Santa Fe Irrigation to appoint new director, applications due May 8

The Santa Fe Irrigation District board is down one member after Director Dunford's resignation
(Karen Billing)

SFID also provides COVID-19 impact update

The Santa Fe Irrigation District is seeking a new local representation after Division 1 Director Kenneth Dunford submitted his resignation. Dunford sent notice to the district and his fellow board members that he had made a commitment to move to Carlsbad; his last day of service was March 31.

The vacancy will be filled by the appointment process and the new board director will serve until the November 2020 election.

Division 1 is located in the eastern portion of the City of Solana Beach and central-western portion of Rancho Santa Fe. Those who are interested must reside in Division 1 and must submit a letter of interest to the district by May 8. The letter can be sent via email to generalmanager@sfidwater.org or through the mail to P.O. Box 409, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067 to the attention of General Manager Albert C. Lau.

The board will interview candidates at the regular board meeting on May 21, likely via teleconference.

At the April 16 Zoom board meeting, Director Marlene King sought clarification about Dunford’s board member status over the last several months.

“For three months—December, January and February—public comments were given to question whether Director Dunford was still residing in his division,” King said. “The district has yet to provide members of the public a reference to the specific underlying legal authority which permitted Director Dunford to serve on the board and live outside his division while deciding if he was to move back to his division.”

In addition to the public comment at board meetings, on March 9 the Rancho Santa Fe Association sent letters to SFID, the San Diego County District Attorney and the California State Water Control board alleging that Dunford was serving “illegally” because he did not reside within the water district.

General Counsel Paula de Sousa said Dunford was allowed to continue serving on the board under provisions of California Irrigation District Law together with provisions of the Elections Code and its definitions of residency to mean “domicile.” de Sousa said that a domicile is defined as where one intends to remain or live permanently—one may have many homes, but only one domicile status and the intent of the director is what prevails. Dunford had not decided to live permanently in his Carlsbad home until March.

At the April 16 meeting, the board adopted a resolution expressing appreciation and commending Dunford for his “outstanding public service” on the board for the last 18 years and wishing him and his family “success, happiness and good health in all future endeavors.”

SFID’s COVID-19 response
The COVID-19 pandemic does not present a threat to the safety of Santa Fe Irrigation District’s treated water supplies. As a precautionary measure, the district has restricted public access to all of its facilities and operated its first Zoom board meeting on April 16.

“Although the district plans for emergencies, this is one that no one anticipated,” said SFID Board President Mike Hogan. “The staff’s response under General Manager Al Lau has been outstanding in my opinion. The district has been able to meet our mission of delivering safe and reliable water to our customers while implementing practices to keep our employees safe.”

SFID Administrative Services Manager Seth Gates said that COVID-19 impacts are being felt by some water districts, primarily municipalities due to the decrease in tax revenue, transient occupancy tax and sales tax. The district has not seen any significant shift in revenues or expenditures required in response to the pandemic.

“Some water agencies are starting to feel that impact as customers call asking for payment plans, deferrals or anything else that can be offered,” Gates said. “There has not been a significant increase in calls for payment plans or financial assistance.”

Additionally, SFID suspended water shut-offs starting in early March, well in advance of the governor’s mandates and Gates said the current state of shut-offs if they were still in place is relatively low.

On the revenue side, Gates said SFID is very different from other water districts due to its demographics—it is 86% residential, 10% irrigation and only 5% commercial.

“Our makeup of customers is very different and we’re not feeling it as significantly,” said Gates, compared to other districts with more commercial revenue and with increased requests for deferred payments. “Our revenues have a greater impact from weather than impacts due to the pandemic.”

As the board members looked at their budgets that day, they considered how the rainy April has the potential to decrease water sales as well as a potentially positive impact associated with an increase in local water yield.

Gates said staff will continue to monitor the situation. Those who have difficulties affording their water bill during this time are encouraged to contact customer service at (858) 756-2424.


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