Berryessa Estates in ‘deep, dark hole’ without rate hikes

District to vote on spike in water, sewer fees
2013-05-22T18:37:00Z 2013-06-04T15:36:34Z Berryessa Estates in ‘deep, dark hole’ without rate hikesPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
May 22, 2013 6:37 pm  • 

A troubled water and sewer district near Lake Berryessa is facing a daunting decision: approve a hike in its rates to balance its budget and escape the wrath of state water quality regulators, or risk going belly up and cease operating.

On Monday, residents of the Berryessa Estates on Putah Creek, north of the lake, gathered at the Pope Valley Farm Center to meet with the Napa County Board of Supervisors, which acts as the district’s board of directors.

Napa County manages the district, and estimates that residents will have to raise their water and sewer rates from an average bimonthly bill of $359 to $602. The rate increase is being decided with a districtwide vote, and the ballots are set to be tallied June 4.

Many residents expressed displeasure at the rate increase and questioned if it would truly solve the problems that have plagued the Lake Berryessa Resort Improvement District for years. They also said the increase would be a crippling blow to residents who are already struggling financially.

“It’s kind of like the straw that’s breaking their backs,” said Garth MacDonald, president of the Lake Berryessa Estates Property Owners Association.

One woman predicted many people would walk away from their properties rather than swallow the rate hike, which would blow a deeper hole into the district’s budget. The district has 180 homes, with a little more than 160 active ratepayers. It has 20 parcels that are in judicial foreclosure, and another 50 parcels in delinquency.

“I love it up there,” said another Berryessa Estates resident. “All of these people love it up there. You’re witnessing the death of this community here. What you’re asking us to do makes no sense. You’re asking us to balance a budget that’s been sorely mismanaged over the years.”

Supervisor Mark Luce said the rate increase needs to pass to ensure the community has a future.

“We have really been working at wits’ end trying to get this district solvent,” Luce said. “We are at the point where we actually think there’s daylight at the end of this tunnel. You’ll have a viable district, which we haven’t had in a very long time. If we don’t do that, we’re in a deep, dark hole.”

The district needs to get in compliance with state water quality regulators because after periods of heavy rainfall it’s been discharging treated wastewater through spray fields, which reaches the lake —the main source of drinking water for Solano County.

That’s led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the possibility of more fines in the future looms over the district. It’s been hit with fines of $400,000, $360,000 and $595,000 in the past decade.

To get into compliance, the state requires improvements to the district’s wastewater system and a large expansion of its storage ponds, from 7 million gallons to 27 million gallons, which is estimated to cost slightly less than $5 million. That will ensure the district could withstand a 100-year rain, with 60 inches of rain falling over a short time, and not discharge, District Engineer Phil Miller said.

The district may be able to obtain grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for this, but first it needs to balance its budget, Miller said. The EPA money is disbursed by the state of California, and Miller said it’s currently available; the district would qualify once it balances its budget.

“If we can’t provide a balanced budget, it’s dead on arrival,” Miller said. “We haven’t been able to identify another source. This EPA program is the best deal.”

Miller said the continued fines from the regional board would be a worse scenario.

“If the citizens aren’t willing to vote to allow the rate increase, then the regional board is going to show no pity on us,” Miller said.

Napa County has lent the district $1.69 million over the last several years, with an expectation that the debt would be eventually forgiven. Supervisor Diane Dillon said Monday that this may be problematic. A recent opinion from the Napa County Counsel’s Office said that forgiving the loan could run afoul of California constitutional provisions and may constitute a gift of public funds.

MacDonald questioned if the district’s books would be truly balanced even with the rate increase, especially if it has to make loan payments to the county.

“The budget’s not balanced because you don’t factor in the payments,” MacDonald said. “What about the loan payments?”

Supervisor Bill Dodd pledged to give the district maximum flexibility if the loans have to be repaid.

“I know this board will be absolutely as creative as possible on that issue,” Dodd said. “That is an absolute commitment. That is my commitment.”

Dodd said he, Supervisor Keith Caldwell and staff have been working with the regional board to have the fines reduced or waived, but it needs to see progress on the improvements first.

In 2007, the district approved a property tax assessment of roughly $1,200 per year that sold $4.8 million in bonds, which has contributed $3 million toward other improvements, Miller said. That includes repairing and rehabilitating the sewer line, improving the sewer lift station, and effluent disposal, among other projects. With federal stimulus funding, the district was able to build a new water treatment plant.

But it still needs the wastewater improvements, and the money left over won’t cover the full costs, Miller concluded.

Residents balked at the estimated costs, including a $500,000 engineering fee the county lent money to cover last year. That paid for the consultant to use previous studies to determine the appropriate pond size and design, California Environmental Quality Act work, and getting the project ready for financial planning.

“Engineering consultants are not cheap,” Miller said. “In the world of engineering, a half-million dollar design fee isn’t all that much.”

The project is finally ready for construction, but needs funding, he said.

Supervisor Keith Caldwell said the repair bill is long overdue, as the district is still operating parts of a system that are 50 years old. The Estates, he notes, was intended to have part-time vacation rentals and homes, not full-time, year-round residents.

“The system leaks like a sieve,” Caldwell said. “This is old pipe that should never have been put in the ground. You’re all here because you know there’s a lot at stake. There could be a very positive path forward.”

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(9) Comments

  1. EmminentDomainCondemnationLaw
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    EmminentDomainCondemnationLaw - May 23, 2013 1:56 am
    All I want to say to the residents of Berryessa Estates is bite the bullet and SUE Napa County, the Board of directors, pay the retainer for a real attorney to take the case.

    Miss management is not the only crime committed, look into theft of taxes re-routed into the Napa County General Fund! Pay for some real private detectives to uncover their inaccuracies. Expose the real reasons they want to cause Emanate Domain by Condemnation Law!

    Stop worrying about paying for a PI and a Lawyer, YOU HAVE A GOOD STRONG CASE!
  2. glenroy
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    glenroy - May 23, 2013 8:41 am
    Excellent advice…..
    Folks, I would have thought, should have figured out there is no correlation between what those you vote for say they will do and what they actually do, no better example than that than your supervisors up there and Thompson…you pay him but he did not return your pleading calls on ether the resort beheading or the new clean water codes that can’t be met by natural run off. Keep in mind just 4 years ago these supervisors support Thompson who promised obamacare would reduce our health costs significantly … by the time this monstrous ‘make work for liberals’ is off the ground most of us who pay taxes will be looking at 300% increase in our health costs, high incomes 400%.
    In laymen jingo.. Berryessa residents are being hose’d by the county because the state is hosing the county, current sanitation runoff is as clean as a normal functioning septic system today. This was and remains about destroying Lake Berryessa…so liberals can have a canoe lake…Mike's a happy camper.
  3. Solipsistic
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    Solipsistic - May 23, 2013 8:52 am
    What would suing the County do, other than take away more taxpayer dollars to deal with the litigation?
  4. EmminentDomainCondemnationLaw
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    EmminentDomainCondemnationLaw - May 23, 2013 2:44 pm
    No it just takes away the funds that were stolen in the first place by Napa County Board of Supervisors and returns to the rightful owners. Litigation is the only moral step to stop these thieves. I guess the Board of Supervisors should not have been so greedy in the first place! The voting is rigged and is also a legal issue as well as having law makers in charge of over sight. Conflict of interest!

    They have and will keep embezzling these funds to drive home owners into default and off their land. Also. it is so they don't have to use resources for a remote development that they don't wish to defend and protect. They alone created the embarrassment by turning a blind eye now it is time for everyone to share in the rebuild. Napa County residents have reaped the financial benefit for years of the use of Lake Berryessa Special tax moneys for Napa flood as well as increasing the General Fund.
    My suspicion is you don't own or have never lived at Lake Berryessa! I have and was displaced
  5. EmminentDomainCondemnationLaw
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    EmminentDomainCondemnationLaw - May 23, 2013 3:03 pm
    I also agree, if you are looking for your Congressman's help don't bother. He also is in the realm of CONFLICT OF INTEREST! Let me just say lobbyists! Look at who his supporters are and then see who his friends are in the wine country! In my opinion most representatives are overpaid and under-worked, and feeling entitled while keeping the rich happy so they can walk with their noses in the air filling their inflated ego's!
    This whole ordeal is to give special interest groups a place to play with posh resorts that will generate the right strokes to EGO! Napa County is all about driving lower income out or to put them in FEMA work camps! If you would rather wait and see That is your prerogative, but many innocent will suffer!!!
  6. DOWN in UP Valley
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    DOWN in UP Valley - May 24, 2013 10:18 am
    I have lived in the Berryessa Estates for 25 punishing years. They regularly threaten to shut our plant down & hint about how we may lose our property. Magically just before we die of our bleeding ulcers, our saviors follow a threat with a PROMISE that our problems will be resolved with every special tax$ $ numerous rate increases$$ recent $$5.2 million Bond costing me $$46,000.00 After paying $$1200.00 for 39 years. The fruitless promises that there will be  no more violations & we will be in compliance with the RWQCB ,with  passage of the 5.2 mil Bond. Just read the final Engineers report  (special and unique benefits)  to us in passing  the assessment Bond!   There are no constraints when it comes to the numerous Emergency County Loans & the money falls into unsympathetic hands for who knows what??& without  our knowledge or consent! So I am required to pay  back (with interest) Loans I did not agree to that-never made any thing better? Our water rates will forever be paying back the Loans$fines$tanker trucks hauling waste from our ponds during heavy rains$$Pay the Engineers who designed the monster$$ $lawyers$$ for bond foreclosures $$lawyers paid $ thousands just to decide we are not going to dispute the RWQCB fines anyways$??District Counsel$County counsel$ etc.!! Anyone  who lifts a pen in the name of (LBRID) is very well paid!  Vote no on the rate increase & lets go into bankruptcy & let the big Audit begin.!!! I do not believe they can shut us down. The State would appoint an agency to take over operations.
  7. DOWN in UP Valley
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    DOWN in UP Valley - May 24, 2013 11:42 am
    I have lived in the Berryessa Estates for 25 years. Like clock work every couple of years County threatens to shut down our Plant &lately hinted of property loss as a result. Magically, just before we succumb to bleeding ulcers, our saviors follow that digested threat with a fruitless promise that our problems would be resolved and the Final Engineer Report is our promise of (Special & Unique Benefits) will put us in compliance with RWQCB and no more fines after the 2007- $5.2 million assessment Bond is passed (3 more fines since then). For 39 years I will pay an additional $1200.00 per yearx39=$46,800.00.As in the past empty promises that the numerous special taxes and rate increases would resolve our problems.Now it's time to pay the fines and never ceasing EMERGENCY LOANS!!$$ There are no constraints on Emergency loans the Engineer acquires from the County without our knowledge or debt is nearly 2 Million & be paid back by property owners
  8. DOWN in UP Valley
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    DOWN in UP Valley - May 24, 2013 11:48 am
    Vote against it everyone. Gee ...who has the vote on the empty foreclosed lots?
  9. DOWN in UP Valley
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    DOWN in UP Valley - May 24, 2013 2:01 pm
    Who can afford a Lawyer? We are already paying for several Lawyers of the Countys choosing and, look where that got us! We had no choice in selecting them or input on how to proceed in this battle. The lawyers have won no battles how can they win the war? No $$ left after struggling to simply keep our homes.

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