The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District officials voted 4-1 to authorize a $500,000 contract with engineering firm AECOM of Camarillo to design the new 5-million-gallon tank that will be built above the Three Springs community of Westlake Village.
At its Nov. 13 meeting the water board also adopted a series of new rate hikes. District director Barry Steinhardt opposed both the water tank and rate increase.
About 20 people attended the meeting and more than half of them urged the board to postpone the tank project and rate increases. They said a new general manager and board member scheduled to join the agency in January should have the opportunity to weigh in first.
Leonard Polan of Westlake Village was elected on Nov. 6 to replace incumbent Joe Bowman, and General Manager John Mundy will retire in January.
“It would be irresponsible to move forward with the tank tonight,” said Three Springs resident Neil Ticktin, who has been leading the opposition. “There is a lot of confusion and lack of assessment. The tank has not stood up to outside scrutiny.”
He suggested the board take a “serious look at culture change” to improve collaboration and communication with ratepayers.
But directors Glen Peterson, Lee Renger, Charles Caspary and Bowman voted to overrule the opposition.
They said the tank is part of a multi-year upgrade that includes the modernization of a treatment plant and pump station at the Las Virgenes Reservoir and new pipeline installations in Agoura and Calabasas.
“Not building the tank will seriously affect the reliability of the system,” Caspary said.
The Las Virgenes Reservoir holds about 3 billion gallons of water supplied by the Metropolitan Water District. The new tank will hold potable water that is ready for consumption.
It will serve the entire district, not just Westlake Village, and help improve overall water delivery, said David Lippman, LVMWD director of facilities and operations.
Agoura resident and tank opponent Martin Jansen said enhanced conservation could negate the need for the new structure. He suggested LVMWD utilize a remote control system that could automatically shut off home sprinkler systems in case of severe water shortages.
Mundy said the untested technology would be too costly to research and implement, but the board agreed to perform additional research to see if it’s a viable option for the future.
At the beginning of the meeting, Bowman took a moment to share his thoughts on working with the district.
“It has been a real privilege and pleasure to be on the board. . . . I’ve worked with people who work hard (and) who think for themselves,” Bowman said.
He congratulated Polan and wished him well, reminding the newcomer that his job on the board will require a great deal of time and effort.
District directors have many responsibilities and they must lookout for all customers in the district, he said.
“You cannot put your personal opinions or beliefs ahead of what’s right for the district,” Bowman said.
He added that LVMWD has a spotless record in financial oversight and that the agency is obligated to have enough infrastructure and employees to maintain a reliable system.
Polan and Steinhardt are on the record as being opposed to the new tank and wanting to streamline operations and reduce expenses so that customers wouldn’t have to pay higher rates.
Bowman said he is saddened that Steinhardt and Polan believe the district is overstaffed and burdened with bureaucracy. Employees are constantly worried they will lose their jobs, he said, and the only place left for cuts is in the customer service and community relations departments, which would hurt ratepayers.
Incoming board member Polan said he appreciates the veteran director’s attempt to pass down institutional knowledge. But he was disappointed with the board’s decision to proceed with engineering designs for the new tank.
“The community was very clear they were against the tank, but the board refused to be thwarted in their pursuit of this project,” Polan said, adding that he hopes the tank can still be avoided. LVMWD officials say even with the new round of price increases the water district offers the lowest water rates in the region.