Voters in Ventura surprised some city officials last week by favoring a desalination plant to meet future water demand rather than a pipeline connection to state water supplies.

Ventura residents voted 55% to 45% in support of building the plant to desalt about 7,000 acre feet of ocean water annually at an estimated cost of $30.4 million. An acre foot of water, about 326,000 gallons, can serve two average families for a year.

Government leaders in the city of about 80,000 had backed a plan for a 30-mile pipeline that would tie into the State Water Project. Some officials thought this proposal would win, given that it would cost less -- an estimated $24.2 million per year -- and deliver about 9,000 acre feet of water.

Proponents of the desalting plant argued that its use of the ocean would allow greater reliability of supply while local control would permit more flexibility.

Last Tuesday's decision was only an advisory vote, but a majority of City Council members have said they will abide by the election result.

Since they had planned to share the cost of a pipeline with Ventura, other area cities and water agencies now are discussing new plans as well. At this point, a cooperative pipeline agreement may no longer make sense, primarily because it would be much more expensive for the remaining agencies.

The 1992 election is history, so now speculation is churning around the key state races that lie ahead in 1994.

A prominent story in Sunday's Los Angeles Times suggested that California Democrats are already mobilizing to capitalize on their gains from last week in preparation for the next big election year.

State Treasurer Kathleen Brown and Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi were mentioned as possible challengers to Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994.

The article said Brown's supporters have urged her to consider running for governor, but a spokesman for the treasure said it was premature to discuss her political plans.

A California judge last Thursday threw a wrench into the budget-balancing efforts of the Los Angeles Unified School District by granting a temporary restraining order against a 9% pay cut affecting teachers.

District Superintendent Sid Thompson cautioned that if the ruling stands it could throw the district's $3.9 billion budget out of balance. The district imposed the pay cuts to help cover a $400 million budget shortfall.

The order pertains to pay cuts that took effect last Friday. Neither district officials nor union leaders for United Teachers-Los Angeles had expected the court action to succeed. A hearing on a permanent injunction against the pay cuts is set for Nov. 25.

The 9% teacher pay cut followed a 3% cut imposed on all district employees last year. The teachers group in late October authorized a strike, if needed, over the pay cuts.

But the district, citing cutbacks caused by the state budget crunch, said it turned to the pay cut because it has little leeway to balance its budget.

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