Groundwater Authority bylaws approved — with provisions

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

After considerable discussion, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority provisionally approved its bylaws last week.

Members of the public were critical of the bylaws structure, particularly the nebulous nature of the to-be-formed Policy Advisory and Technical Advisory Committees.

This was one of the few action items taken by the IWVGA, tasked with establishing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the IWV basin, since the authority’s formation last year.

Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, chairman of the IWVGA board, tried hard to expedite the meeting and get the bylaws approved so that the board could move forward with forming the PAC and TAC.

“We’ve got as much of a consensus here as we can get,” said Kern County Legal Counsel Phillip Hall, who presented the draft document.

The bylaws don’t take effect until the end of March, giving other agencies like the city of Ridgecrest and the IWV Water District a chance to review the document with their respective boards.

“We want 110-percent assurance that any member agency that would like to comment on the bylaws at their board level has that opportunity,” said Hall.

A major concern brought up during previous meetings was language in the bylaws allowing the board to “remove or admonish any member or members of any standing committee.”

“Could you explain the reason why that’s there?” asked Mayor Peggy Breeden. She added that she doesn’t think the board should be able to remove committee members just because they disagree.

“I think everybody should have enough trust in the board that we’re not going to remove people because we don’t like them or we don’t like their opinion,” said Hall, who said the language was normal for agency bylaws.

He continued that the purpose for the board having the power to remove committee members was to avoid time-consuming public trials or publicly airing personal details in the event that a committee member isn’t working out.

But asking for public trust can sometimes be a tall order.

Dissension between directors of the IWVWD could easily be observed during recent meetings. Director Chuck Griffin, who serves as the IWVGA’s secondary representative to Peter Brown, has complained of being “squeezed out” of groundwater discussions by Brown. The reason: disagreeing with board consensus.

“The interests of all groups need to be represented without the threat of censure,” said Stan Rajtora, who also brought his concerns to prior meetings of the Ridgecrest City Council and IWVWD.

Rajtora also criticized the bylaws for not elaborating on the formation of the Technical Ad-visory Committee, whose contributions he said would really be the whole point of a Groundwater Sustainability Agency.

Others, including San Bernar-dino County representative Bob Page, said they were puzzled as to why certain entities were removed by name from the PAC membership, language that was approved back in November.

Proposed PAC membership includes two representatives for “large agriculture,” explicitly Mojave Pistachio and Meadow-brook Farms.

“In November when the board approved the structure for the PAC, there was discussion about identifying specific entities,” said Page. “I was just hopeful that you would indulge to have staff explain why the bylaws still just have the categories without specifically naming them.”

Representatives from both Mojave Pistachio and Meadow-brook reiterated the sentiment during public comment.

“I think it’s really appropriate to leave it as general categories,” said Hall.

“What happens if one of those entities buys out the other? Or what happens if they split into different entities? Flexibility there is probably better than rigidity.”

Gleason added to the discussion, saying that the PAC was a place not for individual interests, but for industrial, agricultural, real estate and other interests as a whole.

“I believe that the proper way of empowering the PAC is to make sure that the people who represent those categories do not represent individual interests, but the category itself,” he said.

“For us to stand here and say ‘you’re this’ and ‘you’re that,’ it cuts the knees off on the public input, the public participation and the whole plan we’re trying to develop.”

The Ridgecrest City Council and the IWVWD will presumably continue discussion on the bylaws during their regular meetings on Wednesday, March 1, and Tuesday, March 13, respectively.

Story First Published: 2017-02-24