El Centro Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactical vehicle, with runners and others atop it, travels the open roads near Imperial during the 2019 edition of the Imperial Valley Law Enforcement Relay Run. The city of Imperial on Wednesday, April 7 approved the 2021 running of the relay through city streets. The relay is scheduled for May 15 during National Police Week. | PHOTO COURTESY OF EL CENTRO POLICE DEPARTMENT’S FACEBOOK PAGE
IMPERIAL — The Imperial City Council is adding its opinion to the list of growing local governments arguing against Assembly Bill 1021, proposed in February by Assembly member Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage) to add three non-voting board members to the Imperial Irrigation District.
Those members would be appointed by the Riverside County District 4 supervisor, whose are includes the Coachella Valley. IID provides electricity service to a portion of the region.
The Imperial City Council voted 4-0, with Mayor Pro Tem Geoff Dale absent from the meeting, to send a letter of opposition regarding the proposed bill.
At the center of this long-argued debate is the fact that Coachella residents comprise about 60 percent of the IID’s electrical customers, but the IID board only includes Imperial County residents. IID has created permanent offices in the city of La Quinta to address former complaints of access and holds public meetings in both Imperial and Coachella Valley.
The district’s communications chief Anthony Ortega spoke at the Imperial meeting, noting that it was two years ago that a similar bill was introduced by Mayes and it failed to make it to the Assembly floor.
“It would appoint three unelected members of the IID board … We prefer this local government issue be maintained at the local government level,” Ortega said of the latest iteration of the bill. “We were surprised to hear Assembly member Mayes once again introduced legislation to somehow attempt to restructure the board of governance at the IID.”
“Why do you think Mr. Mayes brought it back?” Imperial council member Robert Amparano asked.
“The reason I’m asking is, we have an audience within the city, and maybe people are not familiar with what’s happening,” Amparano said. “AB 1021, they’re wanting to add the three people to have non-voting rights … So at that point, why don’t we just put them in the audience?”
“I would argue that the members of the Energy Consumer Advisory Committee play that role and they are a true representation of our ratepayers,” Ortega added.
The creation of the Energy Consumers Advisory Committee, which has ratepayers from both regions, was in effort to curb the public’s concern that Coachella Valley doesn’t have any representation on the IID board. The committee has 20 members, with half coming from each county.
The IID Board of Directors recently unanimously voted to oppose the legislation, which has been referred to the Assembly’s local government committee. The Imperial County Board of Supervisors have likewise sent a letter of opposition to the chair of that committee, Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry.
The letter from the city of Imperial was directed to the same chair, arguing in part that the issues that relate to IID and the customers they serve in the Coachella Valley should be addressed at the local government level.
The agreement between IID and the Coachella Valley Water District as well as Southern California Edison (which serves the rest of the other portions of the region) dates back to 1934 and, as the letter explains, are “tied to complex water and energy legal agreements.”
Law Enforcement Relay Run Approved
Although the pandemic put an end to many events in the city, this year the 12th annual Imperial Valley Law Enforcement Relay Run will be held on May 15 during National Police Week. The council voted 4-0 to approve the request of having the relay race within city limits.
Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Angie Lencsak spoke during the livestreamed meeting, said that the co-ed race teams are 10 members each, and 12 to 18 teams compete.
“We get law enforcement officers together to honor our fallen officers, (who have died) on duty or off-duty,” Lencsak said. “They carry a baton throughout the race to honor a fallen officer they’ve chosen.”
A name is engraved on each baton and presented to the surviving family after the race.
For council member Katie Burnworth, who was elected in 2020, the law enforcement relay hits close to home.
“This run event is actually really dear to my heart,” Burnworth said before the vote was taken. In 2018 her cousin, Ryan Harmon, who was a sergeant at Calipatria State Prison, was on one of the batons carried by the teams.
“And then in 2019, my late husband, firefighter Jonathan Burnworth, also had a baton dedicated to him,” she explained. Her husband, whose nickname was Jonny B, was a firefighter and part of the IID dive team.
Jonathan Burnworth died in October 2018 during an attempt to recover a body and a submerged vehicle in the Ash Canal.
“I just want to thank you all for your service and this great event that you put on and as your councilmember I appreciate all the hard work you guys do,” Burnworth said.
Imperial Forgives Second Round of Late Fees
The council also approved by a 4-0 vote the second wave of applications asking forgiveness from delinquent utility accounts in the city. As part of a joint program with Imperial County, the city awarded about $19,000 of the total $85,000 grant so far in 2021.
The Coronavirus Relief Utility bill delinquency grant awards for this round of approval included applications received from 22 various accounts, with several of them topping $1,000 in past due amounts. The grant will pay off $16,151.37 for those approved for the program including the late fee penalties that have been accessed on those accounts that add up to $1,304.04.
“We’ve done another (round of) outreach and education,” Assistant City Manager Alexis Brown said during the meeting.
Residents were required to submit an application, provide proof of income loss or COVID-19 impact, along with their identification and their bill to apply for the funding.