The Fallbrook Public Utility District’s original application to San Diego County’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for the merger of FPUD and the Rainbow Municipal Water District was approved at a special meeting four days after Rainbow provided FPUD with a 30-day notice to terminate the joint powers agency involving the two water districts. FPUD was accused of not having properly noticed the meeting, so a second vote was taken after sufficient public notice.
FPUD’s April 28 vote to resubmit the consolidation application to LAFCO resulted in passage by a 3-1 margin. Milt Davies, Al Gebhart, and Don McDougal voted in favor of the merger application; Archie McPhee opposed the application submission, and Bert Hayden was absent.
FPUD originally approved the application at a March 10 special meeting on a 4-0 vote with McPhee absent. “There was a question of whether public notice was required under certain sections of law and our attorney had originally told us that wasn’t required,” said FPUD general manager Brian Brady.
Once the notice issue was challenged, FPUD opted for another vote at a regular meeting. “It would take that question off the table,” Brady said.
The North County Joint Powers Authority was created in February 2013 as a transitional structure to test the possibility of consolidating the Fallbrook and Rainbow districts, and the first JPA meeting was held on March 6, 2013. The functional consolidation allowed for the experience of combining tasks among the two districts while also creating the possibility that the districts could experience cost savings due to such sharing without governance consolidation.
The joint powers agreement also included an employee leasing agreement which allowed FPUD and Rainbow to share employees, and the functional consolidation saved more than $1 million during the agreement’s first 11 months of existence.
In November, the FPUD and Rainbow boards voted to begin the process of applying to LAFCO for an actual jurisdictional consolidation, but the boards of the two districts could not agree on the governance structure for the successor district. Each district currently has a five-member board, but FPUD elects its directors by seat with the entire district voting for each seat while Rainbow elects its directors by division with only voters in that division participating in that election.
The FPUD board initially proposed that the board members of the consolidated agency all be elected at large. At the February 5 North County JPA meeting, FPUD’s representatives on the JPA board (which consisted of three FPUD board members, three Rainbow board members, and an at-large member chosen by the rest of the board) put forth a compromise proposal in which four directors would be elected by division and three directors would be elected at large. Such a format would provide board representation for residents of each of the four divisions while also ensuring that a majority of the board would be accountable to all of the district’s residents. Rainbow’s board members rejected that proposal.
The joint powers agreement allowed for a termination provision after one year, and at a Rainbow special board meeting March 5, the board voted 4-1 with Dennis Sanford in opposition to terminate the joint powers agreement with FPUD. Rainbow board president George McManigle delivered the 30-day notice of termination to FPUD on March 6, dissolving the JPA as of April 5. The FPUD board responded by pursuing the merger unilaterally and scheduling the special meeting on the Monday after the Thursday the district received the 30-day termination notice.
The application calls for the dissolution of the Rainbow Municipal Water District, the annexation of the Rainbow territory into FPUD, the expansion of FPUD’s latent sewer service powers into the Rainbow territory, the expansion of FPUD’s sphere of influence to include the Rainbow area, and a zero sphere of influence for Rainbow.
LAFCO is responsible for handling jurisdictional boundary changes including annexations, consolidations, detachments, dissolutions, and city incorporations. Updates to both the municipal service review which evaluates services and anticipated needs and to the sphere of influence which determines boundaries best served by a particular agency are prerequisites to any boundary change including an annexation or consolidation. LAFCO may approve the municipal service review, the sphere of influence update, and the boundary change at the same meeting.
LAFCO has an eight-member board consisting of two county supervisors (currently Bill Horn and Diane Jacob), one San Diego City Council member (currently Lorie Zapf), two city council members from the county’s other 17 incorporated cities (currently Sam Abed of Escondido and Jim Janney of Imperial Beach), two special district board members (currently John Ingalls of the Santa Fe Irrigation District and Bud Pocklington of the South Bay Irrigation District), and one public member (currently Rainbow Municipal Water District resident Andy Vanderlaan).
Although the support of both agencies would not be required for LAFCO to process the consolidation request, input from the Rainbow board as well as input from Rainbow residents during the public hearing on the merger recommendation would be part of the process.
Once Rainbow receives official notice from LAFCO, the district has 30 days to respond. Rainbow placed a potential response to the application on the agenda of the district’s May 2 special meeting, although due to the lack of new information the Rainbow board did not take any vote.
An April 7 Rainbow special board meeting to address the response created an ad hoc committee consisting of Sanford and Helene Brazier, who have been working on a potential document in opposition to the merger. LAFCO had not provided the official notice of the resubmitted application by Rainbow’s May 27 regular board meeting, so Rainbow’s agenda items of a potential response became non-voting discussion items due to the lack of new information.
If the LAFCO board approves the merger, sufficient petition signatures from residents of either district would trigger a public vote although the election would be for the two districts combined and the merger thus could be approved even if a majority vote from one of the districts opposes the merger.