MWDOC Director Proposes Self-Policing after MWD Chairman’s Failures to Disclose

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Following recent revelations by the Surf City Voice that one of MWDOC’s own failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars of consulting income and voted on projects that could affect his wife’s business, Director Brett Barbre is proposing a novel change in policy designed to prevent conflicts of interest by the agency’s staff and public officials.

Barbre’s proposal would have the MWDOC (Municipal Water District of Orange County) board certify that to the best of its knowledge no conflicts of interest exist for its elected directors or for representatives that it appoints to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). The certification would also apply to all MWDOC employees who are required to report under state disclosure regulations.

“I believe we need to police ourselves,” Barbre said, in an e-mail to the Voice.

California’s Political Reform Act requires public officials to report income and to disclose possible conflicts of interest prior to voting and to recuse themselves when a conflict is determined to exist. And Govt. Code 1090 prohibits public officials from holding a financial interest in any contract made by “any [government] body or board of which they are members.”

But efforts to prevent conflicts of interest by local public officials traditionally have consisted, at best, of legal advice such as city attorneys often give at city council meetings and that relies upon the prior and presumably honest disclosures of public officials.

As first reported by the Surf City Voice, John V. Foley, MWDOC’s appointed representative on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), failed to report an estimated minimum of $248,000 of income his wife, Mary Jane Foley, earned as a consultant from various southern California water districts, including MWDOC and the MWD.

His wife’s consulting work mostly involved permitting, regulatory and promotional issues related to a proposed Dana Point ocean desalination plant and ocean desalination in general.

Foley is currently chairman of MWD’s 37-member board of directors. He can vote only on items before that body but attends MWDOC board meetings and partakes in discussions by that body.

The $248,000 income estimate, which the Voice as since revised to $218,000 after reviewing newly acquired invoice records for 2005, does not include his wife’s other previously unreported income from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and several private water related companies going back to 2004. Nor did the estimate include another $15,000 of income that John Foley earned as a consultant but also did not report—also recently disclosed by the Surf City Voice.

Reducing Conflicts
Foley’s wife, Mary Jane Foley, who owns MJF Consulting, was paid as a subcontractor under a contract between Byron Buck Associates and five water agencies, including MWDOC, West Basin (Redondo Beach), City of Long Beach, San Diego Water Authority and MWD, the first four of which are involved directly in ocean desalination projects.

The contract was facilitated by the MWD and ran between 2006 and 2009 with a $125,000 limit, almost $109,000 of which was paid out including about $45,000 that went to MJF Consulting.

John Foley at CALDESAL meeting
MWD Chairman John Foley attends a CalDesal mixer in May of 2010. Photo: Mesa Water

The contract stipulated a minimum number of hours and income for Foley’s wife for ocean desalination related permitting and regulatory work as well as for efforts toward forming a state wide desalination lobbying group to be named CalDesal, public documents obtained by the Voice show.

MWD sells water to other water agencies throughout southern California, including MWDOC, serving 19 million people, and is the largest water wholesaler in the world, according to MWDOC General Manager Kevin Hunt.

MWD exerts considerable influence over water programs and policies throughout its jurisdiction.

As MWD chairman, Foley appoints all members of all standing committees as well as chair persons for special committees for that body. Prior to becoming chairman of the board, he was a member of MWD’s Committee on Desalination and Recycling and later became chairman of the Special Committee on Desalination and Recycling.

MWD records show that on at least four occasions since 2005 Foley voted on ocean desalination issues related to his wife’s consulting contracts with MWDOC and other water agencies:

1)      June 28, 2005, as a member of the Committee on Desalination and Recycling, Foley voted for MWD to enter into agreements to financially support ocean desalination projects for four water southern California water districts, including MWDOC;

2)      July 12, 2005, Foley voted for the same proposal at a regular meeting of the MWD board;

3)      Nov. 10, 2009, Foley voted for the MWD to provide a subsidy of $350 million that would benefit an ocean desalination project in the San Diego Water District, one of five districts contracting with Byron Buck Associates (the last payment of which was made Oct. 15, 2009).

4)      June 8, 2010, Foley voted to have MWD become a member of CalDesal, an ocean desalination lobbying group that his wife helped to form, for a cost of $5,000 per year.

Foley also regularly opines on the topic of ocean desalination at MWD and MWDOC meetings. For example, as reported previously in the Voice, at June 6 MWDOC meeting Foley advocated for a MWD letter of support and $350 million subsidy that would assist Poseidon Resources Inc. to acquire financing for its proposed Huntington Beach ocean desalination plant.

“I am proposing that in April, following the filing everyone’s Form 700, the MWDOC Board will review the form 700s for all MWDOC directors, MWD directors, and all staff, to determine and certify that, to the best of our knowledge, there are no conflicts of interest,” Barbre informed the Voice by e-mail last Thursday. “We will compare 700s against a list of all active contracts at MWDOC,” he added.

Former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook, who has conducted her own investigations of local water districts and advocates for greater transparency, concurred with Barbre’s call for MWDOC to police itself.

Cook stressed that disclosure laws and regulations are not meant to embarrass public officials.

“Every public agency should be policing its own officials for potential conflicts of interest,” she told the Voice. “It contributes toward improving public trust and it protects individuals who may not otherwise be aware of a conflict.”

Barbre, who was first elected to the board in 2000, is the only MWDOC board member in the past year to proactively call for greater board transparency—sometimes to the chagrin of fellow board members and staff, who have generally been reluctant to support placing expense reports online and video streaming board meetings from the MWDOC web site.

“I have been fighting staff on this one,” Barbre said, adding that he has asked that his proposal be placed on the agenda of the Committee on Administration and Finance meeting March 14. The committee would then pass on its recommendation, if any, to the full board for final consideration. If a quorum of the board attends the committee meeting the item could be decided then.

The meeting starts at 5 p.m. and is open to the public.

“If it is not placed on the agenda, look for some fireworks,” Barbre warned.

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Opposition to Santa Margarita Water District’s Plan to Suck Desert Water Grows from the Desert to the Sea

By Mark Gutglueck
The San Bernardino County Sentinel
Reprinted with permission

Belated opposition is hurriedly forming to a plan that would pump an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water per year out of the aquifer in San Bernardino County’s eastern Mojave Desert and convey it in a pipeline to Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties to replenish the water supply there.

The Santa Margarita Water District, which services an area that is more than 200 miles from the Cadiz Valley, is the lead agency for what is called The Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.  As the lead agency the SMWD, the second largest water district in Orange County, will oversee the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process for the project.

Santa Margarita will work with the Cadiz Land Company in the proposed undertaking, which is a modified version of the Cadiz Water Project floated by Cadiz Land and the Metropolitan Water District more than a decade ago. The original project called for the Cadiz Land Company pumping water from the Colorado River during wet years, storing it in an underground aquifer beneath the Cadiz Valley, and selling as much as 60,000 acre-feet of the native groundwater and Colorado River water mix to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) in Los Angeles during dry years.

That proposal was ultimately rejected by the MWD’s board of directors after conservationists raised concerns over possible environmental damage. That rejection led to expensive litigation between the Cadiz Land Company and the MWD.

The concept lay dormant for six years. But in 2008 the Cadiz Land Company, also known as Cadiz, Inc., revived the plan in modified form, emphasizing less the drawing of water from the Colorado River and instead proposing to obtain much of the water from sources feeding the area’s dry lakes that are subject to evaporation.

The revived project was given a tentative budget of $536.25 million and is to entail the sinking of 34 wells into the desert and construction of a 44-mile pipeline along a railroad right-of-way until it meets up with the aqueduct that carries Colorado River water to the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas.

Through the arrangement with the Cadiz Land Company, the SMWD will receive the lion’s share of the water. In addition, Cadiz, Inc. has entered into agreements with Three Valleys Water District, which provides water to the Pomona Valley, Walnut Valley, and Eastern San Gabriel Valley; the Golden State Water Company, which serves several communities in Southern California, including Claremont;   Suburban Water Systems, which serves Covina, West Covina and La Mirada; and the Jurupa Community Services District, which serves Mira Loma in Riverside County.

The Cadiz Valley is located just south of the Marble Mountains and northeast of the Sheep Hole Mountains near the National Trails Highway. Cadiz is home to a former railroad stop along the Santa Fe line, 17 miles east of Amboy and 70 miles from Needles.

The public hearings related to the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project were held in Yucca Valley, which is 85 miles from Cadiz, and in Rancho Santa Margarita, which is 217 miles from Cadiz. Many people directly impacted by the project were not notified of the hearings. Neither was the Bolo Station Water Company, which serves the Cadiz Valley and the property adjoining that of the Cadiz Land Company.

Among those at the forefront of the movement to oppose the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project is former Needles city councilwoman Ruth Musser-Lopez, who was previously employed as a Bureau of Land Management Archaeologist assigned to the California Desert District and was active in opposing the first Cadiz Water Project.

Musser-Lopez decried the project as one that would confiscate a vital and rare resource from the desert region. She said the Cadiz Land Company and the SMWD had formed an unholy alliance of a rapacious corporation and a quasi-governmental agency that was abusing the approval and environmental certification processes to violate the rights of the region’s residents while depriving future generations of desert dwellers access to water.

Both the SMWD and the Cadiz Land Company have represented the project as one that is aimed at “conservation” of water otherwise lost to evaporation. A major selling point is that the project will represent a $138 million boon to the East Mojave’s economy that will directly or indirectly create 2,090 jobs for four years, involving $53 million in wages or salaries to workers or proprietorships involved in building the pipeline and other elements of the project. Continue reading Opposition to Santa Margarita Water District’s Plan to Suck Desert Water Grows from the Desert to the Sea

Water Boarding: MET Chairman John V. Foley’s $15,000 ‘Oversight’ Disclosed

John Earl
Surf City Voice

Lately, southern California’s top water official, John V. Foley, has been explaining his apparent violations of a state law that requires public officials to disclose their economic interests.

Foley is chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

The Surf City Voice recently reported that Foley, who was appointed to the MWD by the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), failed to report an estimated $248,000 of income that his wife, Mary Jane Foley, earned as a consultant for various water agencies in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, going back to 2004. That disclosure came from public records obtained by the Voice.

Now, more public records obtained since then reveal that Foley also failed to report over $15,000 of his own income as a private consultant for the Moulton Niguel Water District (Moulton) in south Orange County going back to late 2008.

His failure to report that income was “an oversight,” Foley told the Voice.

The newly obtained documents include the invoices that Foley filed at Moulton when he worked as a private consultant for that agency under a contract (also obtained by the Voice) that is still open.  But he did not report that income on the original financial disclosure (700) forms he filed with the MWD nor in amended versions that followed, records show. Continue reading Water Boarding: MET Chairman John V. Foley’s $15,000 ‘Oversight’ Disclosed

Water Chairman Still Believes He Didn’t Have to Report Wife’s Income

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

The chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), John V. Foley, says that a recent Surf City Voice story, that exposed the omission of his wife’s income from years of financial disclosure statements he filed with the water agency, did him an “injustice by just making your own interpretation, which, quite frankly, is totally different than what mine is.”

The story pointed out that Foley had not reported an estimated $248,000 of income that his wife, Mary Jane Foley, was paid by various southern California water agencies for consulting work going back to 2004.

State law requires government officials to publicly disclose their relevant economic interests, including spousal income, within 30 days of assuming office and annually thereafter.  Fines of up to $5,000 can be levied by the Fair Political Practices Commission for violations.

Foley has served on the MWD as the appointed representative of the Municipal Water District of Orange County since 1989. He was chosen by the MWD to be its chairman for a second time in 2011.

In September Foley told the Voice that he was unaware that he had to report his wife’s income. But in October, after advice from MWD legal counsel, he amended is Statements of Economic Interest, which are filed on “700” forms, to include that income.

“The advice was: rather than get in a big battle over this why don’t you go ahead and report it,” Foley said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I decided for the sake of solving this, and not having it look like it has been hidden—put it in there.”

Mary Jane Foley and husband John V. Foley, MWD Chairman

Foley says that all of his wife’s consulting income goes into a separate trust fund for her children, that he has no access to it and that there is no “co-mingling” of her income with his. He and his wife have separate bank accounts, he adds, and file separate tax returns – all of which he believes exempt him from the state reporting law.

“To be extra safe, I went ahead and reported,” despite his exemption, he said. “I really to this moment think that I don’t have to report it,” he insisted.

But Foley’s interpretation of the law, however sincere, is conclusively incorrect.

Public officials must report spousal income unless they have a pre or post nuptial agreement, according to Tara Stock, a spokesperson for the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Stock would not comment on Foley’s case, but told the Voice by e-mail that “The general rule is that in order for a spouse’s income to possibly be exempt from reporting, there must be a valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement and a separate property agreement.”

When asked if he had a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement with his wife Foley responded, “Separate tax returns, separate accounts. Yes.” But when asked again, specifically, if he had any nuptial agreements with his wife, Foley said he did not.

Even if Foley had signed a nuptial agreement with his wife, however, he would not have been required to file it with the FPPC or MWD. In fact, according to Stock, the Commission would only seek verification of such an agreement if an official complaint had been filed with her agency.

Foley said that his wife is winding down her consulting work. “In the last two years she’s done very little work and probably will close her business because she does not really want to spend that much time on that stuff anymore. She kind of hates the regulatory field.”