The Ceres City Council has twice turned down a request to extend water service to a mobile home park outside the city and now the state of California is poised to bully the city to change its mind.
On Monday the council reluctantly gave direction to staff to craft an agreement that would place all the costs and responsibilities on the owner of Ceres West Mobile Home Park to make the project happen.
In June 2017 the council said it wouldn’t extend water service to the rural mobile home park of about 47 units. KS Mattson Partners LP of Vacaville, owners of the park, met the same resistance in 2016 when they sought city approval to run a four-inch water line 3,000 feet down Central Avenue to the park at the southwest corner of Central and Grayson roads south of Beaver Elementary School. The park, which was approved by the county in 1969, has limited options to supply drinking water to the units because water from an on-site well exceeds state limits for arsenic. It used about 2.6 million gallons of water in 2014.
City Manager Toby Wells reluctantly brought the matter back before the council now that the state is threatening to force a merger of the two systems. He said that the State Water Resources Control Board has scheduled an Oct. 1 public hearing to discuss the issue. In a staff report to the council, Wells said that he fears the “forced consolidation by the state will likely result in less control in our ability to mitigate the issues associated with completing negotiations for a water service agreement.”
Wells called the state’s action “unfortunate” and chided the state for considering a water system of a private mobile home park to be a “public water system” and therefore falls under the state’s jurisdiction.
“I think (City Attorney) Mr. Hallinan would agree the legal framework for that is rather interesting but it appears they have legal authority to do what they’re threatening to do,” said Wells.
The council, which had remained opposed to the idea for fear that the city could be on the hook financially for costs should the park change hands or default on their agreement, appeared resigned. Councilman Ken Lane expressed fears that the forced water connection could set a precedent which will may result in a flood of similar requests from rural mobile home parks surrounding Ceres which may be experiencing water quality problems.
The city did previously approve a water line extension to the Monterey Park Tract southwest of Ceres but the rural neighborhood is overseen by an elected Community Services District whereas Ceres West is a for-profit business. The Monterey Park Tract agreement was inked after the county guaranteed to be a financial “backstop” should there be problems with the system or payments.
Wells said Ceres West Mobile Home Park is willing to put down a cash deposit that will cover six months or longer of the estimated water bill for the park. Owners also seem amenable to be responsible for long-term maintenance of the line and record the water agreement to the property deed for when it changes hands.
Wells said the agreement would call for the park to pay for the line and maintain it.
“I think it should be difficult, I think it should be costly,” said Councilman Ken Lane. “It’s not against the people out there at all; it’s just that we have a responsibility to the residents of our city.”
“I vehemently disagree with the state,” said Mayor Vierra. “The state always seems to have all the ‘right’ answers when it’s their way. This is the same authority that wants to take the water from us but then turns around and tells us that we need to supply others with water. I have a fundamental issue with that.”
He called the state hypocrites for forcing cities to adhere to environmental review laws during annexations while not making the park annex to the city and become vetted under CEQA.
“When does it stop? You open up Pandora’s Box. How many other situations like this do we have? It’s just a recipe for disaster.”
The mayor added that the park has the ability to treat its water just like the city but “choose not to because this is an easier answer.”
He said the state has the city “over a barrel” because the state has the ability to deny the city’s surface water plant.
At the 2017 council discussion, Alfonso Manrique of AM Consulting Engineers said the park has little room to drill a new well and that water from a new source would likely also be contaminated with arsenic. He also noted that one solution of adding water purifiers under the sinks of all units is seen as short-term and not dependable by the state. A water treatment system is not the most cost-effective for residents of the park, which he called a “disadvantaged community.”
The state Water Resources Control Board has offered zero-interest loans to assist in the project.
Wells said the most frustrating aspect of this issue is that the city will be offering water of the same quality that is currently being served at the park through a private well. The difference is that the state considers the city more capable of dealing with water quality issues, something the city “fundamentally disagrees with,” said Wells.