Santa Clara County: Officials, landowner locked in water war after E. Coli found
by Eric Kurhi, originally posted on January 23, 2017
A former resort community of rustic, somewhat dilapidated cabins is ground zero for a water war between state and county officials and a landowner who insists he has every right to use the water that feeds a creek running through his property in the unincorporated land south of San Jose.
Residents of the Twin Creeks community near Almaden Reservoir were served notice on Friday that they’d need to be out by Feb. 18 because the property lacks potable drinking water — an issue that’s been percolating since last fall when E. Coli was found in the well water system used by about 40 homes at the end of Alamitos Road.
“First they told us we should boil the water, then they said we shouldn’t drink it at all, only use bottled water,” said Doreen Benjamin, who has lived there for two years. “Now this whole place is condemned.”
Since the E. Coli discovery, state water officials learned that the site’s water system has been tapping into a nearby spring without a permit — something that’s drawn more scrutiny than the E. Coli readings.
“Nobody is allowed to put new sources into service without getting a permit,” said Stefan Cajina, who heads the regional drinking water division of the State Water Resources Control Board. “We have to determine whether that source is safe, and springs have potential for surface water contamination.”
Cajina said the owner of the site, Gilbert Marosi of Los Altos, has not been receptive to allowing inspectors onto the property, even after the spring had allegedly been disconnected from the previously permitted well-water system.
“We have not seen the spring, so we have not been able to determine whether that is true,” Cajina said.
Marosi called the county and state reactions “baloney.”
“They’re trying to evict all the tenants because of a lack of potable water, well, I’ve proved it’s potable,” he said. “And that spring has been in use since 1940 as a backup and there has never been any event of contamination.”
He said he has test results to prove it, which he intends to bring to county officials on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider using up to $500,000 of the reserve fund to help remaining residents at the site — many have already left — find new housing or put them up temporarily.
“We’ve been reaching out and about 23 to 25 people there have said they need some type of assistance,” said Ky Le, director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing. He said the residents in need all earn below 80 percent of the area’s median income.
Benjamin said she could use a hand — she’s been unsuccessfully looking to get out. Her three-bedroom home is falling apart, and she said the fouled water made her sick in October and still has a “slimy” quality to it that makes it unsuitable for anything but flushing the toilet.
But she said you can’t beat the the location, just off the Y where Alamitos and Herbert creeks meet.
“I love it here, how can you not?” she said. “But I don’t like living somewhere that’s owned by a slumlord.”
Neighbor Jay Kerby, who has lived at the site for 10 years, disagreed and said he believes the owner is trying to remedy the situation but running into roadblocks from the county and state. He said the water’s always been good for washing, bathing, even cooking or making ice cubes. He gets bottled water to drink but that’s always been the case.
“What’s going on here is absolutely ridiculous,” said Kerby. “Basically a bunch of people can’t get along enough to figure out where to pour a couple gallons of bleach.”
Kirk Girard, the county’s director of planning and development, said the bottom line is that the system failed safety tests and the owner has not proved that it’s now safe.
“People were drinking water with E. Coli contamination, and that’s not unlike a restaurant poisoning case,” he said. “If you are a landlord with a substandard housing situation, you have to fix it. It’s like having no roof or no heat — you’re just not allowed to do that.”