Montecito Wastewater Wars Escalate

Sewer District Told ‘Cease and Desist’

Montecito Sanitary District Wastewater Treatment Facility

Montecito Sanitary District

Montecito Sanitary District Wastewater Treatment Facility

A powerful Sacramento law firm associated with the statewide Republican Party issued a sternly worded “cease and desist” order to Diane Gabriel and the Montecito Sanitary District, ordering them not to purchase any more advertisements on the subject of “partially treated” wastewater being dumped into the ocean. The letter — from the firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltchachk — said the advertisement was clearly intended to influence the outcome of the current election for the Montecito Sanitary District, thus violating state election code barring the expenditure of public funds by any public agency on behalf of any candidates or ballot measures.

The ad in question — which appeared in last Sunday’s News-Press — alludes only to information the district characterized as misleading in “news articles, political ads and mailers.” The ad never mentioned by name the organization printing these mailers — the Montecito Committee for Water Security — or the names of the committee candidates now running for two seats on the sanitary board of directors.

The water security slate has attacked the sanitary district for not providing recycled treated wastewater and for “dumping” 500,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater into the ocean daily. Sanitation district manager Diane Gabriel has objected the term “partially treated” as both inaccurate and alarming. “We want people to know their beaches are clean and the water is safe to swim in,” she said, insisting that the treated wastewater — piped nearly 1,500 feet off the coast — meets secondary treatment standards.

“We can work with whoever gets elected,” Gabriel added. “This isn’t about politics. This is about our reputation as an agency. We need people to know we’re doing our job.” She said she referred the cease and desist letter to the district’s attorney Janet McGinnis for review. The letter insists that Gabriel repay the district for any costs incurred by the ad out of her personal funds.

The letter, signed by attorney Brian Hildreth, concluded, “My client is fully prepared to aggressively pursue your compliance with the law by court order or administrative action.” Gabriel and the district had scheduled a series of open houses at the sanitary district over this past weekend to reassure the public. Those open house hours, she stated, would not be affected. “We do this all the time,” she stated. “This is just a different kind of poop we’re dealing with.”

The water security slate is fielding in total five candidates in this November’s race — three for the Montecito Water Board and two for the Montecito Sanitary District Board. They currently control two seats of the water board already. Slate candidates have suggested Montecito could better achieve water sustainability by harvesting the 500,000 galls that are flushed into the ocean—after treatment--daily. To date, it’s been water board members that have balked at the use of recycled water on cemetery lawns and golf course greens, not the sanitary district, which is currently in the process of pursuing a pilot water recycling project.