Who would have thought a swale would create so much controversy?
At the Rio Vista City Council meeting Thursday, council members labored over the issue of selling three parcels of land to the Trilogy HOA for $83,000. The parcel sale was to include the old sewer box plant (which has yet to be fully decommissioned) and a swale in Marks Channel, a drainage basin for the Trilogy area.
Councilmembers Fred Kogler and Janith Norman both fought tooth and nail to make staff and members of the council understand that this sale was far too hasty and without the proper procedures and guidelines that must be followed when transferring a piece of property as complex as these.
While Trilogy HOA General Manager Ed Vitrano made his case as to why Trilogy would benefit from the purchase, he also highlighted that it would not be entirely necessary for the HOA to buy the swale parcel in Marks Channel.
“One of my biggest concerns is that Marks Channel is relief for that drain of the Trilogy community,” said Kogler.
He went on to explain that to transfer a piece of property such as this to the HOA leaves the City open in several different aspects – especially if the swale is not maintained properly to keep drainage flowing through it.
“We never requested the swale,” said Vitrano. “We will not kick and scream if it is removed.”
Kogler sees accepting Marks Channel as complicating the issue, while Norman thinks that the “swapping of the swale” wouldn’t be good for maintenance and environmental issues.
While the discussion continued on into the night, it was apparent that most proper steps had not been taken by staff or the council to complete this sale. The box plant has not been decommissioned, and Kogler went and took a personal tour of the plant. He conveyed that there is still a buildup of water below the ground level, and that an actual price has not been submitted regarding how much it will actually cost to decommission the plant.
“Who is going to be paying for these maintenance costs? The burden will fall to the homeowners. This will eventually increase assessments,” said Kogler.
Director of Public Works Dave Melilli noted that the HOA already had this in their budget, and that it would be a straight deal.
“The plant has to be decommissioned, it is the City’s property,” said Mayor Jan Vick. “It is not useful to us, but it is to the HOA. I don’t feel it’s necessary to wait.”
Kogler fired back that it is above all else a City responsibility, and that it would not be proper to transfer the sale without decommissioning the plant first. Not only could this result in problems for the City if it was transferred prior to decommission, but also there has been no appraisal of the property to see how much it is actually worth.
“There are 3,000 square feet of underground vaults,” said Kogler. “These are 10-15 feet deep. They are full of water. This is a tremendous liability to the HOA or the City to have vaults in that condition. This has to be properly decommissioned with a letter of acceptance from the Water Quality Control Board.”
City Engineer Cecil Dillon responded by saying that it would only cost around $51,000 to fill in the vaults with peat gravel. While they would not be full, he thinks that there would be no issue in leaving the vaults empty.
Before the plant was shut off in late 2006, it racked up over $1,000,000 in Regional Water Quality Board violations. The plant was never decommissioned in 2006, but as former City Manager Hector De La Rosa was on his way out – he tried to clean up the loose ends and make the sale before his tenure was done.
This item was never in public discussion until just recently, yet Vitrano and City staff convey that this discussion has been going on for years. The cost to finish decommissioning the plant has been estimated as much as $3,000,000, or as little as $75,000. The breakdown of estimates by year goes as follows:
2006-07- $3,000,000 estimated by LAFCO, City of Rio Vista and Shea Homes
2006 - $420,000 estimated by Brent Salmi and Shea
2007 - $250,000 estimated in minutes by Mayor Vick
2012 - $75,000 estimated by City staff
Regardless, the actual number has not gone in front of council – but no matter what, the City is still responsible to decommission the plant.
“I plan to vote yes,” said Vice Mayor Jack Krebs. “This would be foolish not to accept.”
Trilogy resident Charlie Coleman spoke on the issue.
“I have never seen the swale taken care of,” said Coleman. “Soon, they will be asking for money. It looks today the same as it has for 11 years.”
Vitrano weighed in again on the issue.
“Sides have been talking without the full information,” he said. “We are urgent to close this deal, but to get a deal in principle. We can transfer it once the proper agencies say yes, it’s clear.”
Kathy Stiner spoke about the decommissioning of the plant and questioned as to why the swale would be included in the sale of the box plant.
“I request the swale be separated and treated differently,” said Stiner. “It is the City’s responsibility if there is legal recourse from testing the soil. It could prove to be very expensive, and would fall on the board of directors (HOA). There is a lack of knowledge on the soil’s condition.”
Kogler suggested a study session to come back and examine this sale. It was agreed by council that no sale would be done until the box plant was decommissioned. Dillon estimated that this could take 30 days or several months to complete, depending on the state’s approval.
While it is the City’s responsibility to decommission the plant, sole responsibility of Marks Channel would fall on the HOA post transfer, leaving even more reason for a deeper investigation of what the Marks Channel parcel is worth, what the soil’s condition is and what it would cost to maintain.
“We’re not going to vote on this tonight,” said Vick. “There are outstanding issues, and we must wait until the decommission is complete. Hopefully we will know how much that will cost. Questions about the swale need to be addressed by council. I would put it off and have a public meeting and study session with the HOA board.”