Helix Water District
East County News Service
November 18, 2014 (La Mesa) – Following a 10 News investigation that cited anonymous whistleblowers claiming corruption by a Helix Water District inspector and a construction company, the Helix Water District has responded to East County Magazine’s request for comments. Read highlights of the 10 News story with links to the full report here.
Ted Salois, senior public affairs representative for the district, offered this response.
“We strive to be excellent stewards of our customers’ funds and work diligently every day to continue earning the public’s trust. When some concerns about our contracting practices were raised, we immediately initiated our own internal audit and commissioned a thorough review by an outside firm," he said.
UPDATE November 18, 2014 5 p.m. -- Helix Water District has responded to ECM's request for comments on the 10 News investigation. Helix contends that an independent inquiry as well as an in-house audit found no irregularities. You can read the Helix responses here.
View part 1 of the 10 News investigation here with links to documents and watch for part 2 airing tonight.
By Miriam Raftery
November 18, 2014 (La Mesa)—Whistleblowers are alleging that a Helix Water District inspector and a contractor conspired to overcharge ratepayers for work that was never done.
The district refused to be interviewed on camera about the allegations. However an investigation by JW August at 10 News, an East County Magazine news partner, found documents that appear to substantiate some of the claims made by the whistleblowers, employees who spoke under condition that their names not be publicized due to fears of retribution.
East County Magazine has contacted Carlos Lugos, general manager at Helix, for comments on the 10 News investigation. We also inquired whether steps are being taken by the District to assure that overcharges are not made in the future. plus we asked whether competitive bids were obtained for the projects in question. We will publish any responses once received.
Fiscal year 2014-15 budget calls for 4.3 percent rate increase—far lower than the anticipated 6.2 percent
August 10, 2014 (San Diego's East County) - Helix Water District’s board of directors Wednesday revised the final budget for fiscal year 2014-15, including a rate increase of 4.3 percent for the average domestic-class customer who uses 25 units of water. One unit is 748 gallons. The increase amounts to $5.68 on the average bimonthly bill—well below the anticipated 6.2 percent or $8.23 increase that was approved last year as part of a two-year rate notice in accordance with requirements of Proposition 218.
Source: Helix Water District
August 7, 2014 (La Mesa)--Helix Water District’s board of directors voted yesterday to put Drought Level 2 into effect in response to the State Water Resources Control Board’s passage of mandatory water conservation measures to deal with the current drought.
Since February, the district had been in Drought Level 1, which called for numerous voluntary actions to eliminate water waste. Drought Level 2 makes them mandatory. Residents and businesses are required to take the following conservation steps:
August 4, 2014 (La Mesa) – Notice is hereby given that a General District Election will be held in the Helix Water District on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, for the following offices for which candidates may be nominated:
Council also approves changes to fee schedules
By Janis Russell
July 30, 2014 (El Cajon)- Following an administrative hearing last week, El Cajon City Council voted unanimously to participate in the East County regional water reuse study.
Source: Helix Water District
June 14, 2014 (La Mesa)--Helix Water District’s board of directors on Tuesday approved a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2014-15 that calls for a rate increase of 4.5 percent for the average domestic-class customer. The increase amounts to $5.93 on the average bimonthly bill—well below the anticipated 6.2 percent or $8.23 increase that was approved last year as part of a two-year rate notice in accordance with requirements of Proposition 218.
April 26, 2014 (San Diego's East County) - Helix Water District has selected 17 winning entries in its Lake Jennings Month-of-March Photo Contest. Seventy-five submissions competed in two categories, adult and youth, for cash prizes of $100 for first places, $50 for second places and $25 for third places. Honorable mentions receive ribbons and certificates.
By Miriam Raftery
March 11, 2014 (La Mesa) – Helix Water District will hold a special meeting with the Lake Jennings Campground Committee and Board of Directors on Wednesday, March 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the District headquarters, 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa.
The meeting will include a PowerPoint presentation and discussion regarding activities, marketing, and suggested maintenance at the Lake Jennings campground. The Board has previously indicated closure of the campgrounds is likely if additional funding sources are not found.
Closure of popular recreation facility among options
By Miriam Raftery
November 3, 2013 (La Mesa) – At its meeting on Wednesday, November 6, Helix Water District will vote on whether to have staff prepared detailed reports on four options for the future of Lake Jennings. Those options include:
- close the lake to the public and decommission campgrounds and fishing facilities,
- limit public access to only hiking, picnicking and fishing- -but the lake would no longer be stocked with fish and campgrounds would be decommissioned,
- Maintain camping and fishing and invest $1,600,000 to $3,600,000 in renovations, or
- Create a master plan for renovation and expansion based on the 2007 Lake Jennings Campground Master Plan at a cost of $8 million to $15 million, with additional expenses for permitting, environmental impact and mitigation.
HELIX WATER PROPOSES NEW RULES TO CHANGE POWERS OF DIRECTOR, RESTRICT BOARD DISSENT, AND ALTER RULES FOR PUBLIC TESTIMONY
By Miriam Raftery
November 3, 2013 (La Mesa) – Last year, Helix Water Board member Chuck Muse sought to prohibit board members from speaking to the media in a clear effort to silence an outspoken member critical of a rate hike. The board stopped short of that likely-unconstitutional action, instead requiring board members to make clear that they are speaking as individuals, not representing the board’s position to media and the public. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/10180
On its agenda for Wednesday, November 6, however, the Board is proposing new policies that would go much farther. While some policy changes aim to curb abuses by officials, others have a potential chilling effect on board members’ free speech. In addition, the new policy could allow limits on testimony from the public. (View board report on proposed guidelines and agenda.)
November 2, 2013 (San Diego's East County) – Helix Water District will officially celebrate its 100th anniversary as a public district at the Administration Office Boardroom, 7811 University Avenue, La Mesa, California on Wednesday, November 6 at 5:00 p.m.
Helix Water District, which began as a private company called the San Diego Flume Company, went public as a result of a vote taken in the East County on November 1, 1913. The La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley Irrigation District was duly formed as a public special district under California's irrigation law.
By Miriam Raftery
September 5, 2013 (La Mesa) – Four years ago, Helix Water District took back management of Lake Jennings from the County. But now the board is weighing options to reduce its operating costs or raise revenues generated by the 9,700 acre reservoir in Lakeside. Those options include closing the lake, offering a long-term lease to a neighboring district, or privatizing the lake’s facilities by turning over management to a company such as KOA, which operates campgrounds nationwide.
On September 13 at 10 a.m., the District will hold a public workshop at its administration building, 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa. You can also send comments to the board at email@example.com
By Janis Mork
July 24, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Helix Water District is looking to raise rates for its 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 fiscal years. For 2013-2014, proposed water rates for the domestic/ single customer - using 25 units bi-monthly - will increase six percent. Commercial/Multi-family customers will see a rate increase of three to eight percent.
July 11, 2013 (La Mesa) – The Helix Water District Annual Water Quality Report is now available online in both English and Spanish. Again this year, as in all prior years, Helix’s drinking water meets or exceeds all State and Federal drinking water standards.
The annual 2013 Water Quality Report contains important information about drinking water in the Helix District. The District encourages customers to read the report carefully and ask any questions they might have about water sources, quality, or distribution by contacting: (619) 667-6248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 2, 2013 (La Mesa) – The Helix Water District board will present its preliminary 2013-14 budget at a workshop June 4 from 9 a.m. to noon. View budget. here.
On June 5 at 3 p.m., the finance directors will present draft water rates and a proposed Proposition 218 notice set to be mailed to ratepayers June 27. Water rates will be discussed at 6 p.m. on June 5. A workshop to discuss the draft water rates and Proposition 218 notice is also set for June 19 at 6 p.m. at the Helix Water District Boardroom.
May 27, 2013 (Lakeside) – Helix Water District’s Johnstown Tank, located in Lake Jennings Park Estates off Harritt Road, Lakeside, is currently undergoing complete interior and exterior recoating. Work began on Monday, May 13, 2013. The project will take approximately six months to complete.
The viewshed for this tank includes a large area along the I-8 corridor west of the Lake Jennings Park Road exit.
Residents in the area should be aware of increased traffic, elevated noise levels, and a visual change to the tank’s surface.
January 27, 2013 (El Cajon) -- El Cajon’s Centennial Historical Speaker series continues for 2013. The next speaker is Ms. Kate Breece from Helix Water District, with a presentation titled “From the Flume to the Ozone.”
This talk is scheduled for Thursday, February 7th, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Downtown El Cajon Library, located at 201 East Douglas Avenue. Talks are scheduled for the first and third Thursday of the month. Light refreshments will also be provided.
August 2, 2012 (La Mesa) – The Board of Directors of Helix Water District will conduct a Public Hearing on proposed Water Rates August 15 at 6:00 p.m. at the Helix Water District Administration Office, 7811 University Avenue, La Mesa. View the proposed water rate hikes here.
July 7, 2012 (La Mesa)—Helix Water District invites the public to a public informational meeting on a proposed water rate hike. The meeting will be held July 10 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the La Mesa Community Center, 4975 Memorial Drive in La Mesa.
If 50% of ratepayers object in writing, the rate hike can be halted. Written protests must be submitted by U.S. mail or in person to 7811 University Avenue, La Mesa, CA 91942, or written protests may be turned in at the Public Hearing on August 15 at 6:00 p.m. before conclusion of the public comment portion. (E-mailed comments are not allowed.)
By Miriam Raftery
June 27, 2012 (La Mesa) – By a 4-1 vote with Director Kathleen Hedberg dissenting, the Helix Water District board of directors voted to approve a water rate study that recommends rate hikes. The increase would average 4.7 percent, or $2.75 a month for the average water user, though owners of larger properties face substantially heftier increases.
If half or more of all property owners n the district send written objections, the increase would be blocked. Protest letters must be sent by standard mail or hand-delivered to Helix. (ECM is protesting the District's unreasonable refusal to allow e-mail comments.)
In addition, a public meeting on the rate hikes will be held July 10 at 6 p.m. in the La Mesa Community Center, 4975 Memorial Drive. A final vote is expected at a Board hearing on August 15 at 6 p.m. at Helix Water District’s hearing room, 7811 University Ave.
By Miriam Raftery
June 27, 2012 (La Mesa) –Helix Water Board director Chuck Muse sought to have the District prohibit fellow Board directors from speaking to reporters, ECM has learned.
Board President DeAna Verbeke stopped short of such drastic measures, but did chastise directors to refrain from “negative personal comments” about board members or the District,” admonishing that during past rate hike considerations, “discussing the District’s business did not reflect well on the individual of the District.”
WATER AGENCIES HOST SAN DIEGO COUNTY GARDEN FRIENDLY PLANT FAIRS THIS SPRING, INCLUDING SEVERAL IN EAST COUNTY
February 21, 2012 (San Diego County) -- San Diego County residents interested in making their yards and gardens more attractive and water efficient will have an opportunity to get information from gardening experts and save up to 50 percent on select varieties of low-water-use plants at San Diego County Garden Friendly Plant Fairs this spring at select The Home Depot locations.
November 15, 2011 (La Mesa) – To encourage every student to read more and raise student consciousness of water issues, Helix Water District has distributed 60,000 water awareness bookmarks—enough for every student in all public and private schools within the Helix District. Additional bookmarks have been given to public libraries, locally owned bookstores, and the Water Conservation Garden.
November 1, 2011 (Mt. Helix) --As part of a larger cast iron pipeline replacement project, Helix Water District crews will replace two 60-year-old valves at Mt. Helix Drive and Vivera Drive and install a new valve at Mt. Helix Drive and Alto Drive on Thursday, November 17.
Much of Mt. Helix is served by a single pipeline. As a result, construction activity will create a 10-hour water shutdown between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 242 customers on 20 streets in the vicinity.
By Miriam Raftery
"How they will conduct the search is a decision that the full board is entitled to vote on. " - Terry Francke, general counsel, Californians Aware
“Transparency in this case is not only questionable but sends the wrong message to the voters…Does the selection process pass the smell test? The voters should decide that.” – La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid
October 27, 2011 (La Mesa)— Without calling for a vote, Helix Water District Board Director DeAna Verbeke announced during the October 19 board meeting that a subcommittee of two board and two staff members, not the full board, will handle screening applications to replace retiring General Manager Mark Weston. Verbeke then appointed herself and board member Chuck Muse (who was absent), to comprise the subcommittee charged with narrowing the field of applications to a handful for the full board to review.
Her announcement drew gasps from the audience and was made over the persistent objections of board member Kathleen Hedberg and the public.
Taking the action without a vote puts the jurisdiction in legally murky water, an attorney specializing in open government laws has informed ECM.
HELIX WATER DISTRICT GENERAL MANAGER MARK WESTON RETIRES; BOARD TO GIVE STAFF DIRECTION ON HIRING REPLACEMENT AT WED. MEETING
October 18, 2011 (La Mesa)-- After 10 years as General Manager of the Helix Water District, Mark Weston announced he will retire on December 30. On Tuesday at 6 p.m., the Board will provide staff with directions on recruiting a replacement. The meeting will be held at 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa.
September 7, 2011 (La Mesa) –Today the Helix Water District Board of Directors voted 5-0 to suspend the El Monte Valley Mining, Reclamation, and Groundwater Recharge Project in Lakeside.
“The El Monte Valley Project halt is primarily due to a delay in the availability of advanced treated recycled water and increased project cost,” said Helix General Manager Mark Weston in a statement issued to media.
By Jeremy Los
August 19, 2011 (La Mesa)--Water rates are set to increase yet again after the Helix Water District board voted Tuesday to raise the district water rates yesterday. The board faced a firing squad of comments from concerned and angered citizens about the rate hikes scheduled to be implemented on September 1, 2011.
The board passed the increase by a vote of 4-1 with the lone opposing vote cast by Director Kathleen Hedberg.
By Jeremy Los
July 28, 2011 – A community information meeting held by Helix Water District last week turned into a discussion of employee benefits and pensions amid public outcry over raising water rates.
District officials provided citizens with a Power Point explanation and breakdown of the statistical reasons behind the proposed increase. Those explanations didn't wash, however, with some irate residents who argued that the District should cut expenses rather than impose another rate hike on consumers in today's challenging economy.