensure that the district acts in a financially accountable way.

Everett DeLano, the attorney for Wireman and Thompson, said in his brief to the judge, "The argument in favor of Measure A contains two false and misleading statements. The impartial analysis contains four false and misleading statements. And the measure as a whole is so vague that it really isn't a proper subject for an initiative in the first place."[2]

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