More bylaws concerns expressed

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The bylaws for the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority were finally passed in their entirety last week, after 30 plus hours of public meetings, according to Mayor Peggy Breeden. But the final iteration of the bylaws, particularly the section concerning the structure of the “workhorse” committees, still raises concerns about stakeholder participation among certain members of the public.

Breeden serves as the city’s representative on the multi-agency Groundwater Sustainability Agen-cy. Other members include representatives of the IWV Water District; counties of Kern, Inyo and San Bernardino; Department of the Navy and Bureau of Land Management.

The bylaws define two standing committees — the Policy Advisory Committee and the Technical Advisory Committee — that will be doing the “heavy lifting” regarding the Groundwater Sus-tainability Plan. The committees will interface with the GSA board through a water resource manager, who the board has yet to select.

Breeden questioned the policy to have TAC agendas set solely by the WRM.

“As a matter of course, does the TAC have any input to put items on their agenda?” she asked.

“Well we’re starting to get pretty hypothetical here,” said Kern County Counsel Phillip Hall. He added that since the WRM would be drafting the GSP, he would only ask the TAC for input on whatever section he was working on at the time.

Stan Rajtora, a member of the public, reiterated two concerns that he and others of the public have frequently brought to the board’s attention. One was the GSA board’s authority to remove committee members, with the other the lack of a regular meeting schedule.

“I want people to be able to speak their minds whether they’re in the public or on the committee,” said Rajtora, “without any threat or intimidation of being removed.

“I think the public was in unanimous agreement that should be changed,” he said, referring to a public workshop meeting last month.

“I still feel that we need to have something in place other than just the board being responsible for removing people.”

Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley argued that if the committees had the ability to remove representatives, the members would be even less likely to speak freely.

He added that he doesn’t imagine removing any committee members for reasons other than nonparticipation.

Breeden agreed with Rajtora’s concern about a lack of meeting schedule.

“Do we just assume that there’s going to be a reasonable meeting schedule over time?” she asked.

Hall said that the committees would meet as often as there was direction from the GSA board.

“We didn’t put a regular meeting date in there because we didn’t want to second guess how many meetings we really need to have,” he said. “Is 24 meetings enough? Do you need 48? 36?”

Hall pointed out that the board had roughly 30 months to develop the GSP. “It was a variable that we didn’t know.”

Others pointed out that while the committees would have representatives for agricultural interests, businesses, private well owners and others, they lack representation from the community at large.

“Last month the board appointed Meadowbrook and Mojave Pistachio to the PAC,” said Ray Kelso.

“This ensures [representation for] the two largest agricultural users with interests diametrically opposed to the 30,000 residents of the IWV. Nobody on the lists represents me.

“What is the justification for this lopsided representation?”

GSA Board Chair Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason assured Kelso and the public that they are better represented than most stakeholders through the IWVGA board membership, despite the lack of representation at the committee level.

“I think that everybody on this board recognizes what their duty is, and that’s not just to their constituencies,” said Kingsley. “It’s to the groundwater basin.”

“If we’re not here for everybody in the valley, we’re here for nobody,” added Breeden.

But these sentiments were somewhat incongruent with comments made in the past by Gleason, who encouraged representatives to “stay in their jurisdictions.”

The final draft of the bylaws, agendas and meeting schedules are available online at www.co.kern. ca.us/WaterResources.aspx.

Story First Published: 2017-05-26