San Lorenzo Valley Water District to decide whether to use eminent domain to take Felton system: Santa Cruz CA Sentinel, 1/27/07

By Gwen Mickelson

The San Lorenzo Valley Water District is setting the stage to use eminent domain to take control of the privately owned Felton water system.

Water district board members are expected to vote at a Feb. 8 meeting on a resolution that is the last step before proceeding with eminent domain, according to district Manager Jim Mueller.

"If the board should take the potential action to adopt that resolution, that would empower the district to go before the court and file an action of eminent domain," he said.

Eminent domain is the power of government to take private property for public use, provided owners receive just compensation.

During more than four years of attempts by Felton residents to buy the waterworks, the system's owner, California American Water Co., has consistently said it is not for sale. The system is still not for sale, said Evan Jacobs, community relations manager for Cal Am in Felton.

Cal Am has received the notice about the February meeting, "and we do have a number of objections to the resolution," said Jacobs. "We're going to communicate those objections to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District by letter"

The main purpose of the hearing "is to give the property owner, which is Cal Am, the opportunity to address the board," said Mueller, "and provide any testimony, evidence, etcetera, that they want to present"

Cal Am representatives will be there, however, Jacobs said, but the company is still reviewing its options about making a presentation.

Unhappy with the price of water and service, Felton residents in 2005 authorized an $11 million bond, Measure W, to buy the Cal Am waterworks and asked to become part of the neighboring San Lorenzo Valley Water District.

Members of Felton Friends of Locally Owned Water, the group leading the charge to buy the system, were happy with the water district's recent move.

"We're absolutely ecstatic this process is moving along," said Barbara Sprenger, a FLOW member. "We hope that the water board will unanimously vote to move forward"

Measure W funds would be "plenty" to pay for both potential eminent domain proceedings and the water system, said Sprenger.

The San Lorenzo Valley Water District board of directors voted unanimously in December to offer $7.6 million to Cal Am for the Felton system.

Mueller estimated that if the district were to go through with eminent domain proceedings, it could cost up to $500,000. The money for the proceedings would come from Measure W funds.

Since the board has not yet authorized an action of eminent domain, Mueller was reluctant to say how long such proceedings might take.

"But just speculating, if a court case were involved, you're looking at 12 to 18 months," he said.

The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Highlands Park Senior Center, 8500 Highway 9, Ben Lomond. It is open to the public.

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