RSF Association directors question SFID’s new water rate structure, pending rate increase

The Santa Fe Irrigation District offices.
(Karen Billing)

The Santa Fe Irrigation District continues its outreach on its proposed water rate increases, making a stop at the March 2 Rancho Santa Fe Association board meeting.

“It’s a nice sales presentation but I don’t buy a bit of it,” commented Director Greg Gruzdowich.

The RSF Association has long been in favor of a uniform rate structure as they believe Rancho Santa Fe homeowners are unfairly subsidizing smaller lots and users.

“It’s like Groundhog Day, it’s the same story…coastal vs, rural, who is using the water and who is paying for the water,” said Gruzdowich, a former SFID member and plantiff in the Association’s lawsuit against Santa Fe Irrigation’s 2016 rates that was settled in 2021.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District (SFID) board will vote on the proposed water rate increases at a public hearing on March 28. If approved, the new rates would go into effect on April 1 and impact bimonthly bills in June.

According to Seth Gates, SFID administrative services manager, the water rate increases are being driven by drought conditions, the loss of local water supply due to the damages at Lake Hodges, the increasing cost of imported water and inflationary pressures on district operations.

Last year, the SFID board was presented with six different rate structures, including a uniform rate, and voted 3-2 to move forward with tiered rates with a meter overlay.

“One of the fundamental pieces is trying to find a rate structure that really fits the uniqueness of this service territory,” Gates said. “The rationale behind the direction to go forward with the tiered structure rates are recognizing that incremental units of water do have increasing costs…but with the meter overlay, everybody who has larger meters gets more units within that same price. It’s not only tiers its the meter overlay that really helps accommodate the uniqueness of this district.”

Gruzdowich said with the increase, many Solana Beach customers’ bills will be $250 every two months while many Rancho Santa Fe residents’ water bills are $2,000 every two months.

“When you look at equity…true equity means everybody pays the same. Uniform rates versus tiers,” Gruzdowich said.

Longtime resident Rory Kendall said he attended many of the SFID meetings over the last year and there was no real consideration of uniform rates, that they were quickly dismissed.

“Everything is always about cheaper rates for Solana Beach,” Kendall said. “I hope we resurrect our lawsuit against the district.”

In his comments, Treasurer Rick Sapp asked for assurance that as a higher tier customer he is not subsidizing any other customer who is using a lower amount of water. Gates offered that assurance and added that subsidization is illegal.

“The board priorities are defensibility and equity and the majority of the board has decided that this rate structure fulfills that. I’ve heard dozens of different definitions of equity, there are a lot of different perspectives,” Gates said. “We have presented the board a number of different options. From a staff perspective, we’re relatively agnostic when it comes to rate structure…we want to run an efficient organization that provides clean and safe water for our customers.”

Speaking during public comment at the March 2 board meeting, former SFID Director Ken Westphal acknowledged that SFID’s operational staff is “exceptional” and noted it is the SFID board who is responsible for decisions regarding the rates. As a member of the board, he and Rancho Santa Fe representative Sandra Johnson voted against the tiered rate structure last year.

“I believe that when we cut the capital expenditures and other forms of spending that we’re mortgaging our future and that we’re going to pay for this later on,” Westphal said. “I would challenge the board to be a little bit more considerate about the future itself, the use of our monies, the capital expenditures and now, with the dam at Lake Hodges. We really have to take a look at how do people pay for what they use at all levels.”

Westphal had been appointed to the SFID board in February 2022 to fill the remainder of Frank Creed’s term. As no one ran for the seat in the November election, San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer appointed Ron Magnaghi to fill the board vacancy.

In accordance with Prop 218, notices about the proposed rate increase were sent out in February giving customers an opportunity to protest up until the March 28 hearing. If the district receives protest forms from a majority of its 6,500 customers, the rate plan will not go forward.

To learn more about the proposed rates, visit