City Well #2. Photo by Robert Eliason.
City Well #2. Photo by Robert Eliason.

San Juan Bautista’s persistent water problems and the Third Street transformation were the main topics addressed at the City Council meeting on June 30. 

The primary agenda item was the release of an 80-page draft report titled San Juan Bautista Potable Water Source Control and Waste Water Treatment Plant Improvements. The document was made available to the council just minutes before the meeting. City Manager Don Reynolds said it’s still being revised and will be made available to the public at some point.

The report is expected to be submitted to state and federal agencies concerned with ongoing water and waste violations going back to 2007. It will also be used in applying for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help pay the costs of needed changes in the way San Juan Bautista both acquires its water and disposes of it.

The city had not been addressing the concerns of the state water board or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for nearly a decade before Reynolds became city manager. In a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board, dated July 7, 2018, then-City Manager Micheale LaForge characterized the Board as having been “strung along by this city since 2009.”

When hired, Reynolds told BenitoLink, it was emphasized to him that resolving the water problems was a significant priority.

The state of California has imposed a substantial fine on the city before. Though the amount has been treated as confidential, during the discussion Councilman Cesar Flores characterized it as being $800,000 in penalties.  

Reynolds has previously said that the penalty would most likely be rolled into the cost of solving the problem rather than being paid out by the city in a lump sum. The city will be looking into gaining status as a “disadvantaged community,” which will make it easier for it to qualify for assistance to remedy its water problem as an environmental issue. 

The state defines disadvantaged communities as “areas throughout California which most suffer from a combination of economic, health and environmental burdens.”

Reynolds characterized the report as a preliminary draft, noting that several more conversations between various parties must be held, including with officials in Hollister, where the city is considering sending waste to be processed.

Reynolds suggested the city council members read the report backward, getting to the bottom line costs, which he characterized as being $18 million.

“This is going to prove to the EPA that we are on our way,” Reynolds said. “We are on our way to a compliance program that we can focus on and resolve our water issues.” He added that this report has been “what the EPA has been chomping at the bit for several months to see.”

Reynolds also updated the city’s progress in the Third Street transformation project, which aims at helping downtown businesses expand their services to outdoor areas by using part of the street. Five businesses have been issued permits to expand their storefronts into the new commercial area, including Dona Esthers and Inaka. He said there are at least two other pending applications.

The city purchased 50 wine barrels for $10 apiece to serve as traffic barriers and Reynolds is hoping for volunteers to plant donated succulents in the barrels when they arrive.

A proposal was raised to employ Level One Private Security at a cost of $536 per evening with two guards on overlapping shifts. Reynolds said he hopes to get an Economic Development Administration grant to cover the security and associated costs of the Third Street project.

The city is planning a July 11 ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. and has invited Congressman Jimmy Panetta, State Senator Anna Caballero, and Assemblyman Robert Rivas to the event. 


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