Gruzdowich to step down from divided water board


Greg Gruzdowich, who has served on the board of the Santa Fe Irrigation District since 2012, announced at the June 16 board of directors meeting that he won’t seek another term on the board this November.

Gruzdowich said his decision was not influenced by a series of contentious board votes, in which he and director Marlene King found themselves on the losing end of 3-2 decisions. Those votes were on such major issues as acceptance of a cost of service study used to set the district’s rate structure; a plan to raise district rates by an average of 9 percent annually for the next three years; and the district’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

During his tenure on the board, Gruzdowich has pushed staff and fellow board members to cut costs and keep rates down.

“I feel like I’ve served my time as well as I could. I tried to raise issues and it’s time for somebody else,” Gruzdowich said in an interview. “I think we’re best served if we do have turnover in these positions.”

Two of the board’s five seats are up for election this year: that of Gruzdowich, in Division 1, which covers Rancho Santa Fe; and Alan Smerican, in Division 2, which straddles I-5 in Solana Beach. Smerican has not announced whether he plans to seek another four-year term.

The board’s 3-2 split on key issues such as the three-year rate plan fell along geographic lines - the three-member majority represents divisions on the western, and more densely populated, side of the district, while Gruzdowich and King’s divisions are on the eastern side of the district, which includes larger properties. Gruzdowich said his own property, where he has lived since 1993, covers 2.25 acres.

At the same meeting when he announced that he won’t seek another term, Gruzdowich continued to press for changes to the district’s new rate plan, which restructured how costs are allocated among customers.

Gruzdowich contends that the math used to calculate the new rate structure is flawed, because it lumps together the larger water users in his and King’s divisions with those who use less water on the west side of the district.

The result, he said, is that larger water users are subsidizing the costs of those who use less water, and paying more than their fair share.

“I’m sure they think they’re doing the right thing,” Gruzdowich said of the board majority. However, he said, “There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the math, how it’s applied, and that’s my core issue with the whole approach. If you use math inappropriately, you do not get the right answer.”

Gruzdowich wants the board to bring back its rate consultant to conduct additional analysis, specifically, to break the district into two zones, with different rates for the western and eastern parts of the district.

But members of the board majority disagree with Gruzdowich’s position, and say his approach is the one that’s flawed.

Director Augie Daddi said the district hired both a rate consultant and legal experts to advise the board as it crafted the new rate structure, which includes four tiers of water use that progressively get more expensive as use goes up. The study showed that higher tiers of water cost more because of their source, Daddi said.

“I would not have voted for it if I thought it was not fair,” Daddi said.

“To (Gruzdowich), fair means getting the rates down in his division. That’s not my definition for fair,” Daddi said. “We’ve got to get the five directors working together.”

Board president Michael Hogan, who also voted with the majority on the rate plan, said he has researched Gruzdowich’s two-zone proposal. “The input I have is it’s a flawed approach for meeting the standard of fair and equitable distribution of costs.”

Rather than separating the district by divisions, said Hogan, the district must look at how much water its customers use. Some high users live in the western part of the district, and some lower users live on the east side.

“I think usage (by) divisions is irrelevant. It needs to be looked at for the district as a whole,” Hogan said.

In the future, Hogan said, he would be open to considering water budgets, a more complex way of setting rates based on the individual characteristics of customers, such as the number of people in a household and the size of their property.

But for now, he said, the district has just completed an 18-month process to create its newly adopted rate structure. “I support the process. I think it was fair and equitable, it’s done, it’s completed. We have other things we need to get done,” he said.

Gruzdowich, though, said he feels compelled to keep bringing up the issue, using the analogy of an illegal order given to a military officer.

“We’ve been given a task and the core baseline for that is math that’s being used incorrectly. So that’s why I won’t give it up because I don’t think it’s right,” he said.