Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) Executive Officer Keene Simonds in his office in Bankers Hill on May 30, 2024. / Ariana Drehsler for Planetcob

The local state agency in charge of controlling the boundaries of cities and most special districts is no longer keeping a low profile.

In 1963, the California legislature created the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, to settle border disputes and bring new cities and special districts into (or out of) existence. It also controls when and where public services go.

For example, remember last year’s big water divorce when two North County water districts decided to leave the San Diego County Water Authority? It was LAFCO that OK’d it.

LAFCO typically gets involved in disputes that are brought to them, but now it seems to be wielding its power over agencies it's never challenged before: the Port of San Diego and the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG.

LAFCO is in the middle of an ongoing dispute with the Port of San Diego because LAFCO believes the port is subject to its oversight. The Port of San Diego strongly disagrees. The two entities have agreed not to sue each other until September, but September is quickly approaching.

And then there’s SANDAG, which will soon be subject to a review by LAFCO.

Read the full story here.

Environment Report: San Diego’s Role in Metropolitan Water District Manager’s Downfall

Adel Hagekhalil, general manager, Metropolitan Water Authority of Southern California during "The Colorado River: How Will the States Learn to Share?" panel at Politifest on Oct. 7, 2023 at the University of San Diego – Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.
Adel Hagekhalil, general manager, Metropolitan Water Authority of Southern California during “The Colorado River: How Will the States Learn to Share?” panel at Politifest on Oct. 7, 2023 at the University of San Diego – Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. / Vito Di Stefano for Planetcob

The sudden downfall of the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District, California’s biggest water agency, came about, in part, from a dispute San Diego representatives on the MWD board helped cause.

Last week, the board put Adel Hagekhalil on administrative leave after a senior employee accused him of dysfunctional management and harassment in a letter obtained by Politico.

The letter’s author, Metropolitan’s chief financial officer Katano Kasaine, also described how uncomfortable it was for her when San Diego's delegation on the MWD board, along with Los Angeles' group, pushed the agency to adopt a budget that assumed $60 million would come in each year for the next two years because of a water swap the federal government is helping finance.

That deal is hardly done.

This week, Scott Lewis subbed in to write the Environment Report. He tells the San Diego angle behind Hagekhalil's ascension and quick demise as the most powerful man in water in Southern California.

The bigger picture: MWD like the San Diego County Water Authority is dealing with major budget troubles. To close its massive deficit this year, the 8.5 percent rate increase it passed will be felt in all Southern California agencies along with the increase to the property tax it controls on its own.

The San Diego County Water Authority will also pass a rate increase next week and it likely won't include the rosy assumptions San Diego representatives insisted MWD adopt — a decision that led to the whistleblower letter and ultimately the downfall of Hagekhalil.

Read the Environment Report here.

The Latest Sobering Homelessness Data

For the past 26 months in a row, the number of people becoming homeless in San Diego County has outpaced the number moving into homes, according to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness.

The Task Force reports that 1,324 people became homeless for the first time in May and 1,065 exited homelessness.

A harsh reminder: Local efforts to combat homelessness haven't kept up with the flood of people losing their homes for the past 26 months.

In Other News

  • A nonprofit operating an electric bike program has received millions of dollars from public agencies across San Diego County. Now it’s facing multiple investigations including a probe by the California Department of Justice. (Union-Tribune)
  • San Diego’s new police chief unveiled sweeping new changes to the department’s organizational model, which he says will make things more efficient and allow more engagement and transparency with the community. (Union-Tribune)
  • SANDAG has narrowed down the number of possible routes for a train tunnel underneath Del Mar to three options. (Times of San Diego) Related: Read more about the plan to move a portion of the train tracks that run along Del Mar’s coast into an underground tunnel here. (Planetcob) 
  • A controversial accessory dwelling unit bonus program doesn’t yet represent a large share of the city’s ADU permits. Of 1,900 permits issued last year, only 8 percent came from the bonus program. (Axios San Diego)

The Morning Report was written by Tigist Layne and Lisa Halverstadt. It was edited by Lisa Halverstadt and Scott Lewis.

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