It’s estimated that at least a hundred Canyon Lakers showed up at the water district’s headquarters in Lake Elsinore last Thursday, May 14, for the EVMWD Board meeting. Waving signs with such sayings as “Fair Deal on Lake Lease,” “No Lawyers, Work Together” and “EMWD (sic) Take the High Road,” residents for the most part were there to ask that the EVMWD Board meet with the CLPOA Board to come to an agreement over the lake lease.
During the time for public comments, CLPOA Directors Eric Spitzer and David Eilers were among the nine Canyon Lake residents who spoke. Eric, who had just come from Canyon Lake’s Annual Meeting and Election where he won reelection to the Board, didn’t get so much as a smile from the water directors when he suggested in a “talking to buddies” tone that they “just sit down and talk,” perhaps over hamburgers.
Referring to the fact that EVMWD had refused to “sit down at the table” with CLPOA Board members, Eric said, “. . . We’re your customers and we want to pay you. Let’s just sit down and talk. . . take the lawyers out of the room and talk . . . Why wait? We’ll do it today, after this meeting.” He got a big applause from the audience; stern faces from the water directors.
Taking a more aggressive tone, David Eilers, who had just been re-elected CLPOA President, said, “Your attorney directed your board not to talk to us. We’re just asking for a reasonable lease that’s fair for both of us (EVMWD and Canyon Lake).”
Turning around to thank the Canyon Lakers who had shown up for the meeting, Dave then faced the water directors to say that he gave them credit for their PR campaign, and that, in the beginning, their scare tactics worked.
But they had gone too far, he told them, and now the Canyon Lakers in the audience and many more at home were supporting the CLPOA Board, and they (EVMWD) were “behind the 8-ball.” He requested that representatives from the two boards and general managers for the two agencies get together, without the lawyers, to resume talks.
When it was time for the EVMWD Board to respond, President Phil Williams pointed out the effect of the lake lease issue on property values, saying he heard 17 escrows had dropped out in Canyon Lake (since the Association’s two lawsuits against EVMWD began). He said he had once owned property in Canyon Lake and understood how the residents felt about their community and the lake.
He explained the lake lease was signed in the early 60s under a different set of circumstances and laws. At that time it was okay to lease the public lake for the exclusive use of the property owners. But, he said, times and laws have changed, and he believes the lawsuits Canyon Lake has brought against EVMWD jeopardize Canyon Lake’s ability to maintain exclusive use of the publicly owned asset if the lease were to be thrown out by a judge.
As for sitting down at the table to negotiate, he said, “We’re willing to talk, but we can’t talk to a group of folks who have a $6 million gun pointed at our head (referring to the lawsuit that claims EVMWD owes Canyon Lake $6 million in overcharges, per Proposition 26).
“Urge your Board to drop the lawsuits,” he told the audience.
One Canyon Lake real estate agent who attended the meeting was asked afterward if Mr. Williams’ claim was true that 17 escrows had fallen through since the lawsuits began. The agent, who works for the largest real estate agency in Canyon Lake, said, “Not one escrow has fallen through because of the lawsuits.”
He pointed out that lawsuits don’t affect sales and, in fact, there are three lawsuits going on in Canyon Hills right now and home sales are still brisk there. He also said he didn’t know of any mortgage loans that had been turned down because of the lawsuits.
Many seem to be of the opinion that the Board should continue with the lawsuits and allow a judge to determine in a court of law who is right. After all, they say, EVMWD’s insistence that the lawsuits be dropped shows they are concerned about the outcome. Others who have voiced their opinions publicly want the CLPOA Board to drop the lawsuits.
President Eiler’s Remarks
Asked this week for his opinion of the meeting, President David Eilers wrote, “First of all, I want to thank all the residents who showed up at the EVMWD Board Meeting last Thursday. It was awesome to see that kind of response from the community. And while EVMWD continued its scare-tactic campaign with an alarming presentation on the drought, the Canyon Lake residents showed them that we’re not afraid of their scare-tactics.”
He adds, “Many residents, including myself and fellow Board nember Eric Spitzer, got up and asked EVMWD’s Board to sit down with our Board to work this out. Unfortunately, EVMWD’s only response to us was that they would not meet with us unless we dropped the lawsuit. However, as Board members, it’s our fiduciary duty to protect the members of the Association. When we discovered that EVMWD had continued to impose a tax on us that was banned by the California state voters in 2010 (Proposition 26) totaling in the amount of $6,231,134 it would have been negligent for us not to look further into this issue and not to take action to recover the overcharged funds.
“Additionally, based on their history with us, they have shown no willingness to follow through on any meetings or negotiations. They are only willing to dictate their terms in an agreement that is largely in their favor and is not fair to the residents of Canyon Lake.
“Most recently, EVMWD indicated it would agree to meet in a mediation setting with our Board if we made the lake lease payment. Upon making the payment, EVMWD not only denied any sort of indication of such meeting but also demanded an additional $132,157.62, supposedly to cover expenses incurred as a result of the lawsuit. They have yet to provide us with an invoice or justification of this additional expense.
“On May 8, we resent our lake lease payment check in the amount of $344,302.92 and EVMWD indicated it had received the check on May 11. However, as of May 20, the check had not been cashed.
“Despite the filing of the claim and lawsuit, we would like to work with EVMWD to draft a fair lake lease agreement for everyone. We continue to be ready, willing and able to sit down to discuss moving forward with EVMWD’s Board of Directors.”