Landowners Angered by Proposed Water Levy : Calleguas: Many say the district’s $10-per-acre fee would often charge for unused service. A hearing is planned Monday.


Flower grower LeRoy Goldberg isn’t offering up any bouquets to the Calleguas Municipal Water District.

The Somis farmer instead has a few choice brickbats for a Calleguas proposal that would cost him and his brother Stanley, the owners of Skyline Flower Growers, an extra $8,250 in property taxes for water service they don’t use.

He intends to fling them at a public hearing Monday on the proposed levy, which Calleguas calls a standby charge. The hearing, at the Thousand Oaks Public Library, begins at 7 p.m. It will be the only hearing on the proposed charge.


Calleguas is considering a $10-per-acre fee within its service area, which extends from Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks to Oxnard. Lots smaller than one acre also would be charged $10. The charge would appear on next year’s property tax bills.

The cash-strapped water district expects to raise more than $2 million from the levy. The money would replace part of the $3.5 million in property tax revenues, which Calleguas lost last year when Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature diverted those funds to finance other state programs. Calleguas has sued the state, claiming the diversion was illegal.

Calleguas, a public agency governed by an elected board, provides all or part of the water for nearly 500,000 customers in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard and some unincorporated areas.

Goldberg said he and his brother own 825 acres, most of it “rattlesnake country.” Worse, he said, the proposed Calleguas tax would come on top of a $9.58-per-acre levy already approved by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Goldberg said the two levies will increase the brothers’ property tax bill by more than $16,000, of which about $12,000 would be on fallow land.

“They’re going to collect $12,000 for what? So they can advertise on TV what a beautiful job they’re doing?” said Goldberg, referring to public service advertisements Calleguas has been running on one local station. “We’ve been hurting financially because of the economy; $12,000 prevents us from putting somebody else to work and helping the economy.”


Goldberg and other farmers raised the same points two months ago at another hearing in Thousand Oaks, where they denounced the MWD tax levy.

“It’s just so disgusting we can’t see straight,” said Larry Fuller, who said the Calleguas levy would cost him an extra $700 for 70 acres of land he owns in Balcom Canyon.

Because he is five miles from the nearest water line and can’t interest a water company into making him a customer, Fuller gets his water from a well. Fuller, an engineer, not only drilled the well but built the drilling rig from scratch to save money.

A typical well system costs about $225,000, he said.

Three of his acres are planted with Valencia oranges and the rest is in pasture. Fuller said zoning restrictions would prohibit him from planting more crops even if he wanted to.

“We’re damned any way we go,” he said. “If we got the water from them we still can’t plant.”

But Donald Kendall, Calleguas general manager, said most farmers are benefiting from Calleguas’ services even if they are not customers.


Calleguas is little-known to most Ventura County water users but is essential to their service. It is the county’s largest water wholesaler, buying imported water from MWD and reselling it to 21 public and private water companies.

The $10 charge would be levied on most of the estimated 345,200 parcels of land within the service area.

Kendall argues that even farmers such as the Goldbergs and Fuller benefit from Calleguas water and should pay the tax.

As more and more farmland is converted to development, Kendall said, the availability of Calleguas water increases the value of that land.

“Agricultural property becomes sold for a tremendous amount of money that reflects the fact that it happens to be in a service area with a tremendous availability of water,” he said.

He said Calleguas will exempt property owners from the tax if they sign a form stating they have no intention to develop their land.


Kendall said Calleguas will try to be flexible in granting other exemptions. He said property that cannot be developed will be exempted, such as steeply sloped land, dedicated open space, and land that lies in flood plains. Dry-land farmers also would qualify for an exemption.

But Kendall defended the tax for another, more controversial reason. He said many farmers who pump well water essentially receive free use of Calleguas water, because a significant amount of the water Calleguas imports into the county winds up in underground aquifers.

That water comes from the discharge from waste-water treatment plants in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Camarillo and other locations, which flows down creeks and eventually disappears into the ground.

That water, Kendall said, works its way into the underground aquifers that farmers tap with their own wells to water their crops.

“We sell about 100,000 acre-feet a year,” Kendall said. “I’d say roughly 20% of that water is making it back into the ground.”

An acre-foot of water is the amount required to serve a typical family of five for a year and equals about 326,000 gallons.


Without the replenishment of the Calleguas water, underground aquifers would be much more depleted by the county’s water-intensive agricultural industry, Kendall said.

But some disagree.

“It sounds good unless you really understand the geology of these things,” Fuller said. “Where the water’s coming from has never been certain.”

John Lamb, a fourth-generation farmer in the Santa Rosa Valley, said he understands the financial straits Calleguas finds itself in. His family owns 1,000 acres in the Camarillo area and stands to pay nearly $20,000 in additional taxes from the Calleguas and MWD proposals.

Lamb, who sits on the board of the Camrosa Water District in Camarillo, favors an alternative plan proposed by Camrosa that would reduce the charge on large parcels by as much as one-tenth for those who own land zoned for agriculture or open space. Camrosa has about 8,000 customers in eastern Camarillo and the Santa Rosa Valley.

But Kendall said the different rates are arbitrary. He also said the charge should not vary according to a property’s zoning, because zoning decisions can change.

Kendall said Calleguas would impose the charge only because it has lost the property tax revenues which were its traditional source of funding. The district also is considering raising developer fees for the first time in more than 10 years.


Kendall said Calleguas would reduce the special charge if the state returns the property tax revenues to the district.