Water agency to discuss rates, transparency

Zone 7 to talk water rate study, grand jury recommendations at special meeting

The Zone 7 Water Agency board will meet Wednesday (Aug. 26) to discuss an ongoing study that will impact whether the agency changes its water rates and to talk about a report from the Alameda County civil grand jury regarding a transparency debate.

Zone 7, which is a water wholesaler for the Dublin San Ramon Services District, is in the middle of a rate study to determine whether the its current water rates are financially sustainable.

A years-long drought has affected the agency's revenues and reserves, and such a study will review the agency's finances, including its budgets, the funding needed to put the agency's capital improvement and asset management plans into effect, findings from the Water Supply Evaluation and recent audits, Zone 7 officials said.

The study will also analyze the cost of service and will propose a three-year wholesale water rate, which will go before the water board this fall. It will also propose a drought wholesale rate that can be incorporated into the forthcoming Urban Water Management Plan, which will be adopted by the board in the spring.

The water agency will also discuss Wednesday how to respond to an Alameda County civil grand jury decision that the agency wasn't fully transparent during its deliberations to buy land surrounding Lake Del Valle for $18.6 million.

Zone 7 officials rebutted that all of their negotiations followed state public information laws as described in the Brown Act. The agency contends having some discussions in closed session -- where the public couldn't hear -- was necessary to secure the land, which the district describes as invaluable to water management purposes.

Agency officials argued Zone 7 needed to buy that land because otherwise, developers would have come in and built homes around the lake, which would have impeded water management. Lake Del Valle acts as a potable water reservoir for Zone 7, which sells water to local Tri-Valley providers, including DSRSD whose water-service area includes the Dougherty Valley.

Zone 7's staff recommendations, as noted in the meeting agenda packet, are to state the agency will not implement any of the civil grand jury's recommendations.

Civil grand juries are citizen panels that hear cases brought to their attention by residents, issues a decision and provides recommendations. While Zone 7 must legally respond to the recommendations and findings, the civil grand jury cannot force any agency or individual to adopt their recommendations, said Adam Byer, a spokesman for the Alameda County Superior Court.

The civil grand jury argued that by making all discussions on the sale of the Lake Del Valle land during closed session, Zone 7 had violated the Brown Act, failed to make a public case for the purchase and failed to disclose the financials of the purchase prior to making the deal.

Zone 7's planned response is that they did not violate the Brown Act nor mishandle the situation in any way because a section of the public information act allows agencies to discuss sale and purchase of property in closed session.

The agency stated it is not required to make a public case for the purchase because it was consistent with the district's overall watershed management plan.

In addition, the agency stated it posted the parcel number on its agenda items for closed session meetings, but no residents showed up to discuss the matter before the board convened for closed session. The financial details were also said to have been stated in the 2013-14 budget.

For closed session items in any public meeting, there is a scheduled time where individuals can speak on the matter to the board publicly, typically for three minutes.

Wednesday's special meeting is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at the agency's offices, 100 North Canyons Parkway in Livermore.

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