Santa Paula Waste Water Facility | Did the City Buy a Lemon?

By Sheryl Hamlin

Flash Back to 2013

City Manager Fontes initiates legal action against PERC and Alinda Capital, builder and financier respectively, of the waste water plant, claiming the Santa Paula Waste Water Facility does not remove chlorides as anticipated by city.

Flash Back to 2015

The City agrees to buy the plant for $5 million less than the contractual buyout and agrees to remove the chlorides. Here is a link to the city press release about the purchase of the plant.

Flash Back to October 2015

A spill at the waste water plant contaminates neighboring organic farms and residents who live in proximity. Note the insurance carrier has denied the claim for this spill whose cost exceeded $1 million. Read story here.

Flash Back to October 2016

Contentious meeting about selection of new operator for waste water facility. Read here.

Flash Back to March 2018

Another spill at the waste water facility. Council receives recommendation to fix design flaw. Read here.

Flash Forward to July 2018

At the July 16, 2018 council meeting, council hears a recommendation to fix the plant and “forgo any possibility of spill happening again” according to Cleve Saunier, Public Works Director.

Council Member Hernandez stated that American Water was supposed to perform an audit when they took over plant maintenance from PERC, momentarily forgetting the name. Did that come back to council, he asked. Why didn’t we know this, he asked.

Cleve Saunier said that the “initial investigation” determined that the as-built did not match the actual equipment configuration, so they are planning a “forensic as-built” audit.

Mayor Gherardi said it was her recollection that American Water did perform an audit reporting nothing consequential discovered. She added that she was “very disappointed” in American Water, saying this is not what we bargained for.

Council Member Crosswhite said that it appeared that the 2018 spill was in a similar location as the 2015 spill, to which Mayor Gherardi said that it was the same location but a different problem. Mr. Saunier said that the panel was previously repaired. City Manager Rock said that previous repairs “were not of this magnitude”.

Council Member Crosswhite said that the city has only owned the plant a short time. Hopefully this will be the last spill.

Action: Transfer $465,000 from the Sewer Fund to another fund for repair bid. The entire cost is not yet known.

Read the staff report of the 2018 spill here. waste_water_spill.

Due Diligence?

The obvious question at this point is the due diligence performed by the City of Santa Paula when the plant was purchased.

We know the insurance denied the 2015 spill, which implies there was no insurance audit.

There is a question about the American Water analysis which was after-the-fact. What was analyzed prior to purchase?

At this point, if the as-built does not match the as-designed, what options are left to the City? Who is responsible for the 2018 spill costs?

Did the city buy a $70 million plant “as-is”?

Watch the discussion here.

For more information on author click sherylhamlin dot com

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Joe Spittle

I have lived in Santa Paula since 1990 and seen the city deteriorate steadily since. I see rates for services higher than most of Ventura County and poor quality service. Our roads are a disgrace and the way the city abuses its citizens by charging more and giving less , criminal. The recent fire dept. fiasco with the county is going to be a financial disaster for our city. The citizens approved a sales tax increase to help give police/ fire a raise and then closes fire dept. and contracts with the county to give up a huge portion of property tax monies. City officials prey on the uneducated majority ruthlessly knowing that many can ill afford the proposals it puts forth.Now the water/sewer increase(more than meets the eye!), what’s next?