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Los Trancos water district dissolves, but services continue

 

For residents of Los Trancos Woods and Vista Verde in the forested hills above Portola Valley, community efforts toward wildfire safety, effective storm drainage and well maintained public spaces will continue as normal, but it will be a new normal.

On May 7, the directors of the Los Trancos County Water District, which had been overseeing all this work, approved an application to San Mateo County to dissolve the water district and transfer the tax revenues and responsibilities to a newly formed county maintenance district. The maintenance activities will go on, but under new management.

The county Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the change at its May 19 meeting.

This would be the water district's second major transition. The district sold its water operations in 2005 to the California Water Service Company, but continued to receive property tax revenues. What to do? District directors turned the money toward the funding of brush clearing, storm drain maintenance and, for a time, incentive payments to residents to conserve water.

Because these activities were unrelated to the district's charter to distribute water, the situation drew the attention of a civil grand jury, which recommended the district's dissolution. The state's Legislative Analysts Office mentioned the district in reports exploring effective allocation of tax revenues.

Facing an uncertain future, and after months of analysis and community outreach, the district directors chose to reorganize as a county maintenance district, said Stanley Gage, a water district director. The maintenance district will have an advisory committee of five to nine community members appointed by the supervisors.

The district's annual tax revenues of about $300,000 will be split, Mr. Gage said. About a third will go to the Woodside Fire Protection District to fund brush clearing and other fire protection services, including maintenance of the open space. The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District will ensure that the open spaces are preserved in accordance with conservation easements, Mr. Gage said.

The county's Public Works Department will use the other two-thirds of the revenues to upgrade the storm drain system. The system has equipment that dates to the 1920s. Drainage conditions have changed with the addition of impervious surfaces such as driveways and roads, and the system needs $3 million to $4 million in work to bring it up to a 100-year-storm standard, Mr. Gage said.

"It was a lot of hard long work to really work out these solutions," he said. "I look at what we've achieved here as a heartening example of governments working together."

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