By John Earl
Surf City Voice
There are several substantial items on the Orange County Water District agenda tonight which deserve full attention but, in the usual fashion of the the board, will be on the consent calendar which is designed as a rubber-stamp mechanism to avoid full public discussion.
The first is item #6 on the consent calendar, a recommendation from OCWD staff on what the format for further discussion of the proposed Poseidon Resources ocean desalination plant will be for a board meeting on Jan. 12, 2015.
This is despite that fact that at a recent joint meeting of OCWD’s producers and the OCWD board many important questions about project costs, better alternatives to be pursued first, and the legality of charging water agencies for much higher cost desalinated water that don’t want, were raised, along with a strong request for more time to study a financial analysis by a Poseidon preferred consultant that was supposed to answer those issues but did not—a request that was denied. Also, Poseidon project critics with long standing expertise or local standing are to be denied, as usual, an equal place in the discussion.
Item #15 is a recommendation by staff to approve a revised board policy manual that arbitrarily deletes the Executive Committee from the list of standing committees subject to the Brown Act, but, per a recent discussion at the committee level, allows it to exist and to operate as it always has, in likely violation of the Brown Act (California’s open meetings law), by assuming that the board’s president, Shawn Dewane, who presides over the that committee, and its other 3 to 4 members, understand the Brown Act well enough to distinguish between casual conversations amongst OCWD’s directors and its staff and holding illegal meetings, an assumption that past reporting by the Surf City Voice proves unwarranted.
But the most interesting of all, for tonight anyway, is item #18, a recommendation by the Property Management Committee to “Direct staff to enter into negotiations with Elaine Raahauge and to return to Board with information for Closed Session discussion.”
The quick take is that the Raahauge family, currently doing business as Mike Raahauge’s Shooting Enterprises, has leased almost 800 acres down to currently 135 acres of OCWD owned land in the Prado Dam Basin in Riverside County since 1971 to operate a shooting range that includes trap and skeet shooting, pheasant hunting, dog kennels, dog training, a clubhouse, and restaurant facilities, according to OCWD records. The Raahauges’ lease with OCWD is up in a year and they want to renew it, but for 20 years instead of the usual five.
The Raahauges are also facing a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) renewal for the land with the County of Riverside, which will require expensive building upgrades to meet current safety codes.
There is also a request, informal at this point, from the county that the family provide a letter from the OCWD stating that it has permission to use the District’s access road to the leased land, which sits on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps granted an easement to the District but it doesn’t mention the shooting gallery, a “minor technicality”, according to Raahauge consultant Larry Buxton, who worked for OCWD and the Raahauge business when the original deal was struck 43 years ago.
Punting especially hard for the shooting gallery at a recent OCWD Property Management Committee meeting were committee chairman Stephen Sheldon and fellow committee member Denis Bilodeau, who, along with staff, put much effort and thought into directing staff to go full speed ahead negotiating the deal to the Raahauges’ specifications, with minor modifications, despite the minor technicality.
But, with the cooperation of committee members Harry Sidhu and alternate Cathy Green, Sheldon and Bilodeau also ran right over a strong request, relayed by staff, from absent member Jan Flory to open the lease up for Requests for Proposals (RFPs).
Flory also requested a complete history, to be made public, of the business relationship between OCWD and the Raahauge family, going all the way back when.
Oddly, Sheldon quickly asked to clarify if that history was to include the original owner, Linc Raahauge’s, grandson, Patrick.
The answer from staff seemed to be no.
That issue having been clarified, Bilodeau waxed on about how wonderful the Raahauge business has been for the OCWD and how and RFP would be a “disaster” and the District should continue the business relationship.
“This is a very unique operation,” Bilodeau said. “You’re dealing with firearms and obviously we want highly qualified people there that would operate this kind of an operation. The Raahauge family has, I consider, a stellar track record in terms of the safety of their patrons and indemnifying the District. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with anybody else being there.”
What Bilodeau didn’t mention, and what Sheldon had earlier side stepped by the committee, was that Patrick Raahauge, Linc’s grandson and a twice convicted felon, had been arrested at the shooting range in August 2013 “on suspicion of possessing firearms and ammunition at the family range,” according to a report in the Orange County Register. He had been working at the range, in violation of the terms of his probation, according to the Department of Justice.
Another important fact left out of the discussion is that the Raahauge family and some of its employees have given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Bilodeau ($2,000), Sheldon ($3,500) and OCWD board president Shawn Dewane, who as president presides over all committees ($4,000).