Wastewater and its disposal have been a challenge for Los Olivos businesses and residents for many years.

The problem has been and continues to be that the capacity of current, onsite septic systems is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the population, according to Santa Barbara County officials.

The situation is so dire, in fact, that the county declared Los Olivos a “special problems area,” because of its septic issues. Similar areas in the county include nearby Ballard, the urbanized area of Santa Ynez township, and the Janin Acres residential subdivision between Santa Ynez and Solvang.

Los Olivos has a high water table, putting private wells at risk of pollution. Many older septic systems don’t meet modern standards.

The land parcels in these places are too small to accommodate adequate leach fields.

The result is that heavy rains cause a small disaster, or in the county’s words, a “special problem area.” When it rains, it flows.

Locals have been working on potential solutions for several years, all of which eventually culminated in a special election. The result was that Los Olivans overwhelmingly approved forming their own community services district, elected its first five-member board, and embarked on a path of self-determination. Not bad for a smallish township deciding to be its own government, at least when it comes to wastewater issues.

Measure P authorizing creation of the new district was approved by nearly three-quarters of voters, which is good, because law required a two-thirds super majority for passage.

Another good thing is the election of board members, and the fact that the candidate receiving the most votes is Tom Fayram, who also happens to be deputy director of the county’s flood-control and water-resources arm of the Public Works Department. When it comes to water issues, Fayram knows the business. Other members elected to the board are Michael Arme, Lisa Palmer, Brian O’Neill and Julie Kennedy. Together, that group will map a strategy for solving the village’s water woes.

The landslide vote for self-determination came as no big surprise. Having spent considerable time with and around residents of Los Olivos, our belief is that if they are to be governed, they’d just as soon do it themselves. Besides, there is something intellectually appealing about self-governance, and most residents would prefer to take on the task themselves than be governed from afar. That was among the other voter options, to join with an existing services district — but that would have eliminated the self-determination component.

Given the reality that rain has become a scarce commodity in California, some might wonder about the efficacy of taking steps to deal with downpours, steps that likely will cost a significant sum to accomplish.

However, another California fact is that what is true today may not be true tomorrow. With the planet’s climate in a situation of flux, we could just as easily have exceptionally wet winters in the future.

Having that as a possibility makes it even more crucial that Los Olivos take steps to prepare.

Self-determination — whether in life or in government — is a powerful motivator. It may seem expedient and easy to turn decision-making responsibilities over to someone else, be annexed into an already-functioning community services district, but in the end, doing that means you lose some autonomy.

A lot of hard work and tough decisions lie ahead, but voters put the right people in the driver’s seats.


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