Following four years of negotiation, the city of Ceres last year agreed to extend water service to the Monterey Park Tract, a rural neighborhood overseen by an elected Community Services District.
So when owner of the Ceres West Mobilehome Park outside the city limits began facing arsenic problems with well water, they felt they had a chance for the city approving water service for its 41 families. Members of the Ceres City Council last week, however, decided against the idea, fearing there would be no guarantee of payment for the cost of monthly service. The council also expressed fears that an agreement not being honored if the park changes hands.
The county asked the city to consider the proposal but would not serve as the backstop for failed payments for the city as in the case of Monterey Park Tract.
Members also fear that setting a precedent would result in a flood of other requests from the 14 other rural mobile home parks surrounding Ceres which might also find their water failing to meet state water quality standards.
The decision leaves park owners KS Mattson Partners LP of Vacaville in a quandary about how to supply good water to the park, which is located at the southwest corner of Central and Grayson roads south of Beaver Elementary School.
City Manager Toby Wells was expressed concern over a last-minute letter from the state asking the city to extend service to the park. He said the letter appeared to be a "form letter" but acknowledged that it had a threatening tone to it.
"If this same precedent ... that we are going to be required by the state to provide the water to 14 mobile home parks, we're in a whole different ball game," said Wells.
He said the city has its own problems providing Ceres residents with good, clean drinking water, noting "that's why we're pursuing the surface water project ... at a significant cost to our rate payers."
Wells said the park was approved in 1969 by the county and was a land use issue which the city has no control over.
Mayor Chris Vierra said he feels for the challenge of the park's owners but he is concerned about "where would it stop?"
Vierra expressed fears that once Ceres connects to the surface water plant near Fox Grove and monthly water rates go up, park owners could refuse to pay the higher rates.
"It was a little different with Monterey Park because they have a CSD and we've got a backing from Stanislaus County," said Vierra. "I constantly get annoyed when I hear the county tell all of us cities that we don't know how to properly plan our land uses yet they approve this and it has an issue and they're coming to us for help."
He said "I'm afraid this opens up Pandora's Box."
Councilman Ken Lane agreed, saying, "There has to be some document in place that will protect our ratepayers, citizens here in Ceres."
The park used about 2.6 million gallons of water, or 7,887 gallons, in 2014.
The state issued the park a compliance order from the state in 2013 about excessive arsenic levels. Without the city as a player, the park has three options: treat the water to remove the arsenic, drill a new well or drill a new test hole. Treatment could cost as much as $100,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,000 to $1,500 and may not totally solve the problem, county Environmental Resources staff members have warned.
City officials said that the park does not have the option of connecting to the city water line that was extended to Beaver School because the line is privately owned by the Ceres Unified School District. When that line was approved by LAFCO, the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission, the stipulation was that the water could only be used for the school population and not housing in the area. Mayor Vierra said he's concerned that Ceres ratepayers would be on the hook for maintaining the 3,000 linear feet of pipe necessary to connect to the Beaver School line.
"I really want to help you here," Vierra told representatives of the park, "but there's a lot more to it than say run the hose out and hook us up. The state, in its infinite wisdom, they'll say, ‘oh yes, you have to do this' but they don't think through all the issues. That's always a concern."
He did leave the door open, however, saying "At this point I can't support it. If they want to work on it and come back to us with those issues addressed... maybe you can change our stance on this."