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THE DROUGHT PIPELINE : Group Plans Campaign to Put Project on Ballot

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A citizens group on Monday announced a campaign to put an initiative on the November ballot calling for construction of a pipeline that would bring state water into the city of Ventura from Lake Piru near Fillmore.

The Assn. for Quality Water Alternatives, whose membership includes much of the city’s real estate and business communities, filed a notice with the city that it intends to circulate petitions calling for the ballot measure. Members will begin seeking signatures of registered voters within 15 days, said Robert McCord, an attorney and spokesman for the group.

The group’s announcement comes on the heels of a recommendation Friday by the Ventura City Council’s water subcommittee that the council not sponsor a ballot initiative on water importation until a new study is completed on the cost of a pipeline and alternatives to such a plan.

McCord said his group was forced to take action because the city is dragging its feet.

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Feasibility studies by the city in 1975 and 1987 showed that the cost of a pipeline would be $70 million to $120 million.

Some city officials said the new study will determine a more precise estimate, but McCord said: “No matter how much you study it, you’re not going to know how much it costs until you build the pipeline.”

The city of Ventura is entitled to 10,000 acre-feet of water annually--one acre-foot serves a family of four for a year--from the State Water Project, for which it has paid millions of dollars over the years. But without a pipeline, it has no means of retrieving the water from Lake Piru.

McCord said city officials have delayed action on the pipeline initiative because “they want to impose additional growth-control limitations, and they think the pipeline will promote growth.”

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Under the AQWA initiative, the council would approve funding for the project and form a joint powers agency with other water districts in the region that are interested in sharing the pipeline.

Reaction to the proposal among City Council members was mixed.

Mayor Richard Francis, who had asked the city to put the pipeline initiative on the ballot, said his colleagues on the water subcommittee “abdicated their responsibilities” by urging that a ballot measure not be endorsed by the city.

The council should make a decision on the pipeline, he said, “or at least, have the minimal responsibility of sponsoring a ballot initiative.”

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“The council lacks the intestinal fortitude to deal with the issue,” he said.

But Deputy Mayor Don Villeneuve, a member of the water subcommittee, said the panel acted responsibly because the $500,000 pipeline study has not been completed.

The study, which also is to determine a preferred route for the pipeline, is not expected to be completed until the end of the year.

“I don’t think voters can support a project if they don’t know the costs and don’t know the alternatives,” Villeneuve said. “I think these AQWA folks are shooting themselves in the foot by precipitating a premature decision.”

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Committee members seeking the ballot initiative include the Greater Ventura Chamber of Commerce and the Ventura Board of Realtors. There are between 800 and 1,000 affiliated members of AQWA, McCord said.

To qualify a ballot initiative, 15% of the registered voters must sign a petition. There are 49,000 registered voters in the city; to qualify the initiative, supporters need to gather 7,300 signatures.


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