OID did not skirt law with outside water sale, attorney says

Oakdale Irrigation District building in Oakdale, Calif., on Thursday, May, 8, 2015.
Oakdale Irrigation District building in Oakdale, Calif., on Thursday, May, 8, 2015.

Irrigation leaders complied with California open-meetings law when they agreed to sell Stanislaus River water to Fresno-area buyers at a Tri-Dam meeting in Manteca, an attorney representing the Oakdale Irrigation District said in a written response to a customer’s formal complaint.

“The Tri-Dam Project is not a separate entity. Its meetings are meetings of the (Oakdale Irrigation District) and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District,” attorney Roger Schrimp said in the response to farmer Robert Frobose.

Frobose had accused leaders of playing “hide the ball” by holding no public discussion or vote in Oakdale and obscuring Tri-Dam agenda language. The Aug. 20 Tri-Dam agenda listed “a fall water release in cooperation with state and federal agencies,” with no mention of terms; SSJID separately ratified its part of the vote as a standalone board, but OID did no such thing.

The districts sold 23,000 acre-feet of Stanislaus River water for $11.5 million to the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, whose 29 members include Westlands Water District of Fresno County.

State and federal agencies praised the agreement, which also satisfied fish advocates, but candidates then running for the OID board said the deal was proof of OID’s lack of transparency. Challengers Gail Altieri and Linda Santos defeated longtime incumbents Frank Clark and Al Bairos, both by more than 20 percentage points, in the Nov. 3 election.

Although Altieri and Santos were sworn into office a week ago, they did not take seats when the OID board met Monday in a special board meeting; the California Water Code says officers selected at a general district election take seats at noon on the first Friday in December. Clark cast votes Monday and was thanked for his 14 years of service, while Bairos did not attend.

Monday’s agenda was light compared to last week’s, when Altieri and Santos requested delays for some votes. The board last week approved a fixed component for 2016 water rates, but put off deciding on volumetric fees charged by amount used; they also declared that General Manager Steve Knell “is doing an excellent job and goes above and beyond to keep the district running efficiently,” while deciding that his salary would not change.

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390