Helix Water District

WHO LEAKED CONFIDENTIAL PERSONNEL FILES AT HELIX WATER DISTRICT?

 

By Miriam Raftery

November 1, 2016 (La Mesa) – Someone with access to confidential files at Helix Water District violated state law and district policy by anonymously mailing part of a board candidate’s personnel file to East County Magazine.

We will not violate privacy rules by publishing the contents.  However, we did speak with the candidate, Louis Tejeda, who gave permission for us to disclose the leaking of his confidential record: a notice of proposed disciplinary action sent 21 years ago, when he was an employee of the district.

SAVING HIVES AND LIVES: BEES' RELOCATION BETTER THAN THEIR DESTRUCTION

 

By Ted Salois, Helix Water District

October 11, 2016 (San Diego's East County) - Jesse Adcock knows bees.  He moves among them with the ease and acceptance of a good friend—because he is one, even though the bees don’t know it.  

His “self-taught” expertise with the busy, buzzing, honey-makers tells him how to approach a sizable nest while remaining safe.  His choice of clothing--t-shirt, shorts and sandals--shows confidence in his judgment.  “When I first arrive at a hive, I listen to the sound the colony is making,” Adcock said.  “I can tell by the tone whether they’re angry or likely to become aggressive.”  

HELIX WATER BOARD CANDIDATES CLASH IN LIVELY CANDIDATE FORUM

 

Listen now: click button above left to hear the candidate forum aired on KNSJ radio.

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Mark Gracyk,  Dan McMillan, Lou Tejeda and John Linden

October 5, 2016 (Lemon Grove)—Four contenders vying for two seats on the Helix Water District Board shared their goals at East County Magazine’s candidate forum  at the Lemon Grove Library on September 21st.  Incumbent John Linden defended repeated  rate hikes as necessary, while challengers  Mark Gracyk, Dan McMillan, and Louis Tejeda pledged to fight for holding the line against future rate hikes and/or trying to reduce water rates.

Candidates fielded questions from  the audience and from East County Magazine editor Miriam Raftery on a wide range of issues including water quality, the future of Lake Jennings, the  land deal for sand mining El Monte Valley, their financial backgrounds and more.

Audio: 

HEAR OUR INTERVIEW: JOHN LINDEN, HELIX WATER BOARD DIRECTOR

 

You can listen now  to a podcast of our interview by clicking the orange button above, or click "read more" and scroll down for highlights.

By Miriam Raftery

Mark your calendars for our candidate forum with Helix Water Board candidates and Lemon Grove Mayoral candidates on Wednesday, September 21 at the Lemon Grove Library.Meet candidates at 5 p.m. with the forum starting at 5:30.

September 16, 2016 (San Diego’s East County) – John Linden has served on the Helix Water District Board since 2000.  He’s proud of his service and of the Helix district’s long history since its establishment back in the 1880s.  He’s running for reelection in district 1, against three challengers. We sat down for an interview with Linden that originally aired on KNSJ radio.

Audio: 

HELIX WATER TO CONSIDER FEES, CHANGES AT LAKE JENNINGS CAMPGROUND

 

East County News Service

August 17, 2016 (La  Mesa) – At today’s 2 p.m. meeting of the Helix Water District Board (7811 University Ave., La Mesa), directors will consider addition of fees and other changes at Lake Jennings, including adding kayak rentals and a tee-pee rental venue at the campground.  These are the latest improvements proposed by a committee led by director Joel Scalzitti.    As a result, the lake that some board  members sought to close due to budget shortfalls is now operating at a profit.  View board package and agenda.

At its last meeting, the board voted 3-2 for hefty rate hikes of 10.1%, effective on water use after  November 1,2016 and billings starting January 1,2017. That action has inspired five challengers to run against two board members who voted for this hefty rate hike as well as earlier recent increases—moves that fueled outrage in public comments and emails sent to the board.

HELIX WATER BOARD VOTES 3-2 FOR 10.3% RATE HIKE WITHOUT PUBLIC HEARING: CANDIDATES BLAST INCUMBENTS

 

By Miriam Raftery

August 3, 2016 (La Mesa) – With scarcely any public notice, Helix Water Board passed a 10.3% rate hike by a slim one-vote majority. The stated reason was because water use has dropped due to customers conserving water--just as the district asked them to do.

Directors Kathleen Coates-Hedberg and Joel Scalziti voted against jacking up rates, while directors John Linden, Chuck Muse and Deana Verbeke voted for the rate hike over public objections.

HELIX WATER DISTRICT APPROVES THREE WATERING DAYS PER WEEK

 

East County News Service

April 8, 2016 (La Mesa) - At their April 6, 2016 meeting, Helix Water District’s Board of Directors approved a three day per  week limit on landscape irrigation, rescinding the two-day limit in effect since June 2015, when the State Water Resources Control Board mandated a 25 percent reduction in statewide water use.

PADRE DAM ACCEPTS EAST COUNTY ADVANCED WATER PURIFICATION STUDY

 

Padre Dam and Helix Water Districts to develop new source of drinking water that is safe, locally-controlled and drought-proof

East County News Service

February 18, 2016 (Santee) - Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors accepted the East County Advanced Water Purification Program study at its February 3 board meeting. Additionally, the Board authorized a contract for $3,497,500 with Kennedy/Jenks Consultants to provide as-needed engineering services for the program.

DROUGHT RELIEF MAY BE IN SIGHT FOR HELIX WATER USERS

 

By Miriam Raftery

February 16, 2016 (La Mesa) — On February 11th, the state adopted new regulations to reduce conservation mandates for water agencies that have taken steps to boost local water supplies .  Helix Water District is expected to get a credit for water bought from the new Carlsbad Desalinization plant, as well as due to high inland temperatures.  The district must apply for the break, but if approved, Helix could see its conservation mandate reduced to reducing water use by 12% instead of 20% through October 2016.

Helix customers have reduced water use 23% compared to 2013, far exceeding the Governor’s 20% required reduction for the district. If the restrictions on water use are eased, next up the board could consider easing or eliminating penalties on water users who exceed the limit—welcome relief for homeowners on larger lots struggling to keep large trees alive as hot weather arrives early.

STATE MAY GIVE HELIX WATER USERS A BREAK ON CONSERVATION MANDATES

 

By Miriam Raftery

January 16, 2016 (San Diego’s East County) – Ratepayers in the Helix Water district have been under a state mandate to reduce water use by 20% under the Governor’s orders imposed last year during the drought.  But a new draft regulatory framework just released by the Staste Water Board would cut that to 12%, if approved.

HELIX WATER WINS TRANSPARENCY AWARD FOR GOVERNANCE, DROPS MEMBERSHIP IN GOOD GOVERNANCE ORGANIZATION

 

 

By Miriam Raftery

December 10, 2015 (La Mesa) – Helix Water District has received the “District Transparency Certificate of Excellence” from the Special District Leadership Foundation (SDLF), a nonprofit that promotes special districts that excel in governance and management.

Ironically, however, just one week after that announcement, Helix board president DeAna Verbeke asked staff not to renew the district’s membership in the California Special Districts Association (CSDA), which supports the SDLF and its goals.  The CSDA promotes good governance and improved local services for independent special districts(such as water and fire boards) that deliver public services.

HEDBERG URGES STATE TO REVISE WATER CUTS MANDATE

 

 

By Miriam Raftery

December 10, 2015 (Sacramento) – Helix Water District board member Kathleen Hedberg spoke at a public workshop in Sacramento held by the State Water Resources Control Board on Monday.  Hedberg urged the Board to revise  current emergency regulations that mandate huge water cuts statewide and to take into consideration water districts where customers have already been conserving.

In an impassioned plea, she noted that Helix customers already cut use and have exceeded the mandate, but that this has forced many to allow trees and shrubs to die. She noted that the district has invested in increasing water supply and has adequate water to meet customer needs.

"My constituents and Helix Water District customers are outraged and frustrated that they have paid for water supply, storage and reliability projects and we are being told to cut back on water use even when we have enough water as we prepared for drought times and the future," Hedberg testified. Below are her full comments to the Board, along with her assessment of mixed reactions received from state regulators:

READER'S EDITORIAL: WHEN THE SERVANTS BECOME THE MASTERS

 

By Sylvia Sullivan

October 22, 2015 (La Mesa) -- Anger and frustration filled the overflowing room of irate ratepayers at the recent Helix Water District meeting.

The meeting started off tense but restrained as the public sat politely listening to the almost hour long staff presentation. When told the consultant, from Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. would make another presentation the people had enough. The discussion became as heated as the temperature in the room.

HELIX WATER CUSTOMERS CRY FOUL OVER FIVE YEAR RATE-HIKE PLAN

 

By Mike Allen

Photos by Janis Russell

October 8, 2015 (La Mesa)--Emotions got nearly out of control at a packed Helix Water District meeting Oct. 7 as customers lashed out at the board’s plan to raise rates over the next five years.

After more than three hours of presentations from water district staff and testimony from angry customers, the five-member elected board voted 3-2 to adopt a five-year rate increase plan, beginning Nov. 1 and continuing to 2020.

HELIX WATER CANCELS PENALTY ON HIGH WATER USERS, BUT STILL AIMS TO RAISE WATER RATES

 

Two meetings set on rate hikes Sept. 30 and Oct. 7

East County News Service

September 29, 2015 (La Mesa) — Helix Water District’s Board has voted unanimously to rescind a 10 percent penalty assessed on its highest tier water users. The change comes after customers cut water use 28 percent, enabling the district to meet the 20 percent cuts mandated by the state. Board member Kathleen Hedberg asked for those penalized to receive rebates, but instead the funds will be used for water conservation outreach, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

But the district is moving forward on hefty water rate hikes for water users. The Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association (GMIA) opposes what it describes as a 70% rate hike over five years. The GMIA invites the public to a community forum on the rate hike on Wednesday, September 30th at 7 p.m. at Murdock Elementary School (4354 Conrad Drive in La Mesa).

The GMIA has crafted a sample letter for those opposed to submit public comment: http://www.gmia.net/docs/SampleLetterToTheHelixWaterDistrict.pdf

A FRESH LOOK AT THE FUTURE OF LA MESA: LA MESA CONVERSATIONS

 

New public discussion series considers water, public safety, downtown redevelopment and urban issues central to city’s future ; first meeting Sept. 23

September 8, 2015 (La Mesa – La Mesa Conversations, a new civic group organized as a volunteer committee, announced a new series of public programs and social events today. The Committee’s objective is to broaden, enrich and invigorate La Mesa’s civic dialogue on issues of enduring importance to residents citywide.

WATER CONSERVATION GARDEN'S SEPTEMBER CLASSES AND MORE

 

August 30, 2015 (Rancho San Diego) – From tossing the turf to water-wise and fire-wise landscape designs, the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College in East County’s Rancho San Diego neighborhood has a wealth of classes.

SAVING DROUGHT-STRESSED TREES

 

 

By Miriam Raftery

 

 

August 21, 2015 (La Mesa) – “Although we have been asking to cut back on water, please do not let the trees dry,” Helix Water Board member Kathleen Coates Hedberg urges customers.  She provided a flyer with tips for how to water your trees within the district’s guidelines and keep them alive during the drought , such as  using soaker hoses that are exempt from level 2 drought restrictions.

Here are some benefits that trees provide--and tips for how to keep your shade or fruit trees healthy even in the drought:

LA MESA - MT. HELIX AUGUST ACTIVITIES

By Kristin Kjaero

August 1, 2015 (La Mesa) – What a vibrant community we live in! August boasts five free concerts, three free movie screenings, two theater productions, the annual Helix High All Class Picnic, and the annual heART of Mt. Helix. There are free clubs for every age and interest at the La Mesa Library, a broad range of activities at the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center, and a number of classes at the La Mesa Community Center start in August. For those who love nature there are a number of activities as Mission Trails Regional Park and the Water Conservation Garden, and for the fitness oriented there are several walking groups, aquatics, and even a boot camp. Get out and find your bliss, and while you’re at it meet your neighbors.

ASSEMBLYMAN BRIAN JONES TO HOST DROUGHT TOWN HALL AUG. 13

 

Participants include Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, the San Diego County Water Authority, Building Industry Association of San Diego, and the Water Reliability Coalition

July 21, 2015 (El Cajon) -- On Thursday, August 13th, 2015 Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee) will be hosting a Drought Town Hall to educate constituents about the ongoing California drought, legislative solutions, and efforts to provide relief to the community.

HELIX WATER BOARD VOTES TO ADOPT DROUGHT ACTION PLAN

 

 

By Janis Russell and Miriam Raftery

May 21, 2015 (La Mesa)- At the board meeting yesterday, the Helix Water District board voted 4-1 for the drought action plan for increased public education and outreach, increased restrictions with two days/week for outdoor water use in tier 3, and a 10% penalty for using 31 units or more of water, effective starting with July 29th water bills.  The plan also limits watering to two days a week and cuts warning for water waste fines to just one courtesy letter. View the resolution here.

Tier-3 users will be charged 10% on water over 30 units each two-month billing period, but will not be charged 10% on the first 30 units, Mike Uhrhammer, senior public affairs representative at Helix, told ECM.  A person who exceeds the limit by 1 unit would pay 55 cents; while 50 units would be $11.02, for instance. See chart above left for details.  Average water use is 26 units over two months for the district.

“There is a variance procedure,” Uhrhammer said, citing a need to irrigate for defensible space or erosion control and undue hardships as examples. The penalties will not apply to tier 1, which is considered essential indoor water use level, or tier 2. Tier 3 is targeted because these residents use water mostly outdoors and the state is pushing districts to encourage homeowners to limit ornamental landscaping.

HELIX WATER DISTRICT TO CONSIDER IMPOSING NEW WATER CUTS

May 12, 2015 (La Mesa) – At their upcoming meeting Wednesday May 13, 4 p.m., the Board will discuss a Drought Action Plan to meet state imposed water cuts of 20% to the District, including limiting all customers to watering two days per week, requiring 10-20% cuts by residential tier 3 users with penalties for violations, and increased enforcement on water waste reports.

HELIX WATER TO HOLD WORKSHOP ON WATER RATE STRUCTURE FEB. 18

East County News Service

February 17, 2015 (La Mesa) – The Helix Water District Board meets Wednseday, February 18 at 2 p.m. (7811 University Ave., La Mesa).

The agenda includes a workshop on water rate structure cost of service. Oddly, as of Tuesday afternoon, the agenda packet did not include any details on a proposed water rate structure for the public to review prior to the meeting, raising questions over adequacy of public notice under the Ralph M. Brown Act.

HELIX WATER RESPONDS TO CORRUPTION CLAIMS

 

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.

HELIX WATER CORRUPTION ALLEGED

 

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.

HELIX APPROVES WATER RATE INCREASE

 

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.

HELIX WATER DECLARES DROUGHT LEVEL 2 ALERT: MANDATORY CONSERVATION MEASURES IMPOSED

 

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:

HELIX WATER BOARD ANNOUNCEMENT: NOTICE TO DECLARE CANDIDACY

 

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:

EL CAJON CITY COUNCIL MOVES FORWARD WITH PARTICIPATION IN EAST COUNTY REGIONAL WATER REUSE STUDY

 

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.

HELIX WATER APPROVES BUDGET WITH LOWER RATE HIKE THAN PLANNED

 

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.

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