One agency contributes 43% of South O.C. water authority's budget but its vote is no greater than others, following board's vote

The South Orange County Wastewater Authority's current voting system will remain in place.

The agency's 10-member board unanimously agreed Wednesday not to consider any changes to a structure that gives various agencies votes of equal weight. Moulton Niguel Water District wanted its vote to carry greater weight since it contributes the largest financial share, 43%, of SOCWA's $21.7 million overall budget.

A back-and-forth discussion inside the Dana Point Marina Inn revealed some agencies were interested in an altered voting system while others, such as the city of Laguna Beach, and the Emerald Bay Service District, were opposed. Still others expressed indifference.

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Each of the authority's 10 agencies, including South Coast, which covers portions of South Laguna, has a 10% share in voting.

Representatives from each agency had presented the weighted voting concept to their respective boards or councils and reported the results at the meeting.

SOCWA collects and treats sewage from more than 500,000 homes via three treatment plants and produces recycled water. Its member agencies operate under a joint agreement.

Trabuco Canyon Water District's board President Stephen Dopudja suggested the board hold off on a discussion until questions of possible policy impacts were vetted.

South Coast General Manager Andy Brunhart preferred a decision Wednesday.

"We spent a lot of time getting ready for this matter," Brunhart said. "I don't see any reason to table it."

Trabuco Canyon proposed a system whereby Moulton Niguel's vote would have carried 26% value, while South Coast and Laguna Beach would have had 14% and 11% stakes, respectively.

Moulton Niguel serves customers in Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel and Dana Point.

Board Vice Chairwoman Toni Iseman, a Laguna Beach councilwoman, claimed weighted voting masked another issue: ownership stakes in the coastal treatment plant in Aliso Canyon.

"We've spent hundreds of hours negotiating at great expense of staff," Iseman said. "We were kidnapped because of [the coastal treatment plant]. We could have taken the baby and talk about that, but they took the whole agency."

Moulton Niguel General Manager Joone Lopez said there was no ulterior motive.

"Being reasonable has always been our approach," Lopez said. "You can find things and draw all kinds of connections, but what is the benefit if we say something and do something else?"

Moulton Niguel has withheld payments for infrastructure improvements to the coastal treatment plant since June, though the district continues to pay general, operations and maintenance funds.

The district has not sent wastewater to the plant in years and is seeking to divest itself of its ownership stake, Moulton Assistant General Manager Matt Collings said.

South Coast owns the largest share of the plant at nearly 50%. Laguna Beach holds 27% ownership, followed by Moulton Niguel at 21% and Emerald Bay at 2%, SOCWA General Manager Betty Burnett wrote in an email.

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Bryce Alderton, bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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