Horton retires from public service

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Nancy Horton was an educator for 42 years, retiring in 2006. After retiring, Nancy thought she would get to relax on the deck in a swing and read books she always wanted to read. Retirement failed her and she ended up giving 10 years to the community as a public servant.

Nancy moved to Canyon Lake in 2000. Her service to the city began in 2008 when she was elected to the city council. In 2010, she was appointed to serve as mayor. While on the city council, Nancy was a member of the board of directors of the Lake Elsinore San Jacinto Watershed Authority including a year as president, a member of the board of directors of the San Jacinto River Watershed Council and a member of the Total Maximum Daily Load Task Force. She is a founding member of the Quail Valley Environmental Coalition and served as secretary-treasurer.

Nancy co-founded the Canyon Lake Veterans Day Committee in 2009 and has served as chair of the team responsible for installing the Veterans Memorial Monument in the Towne Center. Six years ago, Nancy founded the Canyon Lake National Day of Prayer, an annual community-wide event held at the lodge on the first Thursday in May.

In November 2014, voters elected her to represent Division One on the board of the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District. She decided not to seek reelection this year and instead retire from public service.

As Nancy comes to the end of 10 years of public service, she reflects on her milestones.

“When I first began to think about running for city council, I was fighting a company that planned a mine in the middle of our city on Goat Hill. I knew I had to assure that the mining project went through all the required steps and that it was clear to everyone what this plan would mean in terms of noise from blasting, traffic from 600 truck trips a day on Railroad Canyon Rd. air quality issues and the actual timetable it would take to mine 3.15 million cubic yards of decomposed granite.

“The mine never went through because of a small group of dedicated individuals who exposed the scheme even when some POA and city elected officials wanted to ram it through. An advisory vote of citizens showed that 75 percent were against the mine.

“Our next challenge was developing a ridgeline and hillside ordinance to protect our city from endless houses along the crest of our beautiful hills. Barry Talbot took the initiative on that project and the ordinances were passed. During these years on the council, we had a dynamic and creative city manager, Lori Moss, who took suggestions from the council and ran with them.

“Bert Barbay approached me the day after I was elected to start a Veterans Day Celebration. Bert, Lori and I worked with a great committee to establish the first Veterans Day Celebration on Nov. 11, 2009. More than 100 residents and guests came. The committee then set out to raise the funds for a memorial in the pocket park in the Towne Center. The Merchants and Owners Association were on board and if the committee could raise $20,000 for the monument, the city and the Merchants and Owners Association would share the cost of landscaping the park.

“The golf community raised thousands of dollars overnight. Senator Jeff Stone, then our county supervisor, contributed $10,000 as a matching grant. We had the $20,000 in a couple of months. Then Jack Walmsley was unleashed on corporate donors and raised many thousands for the landscaping. He received gifts in kind, such as irrigation supplies, plants and trees and a stone for the base of the monument. Rod Gill, a mason, donated his time for 10 years to set the bricks which residents donated in honor of loved ones who served. Our wonderful volunteers assured that each annual celebration was better than the last. What other city delivers a flag and a thank you to every registered vet in the city?

“In April 2009, Lori convened the first meeting of what would become the Quail Valley Environmental Coalition (QVEC). Besides myself, other founding members were Ben Wicke, then an Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District board member, Ron Sullivan, an Eastern Municipal Water District board member and Scott Mann, then a Menifee city councilman. With the help of the Santa Ana Water Project Authority, we built the coalition to help the disadvantaged community of Quail Valley end the 2006 moratorium on building, achieve public health and environmental justice by advocating for a sewer system in Quail Valley, and assure freedom from bacterial contamination in Canyon Lake, a drinking water reservoir.

“Slowly, the QVEC built trust with residents and supported the efforts of EMWD to get funding for the project. Through tough years during the recession, frustration grew. But EMWD got a planning grant, then a design grant, then a construction grant, and finally the sewer system is now in the final stages of being built. By February 2019, Phase One of Area 9 will be complete and 160 houses and 50 vacant lots will be connected to EMWD’s sewer system. The old septic tanks are being abandoned. In the winter of 2018-2019, a reduction in bacterial contamination in Canyon Lake will be achieved from that particular source. The work is not done. EMWD is already working to plan sewering for Area 4.

“As the city council faced higher costs for police and fire safety, the city coffers were depleting rapidly. We were going into reserves year after year because property tax, sales tax, vehicle tax and other revenues were shrinking, and the state borrowed $130,000 in one year because it could. We tried a parcel tax on the ballot but it failed due to the 66 and two-thirds percent rule.

“The second try was the UUT, a tax of 3.95 percent for six years on certain utility bills to raise approximately $750,000 for the general fund but intended for public safety. The measure was controversial but passed by the 50 percent plus one or 47 votes. The actual revenue was over one million dollars. After losing our fire station just as the UUT was approved, the revenue took a year to accrue. Now the fire station has been reopened. Thank you to the voters, a committee to support the UUT and the three council members who worked to inform the electorate of what was at stake.

“In November 2014, I was elected to represent Division One on the board of the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District. In February, the Canyon Lake POA entered into a lawsuit with EVMWD over the lake lease. The Fair Political Practices Commission ruled that because I was a property owner of lakefront property, I could not take part in the negotiations. That was a serious blow because I ran in order to represent Canyon Lake. While the lawsuit dragged on for two years, I was excluded from all negotiations, closed sessions, documentation, etc. There was great tension with some board members because I represented Canyon Lake.

“The first thing I learned was the inordinate amount of time it takes to get a construction project completed. The second was the astronomical cost for the projects. And the third was that each project would be constructed by an outside company. Some companies were efficient and the job went smoothly, and some were problematic and resulted in change orders and even lawsuits.

“I worked on several important projects while I waited for the lawsuit to end. The lobby where customer service took place was unsafe for staff. There was a counter between customers and staff, but no protection against an irate customer. A design was developed to renovate the lobby in a bank-like configuration, with bullet-resistant glass partitions. The lobby was completed after many months and the staff appreciated their safety.

“As chair of the Engineering and Operations Committee, my job was to review contracts and ask questions of staff to clarify details before the full board gets to vote. This was really rewarding work. I decided I needed to be familiar with all facilities and toured all locations twice a year in the first year and once a year ever since. I was dismayed at the condition of the Railroad Canyon Sewer Treatment Plant, that first visit in 2015.

“EVMWD had just hired Dennis McBride as its new head of Waste Water Operations and he got the appropriate repairs made to get the plant humming again. It is still undergoing a re-piping project. My tours were eye-opening. I want to thank all staff who welcomed me warmly. John Vega, our general manager, has done a wonderful job of hiring very qualified people and I rest assured that they are doing a great job.

“Another assignment I take very seriously is outreach to the public and especially children and educators. I have attended many receptions for our students who win poster contests, science fair winners and staff members. Our lobby is unlike the lobby of any other water district. The walls and table are an interactive learning tool for kids and their parents to learn about water, where it comes from and how to conserve it. The board itself has won many awards for transparency, especially financial transparency, and for outreach in the Water Log and other publications for rate-payers.

“After the governor declared a drought emergency in 2015, the EVMWD board asked staff to come up with projects that could be completed in two to three years that would increase our water supply. They were called “near-term” projects. It seems that every project in water takes much longer than we ever imagine. I am pleased to report that on Oct. 22, we opened the first of these six projects, the new well at Temescal Canyon. A former fire station site belonging to the county, EVMWD purchased the property, completed the design, construction and permitting process in less than three years. The yield is approximately 1700 acre-feet per year. This is indeed a big deal. The next well is the Palomar well and then two Barney Lee wells. They are all part of a plan to increase our water supply for our population by 2040.

“For nearly 10 years, I have held my own events to meet voters face to face. I started in January 2009 to hold open meetings in City Hall. Very few residents came forward, being intimidated by the location, so I began to meet people in the Sports Stop for coffee on the last Tuesday of the month. Thank you to Ria and Pete Riley for the free coffee for the participants.

“I continued the coffees as an EVMWD Board member. The numbers have ranged from one or two attendees to 18. Topics discussed included tiered rates, the new variable sewer rate, water supplies from northern California and the Colorado River, alum treatments and progress in Quail Valley, to name a few.

“People brought their water bills and asked for help to reduce their costs. I referred them to the head of the Customer Service Department and they’d report later that their issues were taken care of. I preferred to spend my time this way rather than responding to Facebook comments. I like to explain in detail rather than a one-line answer that informs no one. I encouraged people to call their elected representatives rather than ask neighbors and acquaintances for information. You can’t verify information you get over social media.

“That brings me to another point that is very crucial to me as an elected representative. My portfolio of meetings when I was on the city council was water: The Total Maximum Daily Load Task Force, liaison with EVMWD, Water Subcommittee, meetings of the Riverside County Water Task Force, etc. On the TMDL, I learned so much from Dr. Michael Anderson of UC Riverside and Tim Moore, the consultant from Risk Sciences who handles compliance issues. The meetings were long and sometimes tedious but I stuck with it for the sheer joy of learning as much as I could about our watershed and Canyon Lake. I reported on every issue at city council meetings.

“Now, the city has hired a consultant to attend the meetings, who appears to not be an advocate. The consultant also represents Moreno Valley, in direct conflict with the interests of Canyon Lake. We need someone who knows the lake, cares about the lake and will advocate for the lake. The reports must be public at a city council meeting. We have to demand this for the sake of the future of Canyon Lake. The POA cannot represent us on the TMDL Task Force or LESJWA because the member must be from a government agency.

“It has been my pleasure to work to improve water quality in Canyon Lake alongside Mark Norton of SAWPA, Jason Uhley of Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, the staff of EVMWD, and many others. I want to thank the Western Riverside County Agricultural Coalition, Executive Director Pat Boldt and former President Bruce Scott for their generous support of Canyon Lake through studies and funding for Dr. Anderson’s work on the quagga mussel.”

Over the last 10 years, Nancy and her husband Ted have made 39 trips to take dignitaries out on Canyon Lake in their boat to familiarize them with lake issues. These include Ken Calvert, representatives of Senator Jeff Stone, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez’s staff, Kevin Jeffries, EPA staff, Santa Ana River Water Quality Control board staff, residents of Quail Valley, city council members of Menifee, Moreno Valley, Hemet, etc. “Building relationships with cities that contribute to Canyon Lake’s improvement can only be a good thing,” said Nancy.

Nancy said she has no regrets. “I don’t regret a minute of my time representing Canyon Lake, fighting for funding for Canyon Lake, working on a lake management plan for Canyon Lake and advocating for this community,” she said.

“A parallel effort was getting residents to understand our issues and come out to POA meetings and city council meetings to become better informed,” said Nancy. “I don’t mind if people disagree with me but I want them to know the facts. My favorite quote is: ‘I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.’ I know what it is like to walk into a boardroom knowing four votes are against my position on an issue but I am proud of this city and our lake. “

Nancy will now turn her attention to her family, her granddaughter’s volleyball games and her grandson’s soccer games.

Carl Armbrust had lunch with Nancy after she was first elected to the city council and he lost. During that lunch, he said to her, “Take care of the city for me.” Now, as she retires from public service, Nancy asks the same of those elected on Nov. 6. “Take good care of the city and lake for all of us.”

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Donna Ritchie