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Poseidon Desalination Poll Threatens Candidates and Misleads Voters

Poseidon Desalination Poll Threatens Candidates and Misleads Voters

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

It’s election time, so in September Poseidon Resources, Inc., released another push poll claiming widespread public support for its hoped for $1 billion ocean desalination plant that would be built next to the AES power plant in southeast Huntington Beach.

The poll, commissioned by Poseidon and conducted by Probolsky Research, is based on telephone interviews with 325 “likely voters, whatever that means, residing within the boundaries of the Orange County Water District (OCWD), which is leaning heavily toward buying all of Poseidon’s water or financing the project, which would transfer all of the risks to OCWD’s ratepayers.

The OCWD, which manages the Santa Ana River groundwater basin, provides about 65 percent of the drinking water for 19 municipal water agencies in central and northern Orange County.

Until recently, the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), which retails imported water to 28 water agencies throughout the county, was the front agency for pushing the Poseidon project.

But only one of MWDOC’s members has signed an intent to buy any of Poseidon’s water. In theory, MWDOC could force its other members to participate under its “core” program, but that kind of bullying resulted in a revolt by its south county members once before, so force is an unlikely option.

The OCWD, on the other hand, can simply pass the costs of Poseidon’s desalinated water onto the producers, who pump its groundwater for a fee.

The poll concludes that, driven by a heightened concern about drought, voters support elected leaders who seek long-term water supply solutions that are “drought proof, such as desalination from the proposed Huntington Beach facility.” Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, MWDOC, OCWD, Poseidon, Water Boarding1 Comment

Steve Sheldon Watch: OCWD director shills for Poseidon, again

Steve Sheldon Watch: OCWD director shills for Poseidon, again

Stephen Sheldon, the Orange County Water District’s elected representative from Irvine, continues to use his government position to benefit Poseidon Resources, Inc., the corporation that wants to build an ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

By doing this, he may be risking the consequences of violating conflict of interest laws.

The OCWD manages the county’s groundwater basin and provides drinking water for 2.4 million residents by selling it to 19 municipalities and special water districts in the county.

The OCWD staff and board of directors are currently leaning heavily toward making ocean desalination part of its “water portfolio” through a business relationship with Poseidon.

Sheldon, a candidate for reelection in November, spoke in favor of Poseidon’s proposed project at a joint planning committee meeting of OCWD and the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), held on July 23.

The Poseidon plant would cost about $1 billion and produce 50,000 acre feet of desalinated water a year.

In a plan conceived by OCWD and Poseidon, that desalinated water would replace the same amount of untreated imported water that the district currently buys from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (through its retailer MWDOC) for $593 per acre foot. That water is pumped into the groundwater basin.

Poseidon’s desalinated water would cost over three times as much, about $2,000 per acre foot, according to OCWD’s chief engineer, John Kennedy.

Until at least last December, according to Sheldon’s most recent Statement of Economic Interests (SEI), he worked as a consultant for Faubel Public Affairs, a partner of Communications Lab which lists Poseidon as a current client on its website.

Public officials who use their position to influence a government decision that affects them financially have an illegal conflict of interest under California’s Political Reform Act (CPRA) and California Govt. Code 1090.

But during the joint meeting, Sheldon tried to argue that Poseidon’s project would add to the county’s groundwater supply. In fact, as other water officials from OCWD and MWDOC pointed out repeatedly at the meeting, Poseidon’s water would not increase the county’s water supply—above or below ground—by a single drop.

“We’re just really replacing the amount of imported water we need to bring into the region,” OCWD’s Executive Engineer, John Kennedy, explained to Sheldon.

The Surf City Voice previously reported that during a May 21 OCWD board meeting Sheldon advocated for Poseidon and voted to send out Requests for Proposals to several consulting firms to analyze financing options for its desalination project, including direct OCWD funding and ownership.

Sheldon said “No comment” after that meeting when I asked him why he participated in the Poseidon vote. Then he chased after me as I left, only to demand that I tell him if I had electronically recorded his answer.

During a subsequent board meeting, however, Sheldon accused me of misrepresenting the facts about his relationship to Poseidon.

There was no conflict of interest, he said, because public officials are relieved of any potential charges related to a source of income that was discontinued a year or more in the past.

That’s true, but Sheldon’s SEI indicates that relief from potential conflict of interest charges won’t come until December, 2014, at the earliest. That’s because his SEI doesn’t indicate a termination date for his business relationship with Faubel; nor has Sheldon submitted an amendment to it since it was filed last April.

Theoretically, Sheldon could argue that Faubel Public Affairs and Communications Lab are separate businesses, despite public comments by CEO Roger Faubel and Lab founder Brian Lochrie confirming their close business partnership.

Lochrie, a former Faubel employee, started Communications Lab a year ago last April after leaving Faubel’s office with most of his staff and marketing clients, including Poseidon, according to a story at the time in the OC Register.

Lochire took his new entourage to another office in the same building, just down the hall.

Since Sheldon has not clarified his relationship to Poseidon (he did not accept an offer to meet or speak with this reporter at greater length), and any clarifying legal action against him is unlikely before election day, the voters must decide if the wall separating Faubel and Communications Lab is invisible and if Sheldon is being honest about being free of conflict.

But Sheldon’s election opponent, Newport Beach City Councilperson Leslie Daigle, may not be so shy about Sheldon’s Poseidon connection as well as his numerous other ethical and legal dilemmas.

Apparently, her campaign has been using a Facebook account called Steve Sheldon Watch to post links to documents detailing Sheldon’s numerous personal trials and tribulations, including hundreds of thousands of dollars of state and federal tax liens, contract violation lawsuits, and a divorce claim by his wife that he is stealing from his child’s $1 million “off-shore” trust account.

Two of the Facebook posts relate directly to Sheldon’s job as an OCWD director.

One of those posts questions Sheldon’s relationship to Poseidon based on in his 2012 SEI filing—in which he states he directly consulted for Poseidon, asking, “Is that legal since OCWD is studying if they want to buy Poseidon’s desalinated water?”

The other OCWD related post, “nothing but the best for Sheldon,” links to his OCWD expense reports and questions his $1,048 stay at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Los Angeles.

Daigle told the Daily Pilot that she was running against Sheldon because of the OCWD board’s involvement in frivolous lawsuits and its attempt to build a power plant.

Sheldon was one of three OCWD directors, including Denis Bilodeau and Roger Yoh, who as members of the district’s Water Issues Committee (WIC), met secretly with several members of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce in October, 2013, to smooth the way for building the power plant on 20 acres of OCWD property in the so-called Ball Road Basin in the city of Anaheim.

Many Anaheim residents are opposed to the proposed power plant and want to use the lands for parks and recreation purposes.

The WIC meeting arguably violated California’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, so the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce protested. To prevent a lawsuit, the OCWD Board of Directors voted to promise to “cease and desist from prior challenged conduct.”

But the agenda for one of many secretly held OCWD Executive Committee meetings exposed by the Voice through a public records inquiry, reveals that the directors may have broken their legally binding promise.

The Executive Committee agenda for June 10, 2014, contains a discussion item about how to gain leverage for rezoning the Ball Road Basin—if a proposed deal with Competitive Powers Ventures to develop the power plant fell through—by supporting grant requests by Anaheim for developing pocket-parks.

“I believe we could leverage cooperation on these types of soft issues in return for the City helping us kill SB 26 and helping us rezone Ball Road Basin to commercial usage if the CPV deal falls through”, OCWD General Manager Mike Marcus wrote.

The OCWD seems to have backed off its efforts to build a power plant in Anaheim for now, but this month its board of directors voted to study building one in Fountain Valley instead as part of its Long Term Facilities Plan.

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Posted in Headlines, MWDOC, OCWD, Poseidon, Water Boarding6 Comments

Mesa Water District: ‘Plz Don’t Circulate this Story!’ And Director Fisler Gets Even

Mesa Water District: ‘Plz Don’t Circulate this Story!’ And Director Fisler Gets Even

 

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Editor’s note: See related story, here.

Getting thirty-minutes of interview time in January 2012 with the Mesa Water District’s general manager, Paul Shoenberger, wasn’t easy.

Spontaneous interviews with Mesa Water staff or members of the board of directors are discouraged whenever possible by Communications Manager, Stacy Taylor. Potentially tough or touchy media questions must be submitted to her in advance so that she can provide public answers that fit Mesa Water’s “unified voice” template.

At Taylor’s insistence, general interview questions were submitted in advance, but with my stipulation that there was no guarantee that I would limit myself to the exact wording of those questions during the interview or would not ask follow up questions.

The interview took place in Mesa Water’s executive committee room and was strictly limited to 30 minutes in the presence of both Shoenberger and Taylor and was recorded by both parties.

The main topic of the interview was CalDesal, the secretive non-profit organization that Mesa Water started—with ratepayers’ money—several years ago—and still helps finance with free labor and services even though CalDesal supposedly went its own private way—to promote ocean desalination projects and the desalination industry.

Contrary to California’s open meetings law, the general public is not allowed at CalDesal meetings nor is it generally given meeting agendas and minutes. Financial documents, the “990” forms that non-profits are required to disclose, are also denied repeatedly to this reporter by CalDesal’s president, Shawn Dewane, who is also a Mesa Water board member.

James Fisler

A cheap shot of Mesa Water’s Director James Fisler at a CalDesal mixer. Photo: provided by Mesa Water District

At the time, I didn’t know that the entire process was being directed by a public relations consulting firm, Laer Pearce Associates, that charged Mesa’s ratepayers between $265 – $350 per hour and that hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars would be paid to LPA to prepare Shoenberger for the interview, on top of what was paid to Mesa’s communications manager, Stacy Taylor, who gets close to $200,000 a year including benefits.

Emails acquired under the Public Records Act later would reveal how cynically manipulative Shoenberger, Taylor and LPA had been and that Mesa Water officials are motivated more by vanity than a desire to objectively inform the ratepayers.

Before the interview, their goal was to limit and control the questions as much as possible. After publication, the main goal was to contain the interview and to marginalize this reporter, while violating copyright law (republishing the story without permission), even though LPA president Laer Pearce and Taylor both agreed that the edited interview was fair and accurate.

An email from Taylor to Mesa Water directors and staff, and to LPA, for example, stated, in full:

  • Greetings: The attached story ran on the Surf City Voice blog on May 28, 2012. I purposely did not share the link to the post & removed all Surf City Voice links from the story. If you wish to share this, please do so using the attached instead of going to the website. I have also pasted the story below. So far, I found that Aquafornia (blog) has posted this story & it will probably be posted by OC Voice soon (I will let you know). Also, there is only one reply to this story as follows below the story. All in all, I think this turned out as good as can be expected from this type of media opportunity.

In another, earlier, email, Taylor wrote, “Plz (sic) don’t circulate the story link I sent you since doing so will add to its ‘popularity’ on the web (each click on the link will increase the story’s web ranking). Instead, I will capture the content for sharing. Please feel free to contact me any time re. this.”

Curiously, Ron Wildermuth, Director of Public Information and Conservation at West Basin Water District where Shoenberger had served for years as assistant general manager, was also included in the emails. “Good job,” he wrote to Shoenberger, “This is about as hostile and biased an interviewer I have seen in a while. You stuck to your points well.”

But Pearce praised the interview story.

“John Earl admits he is not objective, but insists he writes objectively,” he said. “On is (sic) story, I have to agree. He let his biases show, but told the CalDesal and Mesa Water stories fairly. Of course it helped that Paul tied everything to Mission and was not swayed off the core messages of the district.”

Although Pearce misunderstood my theory on journalistic objectivity (namely, that any reporter who claims to be without bias is either deluded or a liar, and that acknowledgement of that bias first and foremost to self helps facilitate honest, in-depth reporting), the objectivity he shows in his review of my story is also praiseworthy, despite the excessive cost to Mesa Water’s ratepayers.

Mesa Water Director (and current board president) James Fisler, was both complimentary and critical:

  • Very good job Paul! No dodging, just telling it like it is and sticking to Mesa’s message and priority of providing water. Good questions by Earl and good answers by you. Shows Mesa Water is on top of it’s (sic) mission. Earl’s only attempted “gotcha” of people at mixers is a poor attempt. Business and chambers have mixers all the time. They are very important parts of getting business done and learning new things by networking. Again, great job.

Fisler was referring to my photos of him and other directors at a CalDesal mixer-meeting attended by about 100 water officials, consultants and representatives of the desalination industry, but nobody from the general public.

In another email later that day, Fisler added:

  • “…If it was supposed to be a hit piece or something it failed miserably. I need to get a picture of Earl eating a donut at WACO.”

Fisler was expressing a grudge against this reporter that he still holds to this day. Writing under the pen name “nogrowther” on the Orange Juice blog, he lashed out at me over a year ago for publishing the detailed objections of Irvine Ranch Water district director, Peer Swan, to the Poseidon ocean desalination project proposed for Huntington Beach.

Fisler bitterly complained that I didn’t say the pledge of allegiance at water Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) meetings, that I was unkempt in appearance and that I liked to eat the donuts that are left out at MWDOC meetings for water buffaloes like him.

Eventually, Fisler’s “gotcha” wish came true, about a year later at the recent (May) joint-meeting of MWDOC and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MET) held at the MWDOC board room in Fountain Valley.

I was sitting in one of the plebeian seats at the back of the room, directly opposite of the speaker’s podium, next to Debbie Cook, watching a presentation on MWDOC’s $120,000 video screen by MET’s general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger about the Sacramento Delta. We need to spend billions of dollars fixing the Delta levies and to build a big double-barreled tunnel to import more water to southern California, he said.

Kightlinger was predicting the disastrous consequences to California’s economy of a Delta broken to pieces by a 100-year earthquake – coming any day now. Suffering from acute sleep deprivation, I desperately walked over to the refreshment table to help myself to a glazed twister.

“Anything to stay awake,” I thought. “Must…help…save…the…Delta.”

Out of the 100 or so water buffaloes present, only Fisler seemed unable to pay attention to the important message and had become obsessed, as I lifted the doughnut, with watching me like a hawk from one of the big black MWDOC directors’ seats behind the dais.

Smelling blood, the upcoming Delta catastrophe apparently gone from his mind, Fisler approached me.

Standing over me just a few feet away, dour faced, he shyly snapped a couple of photos of me holding my doughnut on a plate and kindly offering it up to him. He still didn’t laugh or even smile.Then he walked back to his seat where, perhaps, his attention returned to more important matters.

One other interesting tidbit found in the exchange of emails is a missive from Poseidon’s VP, Scott Maloni, an important member of Mesa Water’s inner circle of close friends. Always angry over my critical reporting of the dreamed of but still elusive Huntington Beach ocean desalination plant over the years, he refuses to answer my media questions and long ago banned other Poseidon CEOs from doing so. In his email to Shoenberger, he wrote:

“Paul – As I’ve told Kevin Hunt [former general manager at MWDOC], John Earl is not a journalist; you don’t owe him ‘transparency.’ Nothing good will ever come out of engaging him and he’ll never be someone you can trust or befriend. Best to ignore him or have your staff handle him.”

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Posted in Headlines, Mesa, MWD, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water Boarding1 Comment

‘Nowaterdeal': Desal Plant Opponents Will Reach Out to Thousands of Orange County Voters

‘Nowaterdeal': Desal Plant Opponents Will Reach Out to Thousands of Orange County Voters

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A growing number of county ratepayers, inspired by the late Gus Ayer, and opposed to a plan by Poseidon Resources Inc. to build an ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach, have a message for the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) and its 28 member agencies:

No more secret negotiations or deals with Poseidon and don’t make us pay an additional $5 billion in local water bills—$8,500 per ratepayer—over the next 30 years for water that we don’t need.

Thirty-years is the time period in which the water agencies that contract with Poseidon would be required to pay for Poseidon’s desalinated water, whether it is needed or not, according to the water purchase agreement (WPA) made public by MWDOC in January.

The buyers “will agree to take (on a ‘take if delivered’ basis) [56,000] acre-feet per year of Product Water (the ‘Committed Amount’),” the WPA states. And if the buyers don’t take that amount of water, they will, “nonetheless pay Seller a per-acre foot charge to be set forth in the Contract…”

The WPA is not final, but it is the culmination of a decade-long relationship between MWDOC, its water agencies, and Poseidon.

The opposition group, heralding online as www.nowaterdeal.com, plans to spend tens-of- thousands of dollars to inform other ratepayers in high propensity voting areas of the county about Poseidon’s proposed “take or pay” contract, asking them to urge their local elected officials not to sign it.

Nowaterdeal is a coalition of members of Residents for Responsible Desal and other local ratepayers, including members of the Surfrider Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, and Orange County Coastkeepers, who at least until now had been fighting an uphill battle against Poseidon’s well financed lobbying efforts and a marketing campaign (largely unquestioned in the county’s major daily newspaper) that depicts its desalination plant as a future fallback point in case of prolonged drought or a natural disaster that would disrupt the flow of water to the public.

Poseidon would risk private investor flight without the guaranteed income, but take or pay would be risky for ratepayers if, as happened in drought drenched Australia, if the desalination plant were to sit idle due to lack of need. Currently, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which sells water to MWDOC, has more surplus water stored up now (enough for 2.5 years) than ever before—testament to the ability to create backup reliability water without Poseidon.

Ocean desalination’s high maintenance and construction costs—and much higher energy costs—make it too risky, nowaterdeal says. Stuck with higher water rates and an idle desalination plant, ratepayers would fall into a rate trap. “As rates go up, people use less water” and “lower demand results in even higher rates, with fixed costs of the entire system spread over fewer units of water.”

Pimping2

Gus Ayer: MWDOC is pimping for Poseidon and should be eliminated. Photo: John Earl

The high cost-prediction is from information provided by Poseidon in the WPA and factors in conveyance and maintenance costs. With an inflation rate of 3.5 percent factored in, that means an estimated cost of $1,795 per acre foot for the desalinated water, compared to $285 per acre foot for local groundwater and $835 per acre foot for imported water, nowaterdeal says.

Acknowledging the higher cost of desalination, Poseidon VP Scott Maloni recently told the OC Register that Orange County residents have to ask, “What is the value of that reliability to them?”

But the underlying push for desalination plants along the California coast by the desalination industry and other development related business interests is not about drought relief alone, as MWDOC/MWD director Brett Barbre pointed out at a recent MWDOC committee meeting.

Barbre supports the Poseidon project and a smaller, less controversial, desalination project envisioned (but far from certain) for Dana Point in south Orange County. He also thinks that ratepayers throughout the county should have to pay for both projects on the basis that they would benefit everyone, even in water districts that say they don’t want or need the water.

“I believe that desal is not only for reliability. It’s also for growth,” he said. “And there are folks on the environmental side who don’t want any growth and they think if you don’t build water projects you can conserve your way to provide enough water for everybody. And that’s not ever going to happen.”

Although most of Poseidon’s opponents have always been concerned about the environmental effects of ocean desalination, the main focus of their current campaign is economic, while advocating for the development of proven and much cheaper water sources, including the Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) groundwater replenishment system, capturing rainwater, and conservation.

To start, the group will focus on about 50,000 voters in 14 north county cities, including Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, La Palma, Orange, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Tustin and Westminster.

Twenty Orange County water agencies had signed non-binding letters of intent or memorandums of understanding with Poseidon to purchase, cumulatively, over 80,000 acre feet of water each year. Since those non-binding agreements expired in June, 2011, not a single agency has yet to renew.

Correction 02/05/2013: Eighteen agencies have signed Letters of Intent that have no expiration date, according to Karl Seckel, MWDOC’s acting General Manager. Those agencies, with the exception of Fullerton, are slated to participate in “working group discussions” regarding Poseidon during the 2012 fiscal year. Four other agencies are participating in working group discussions but have not signed LOIs. Participation in working group discussions is contingent upon signing a confidentiality agreement with Poseidon, but not all agencies that signed an LOI signed that agreement. The MOUs, which one presumes carried more weight, have all expired.

As Poseidon works to form an agreement with MWDOC and its member agencies, it requires all parties involved in project discussions to pledge absolute secrecy at Poseidon’s whim.

That lack of transparency and the overall elitist/exclusionary attitude at MWDOC and other OC water agencies, including their secret and arguably illegal meetings with Poseidon–all observed by a growing number of citizen spectators at water board meetings, as well as the company’s financial support of an ethically challenged hit piece in the recent Huntington Beach City Council campaign, have inspired Poseidon’s opponents, not only to challenge its political hegemony with a renewed vigor but to question the nature of Orange County water management as whole.

A temporary setback occurred for nowaterdeal when its chief strategist, former Fountain Valley mayor Gus Ayer, a master at crafting successful political campaigns in Orange County, died last week.

Earlier in the month, at a recent joint meeting of MWDOC and OCWD, Ayer praised the latter for its groundwater replenishment program and overall good management, but accused MWDOC of “mission creep” and “pimping for Poseidon.”

He also questioned whether MWDOC should exist.

“It’s time for OCWD to take a very close look at taking over these [MWDOC’s redundant] functions and eliminating MWDOC,” he said. Ayer expanded on that theme in a column written just before his death and published in the Surf City Voice.

Ayer’s untimely death saddened his colleagues but his upbeat attitude continues to motivate them.

“Gus’s last words to me were ‘Give them hell’”, recalled former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook, who, during the past two years, has actively campaigned for greater transparency in water management.

“That was his way of saying that, if we don’t participate in democracy, we deserve the inevitable results. Nobody can replace our friend’s skill set, but he sparked a fire that emboldens us to carry on.”

 

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Posted in Energy, Environment, Headlines, MWD, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water Boarding3 Comments

Can the Municipal Water District of Orange County Find A Reason to Exist?

Can the Municipal Water District of Orange County Find A Reason to Exist?

Editor’s note: Gus Ayer, the former mayor of Fountain Valley, was probably Orange County’s top progressive political strategist and activist. He passed away on Feb. 13, 2013. At that time he was about to unveil a major grassroots campaign to inform the county’s water ratepayers and their elected public officials that the nearly $1 billion ocean desalination plant proposed for construction in Huntington Beach was unnecessary and would cost about $5 billion extra over the next 30 years. That campaign, which he played a major role in organizing, is still underway. He submitted this column to the Surf City Voice a few days ago.

Analysis and Commentary
By Gus Ayer
Special to the Surf City Voice

Sometimes it’s fascinating to watch a public agency as it flounders around trying to find a reason to exist.

Lately, the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) is flailing like a beached whale.

After a Brooke Edwards Stagg OC Register article exposed the secretive nature of negotiations with Poseidon Resources for “Take or Pay” contracts on January 22, MWDOC scrambled into damage control mode.

  • Their General Manager was terminated after a hastily-called special Executive Session on February 1st, and is now relegated to a back room until his contract expires a few months from now.  Meanwhile an interim General Manager takes over his duties.
  • A press release linked to the term sheet of the Poseidon’s proposed “Take-or-Pay” contracts and a report on the costs of new pipeline projects was released and posted on Poseidon’s website. Sadly, it lacks the details that would allow any accurate analysis of the long term costs of the proposed plant.
  • MWDOC  is coming under increased scrutiny as a grassroots coalition begins a major public outreach program  to advise ratepayers how much they will pay for expensive desalinated water they don’t need.
  • IRWD Director Peer Swan publicly chastised them at a recent meeting for ignoring all of the efforts that had been made on a regional level to provide for water reliability, warning that they were recklessly advocating a project that would become a “stranded asset”
  • Simmering disputes between different regions of the county threaten to erupt again, which would lead for another round of talks about cities seceding from MWDOC or just eliminating this agency and their bureaucracy.

Just What is MWDOC?

The hierarchy of Water districts can be confusing.

We pay our water bills to local water agencies, including many individual cities, independent agencies like the Irvine Ranch Water District, and even one privately owned water company, Golden State Water.

One regional agency manages our groundwater supplies (Orange County Water District).

Another super regional agency manages imported water for most of Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District, commonly known as “MET”.

Then we have MWDOC, which was established in 1951 to administer purchases of imported water from Met on behalf of smaller Orange County cities and unincorporated areas.  MWDOC’s original role role was just as a middleman between MET and 16 small cities with a population of around 80,000.  Three cities (Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Fullerton) were big enough to buy water directly from MWD.

In the boom days after World War II, MET was seeking customers to buy the water from the Colorado River Aqueduct. Orange County developers were looking for more water to meet the demands for swathes of development that would replace agriculture and ranching.

What Does MWDOC Do?

MWDOC has seven elected directors. They appoint four directors to the MET board. They share a headquarters building with the Orange County Water District in Fountain Valley.

MWDOC holds seven redundant meetings a month, each of which guarantees a $221.62 daily payment to each of its seven directors, who typically  attend all committee meetings and also receive benefits and health insurance.   Directors also travel, with a budget over $30,000 a year to attend local, state and national conferences (not including their meeting payments).  If you are one of the directors appointed to MET, you also get paid to attend MET meetings.

In a recent year one director, Director and MET rep Brett Barbre was paid $51,859 for attending 242 meetings and also cost rate-payers $17,435 for benefits, including pension and health insurance.  This wasn’t his day job. He also is a lobbyist for clients like trash-hauler Athens Services.

In an OC  Register Watchdog  http://taxdollars.ocregister.com/2010/03/05/when-brainstorming-costs-nearly-500000/52647/  article, he is described as a “political operative,”  and campaign finance records show that Barbre was paid $20,000 plus expenses for consulting on Troy Edgar’s 2012 campaign for State Assembly.

MWDOC’s Mission

In addition to doing the accounting for MET purchases and sending four people to attend meetings of MET’s 51 person board, MWDOC has struggled to expand its mission to include:

  1. Administering Water Efficiency grants for Orange County cities trying to do the bare minimum of effort under statewide mandates.
  2. A few education programs
  3. Sponsoring breakfasts, dinners and seminars where vendors, consultants and lobbyists can hobnob with elected officials, all subsidized with ratepayer funds and agency staff time.

MWDOC and Desalination

MWDOC directors seem determined to play in the world desalination: turning sea water into drinking water, although MWDOC has no construction management experience and no experience in operating water systems. We might attribute this ambition to their sense of impotence with the bigger players, boredom, or the need to justify their existence. Beware of arrogance combined with incompetence—it often leads to disastrous outcomes.

It’s unclear that MWDOC has any legal authority to undertake any efforts in this area.

Historically, the cities and water agencies that belong to MWDOC have chafed at their budgets and MWDOC’s financial management.  The underlying tensions became so high several years ago that South County agencies looked at seceding from MWDOC to form their own agency. In a settlement agreement, MWDOC committed to a new compact that made several changes,

1.)    MWDOC agreed to change the way it billed for its services to lower costs for South County agencies.

2.)    MWDOC agreed to a specific list of services that they would undertake and differentiated between Core and Choice services

3.)    MWDOC agreed to listen to South County agencies regarding appointments to the MET Board.

4.)    MWDOC agreed to reduce their bloated reserve funds.

Under this agreement it’s very clear that spending on desalination projects is listed under the Choice category, where cities have a right to participate. Although Director Brett Barbre speaks about changing what’s in each category, the actual agreement signed by the cities has no mechanism to do this. Barbre favors placing ocean desalination in the Core category, but any attempt by MWDOC to redefine Desalination projects as core projects would likely lead to renewed secession attempts or lawsuits.

Calls for Abolishing MWDOC

How many water agencies do we need, each with their own expenses for directors and their benefits, lobbyists, consultants and public relations staffs? MWDOC directors recently discussed a project to renovate the exhibits in the hallway that they share with OCWD, with a budget of $1.3 million dollars plus staff time.

The Orange County Grand Jury recommended consolidating water agencies to reduce costs and provide services more efficiently. Others have recommended that MWDOC reduce its role back to the simple accounting functions it was originally designed to achieve, with its other functions transferred to other agencies with a strong record of success, like the Orange County Water District and the Irvine Ranch Water District.

We think that’s a great idea. MWDOC has outlived its usefulness and their continued mission creep wastes the ratepayers’ dollars and creates mischief. MWDOC’s functions can easily be absorbed into other agencies and it’s time to start a process to sunset this relic of a bygone era.

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Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWD, MWDOC, Water Boarding3 Comments

Election Changes: Poseidon Desalination Plan Isn’t Popular With New Huntington Beach City Council

Election Changes: Poseidon Desalination Plan Isn’t Popular With New Huntington Beach City Council

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Poseidon, the God of the Sea, might have suffered a tsunami headache after seeing the results of the Nov. 6 election for the Huntington Beach City Council.

That’s because in December, when three newly elected city council members are sworn into office, the current 5 – 2 majority of the faithful will become a solid 5-2 majority of non-believers in Poseidon Resources Inc.’s nearly $1 billion ocean desalination plant proposed for the southeast corner of Huntington Beach.

Since 2004, the council has approved city permits and certifications for the desalination project regardless of incomplete environmental impact reports, threats to a fragile marine eco-system, the need to dig up local streets for a 10-mile-long pipeline, and skyrocketing cost increases ($150 million to nearly $1 billion).

All that in order to give water to Orange County residents that will cost them about three times as much as water from other sources and for a project that eschews sustainable water and energy management, including conservation, in favor of unlimited exploitation of natural resources for maximum corporate profit, regardless of the long-term consequences of urban sprawl and global warming.

Two of the newly elected Poseidon opponents, Jill Hardy and Dave Sullivan, return to the council after two previous terms ending in 2010 in which they voted repeatedly against the project. The third, newcomer James Katapodis, supported Poseidon in his previous unsuccessful election attempt but changed his position after meetings with local Poseidon opponents.

They will join incumbents Connie Boardman and Joe Shaw to form a new anti-Poseidon city council majority.

In desperation, Poseidon helped fund three sleazy anti-Hardy mailers that portrayed her as “anti-children” and all but a child molester for opposing a lift on the city’s ban on fireworks.

But that plan seemed to backfire.

Polling conducted a few weeks prior to the mailers showed Hardy coming in second behind Dave Sullivan, with pro Poseidon candidate Barbara Degleize next. But Hardy finished with over 2,000 votes more than Katapodis and Sullivan who finished second and third respectively.

Whether the new anti-Poseidon city council will be able to stop Poseidon’s ocean desalination dream from becoming reality seems doubtful but not impossible.

First, the Municipal Water District of Orange County is pondering the purchase of Poseidon’s water for resale to its 28 member agencies in Orange County (as opposed to the current strategy of separate agreements between the company and each agency). That would give the city a vote on whether MWDOC should enter into an agreement with Poseidon or not, in which case the new council would be inclined to vote no.

Second, Poseidon’s Coastal Development permit is under appeal before the Coastal Commission. The issue is whether the city violated its own Local Coastal Plan. Depending on how the Coastal Commission rules, the permit could be sent back to the city council for another vote.

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Posted in Energy, Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water3 Comments

Revisions in Progress: Surf City Voice resumes regular publication July 23, announces Cal Water News debut

Revisions in Progress: Surf City Voice resumes regular publication July 23, announces Cal Water News debut

By John Earl
Editor/Publisher

The Surf City Voice is taking a working vacation in order to make revisions that are necessary to improve our coverage of water management issues in Orange County and southern California. On July 23 we will resume regular publication with updated coverage of previous stories and brand new stories. Rest assured, this is not down time: we will continue gathering news in the no-nonsense investigative fashion that thousands of readers have grown accustomed to since our start two years ago. In fact, when we resume publication we will be expanding our coverage of water news statewide with the opening of our companion news portal, Cal Water News (www.calwaternews.org). Cal Water News will address, in part, the problem of news blackouts by mainstream media, non-profit, and corporate news services of stories related to transparency and misconduct by water management officials. It will also actively encourage and assist public citizens to become more involved in the management of the water that they own.

Posted in Headlines, MWD, MWDOC, Water Boarding0 Comments

Prenuptial Agreement Stops Investigation of MET Chairman John V. Foley

Prenuptial Agreement Stops Investigation of MET Chairman John V. Foley

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

The Fair Political Practices Commission has cleared the chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MET), John V. Foley, of allegations that he violated the Political Reform Act.

The allegations were made in a complaint filed by Merle Moshiri, a Huntington Beach resident, last March, alleging multiple income reporting and conflict of interest violations by Foley. The FPPC ruing is dated April 17.

Moshiri alleged that Foley failed to disclose at least $640,000 of income from his wife’s consulting business from 2004 to 2011 and another $15,000 that he earned as a private consultant to the Moulton Niguel Water District since he retired as that agency’s general manager in 2008. Moshiri claimed he also violated the Act by voting on issues that affected his wife’s financial interests.

Public officials are required by the Act to disclose all reportable income on financial disclosure (700) forms that are filed as public records with their local public agencies or the state. They are also required to disclose conflicts of interest and to recuse themselves from any votes that could result in financial benefit for them or their spouses.

The foundation for the complaint’s dismissal is a prenuptial agreement between Foley and his wife, Mary Jane Foley, which provides a loophole that arguably tests the effectiveness of the Act in protecting the public from conflicts of interest held by public officials. Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, MWD, MWDOC, Water Boarding1 Comment

Proposed MWDOC Transparency Reform Meets Inside Resistance

Proposed MWDOC Transparency Reform Meets Inside Resistance

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Municipal Water District of Orange County Director Brett Barbre’s proposal to increase transparency at the agency through self-policing of financial and conflict of interest disclosures is moving at a snail’s pace, if at all.

Last February, Barbre told the Voice that he wanted to have the MWDOC board of directors certify that to the best of its knowledge no conflicts of interest exist for its elected directors, representatives that it appoints to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), and all MWDOC employees who are required to report under state disclosure regulations.

Barbre would have the board review so-called 700 financial disclosure forms and compare income sources to a list of MWDOC vendors to help weed out potential conflicts of interest.

“I believe we need to police ourselves,” Barbre said, in an e-mail to the Voice at that time. “If it’s not placed on the agenda, look for some fireworks,” he advised.

It wasn’t put on the agenda, but Barbre brought the issue up anyway March 14 under another, broader, agenda item during the last moments of a meeting of the Administration and Finance Committee, which he chairs. A brief but telling discussion ensued with board president Jeffrey Thomas cautiously agreeing to place the item on April’s meeting agenda.

But the item has yet to be discussed in detail or for purposes of a vote because General Manager Kevin Hunt, acting on instructions from Thomas, who Hunt says acted on advice of legal counsel, kept it off the agenda. Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, MWD, MWDOC, Water Boarding0 Comments

Water Board’s Penthouse-View Meeting: More transparency please, and save some food for the water buffaloes

Water Board’s Penthouse-View Meeting: More transparency please, and save some food for the water buffaloes

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A “special” meeting of the Board of Directors of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), originally designed by Best Best & Krieger of Irvine– the largest public agency law firm in California – to schmooze its new clients, became a public embarrassment Tuesday when the plush solitude of its penthouse-view executive board room was invaded by a small band of transparency advocates.

MWDOC meetings are normally held on the ground (and only) floor of its home office, humbly but conveniently located next to the County’s sewage treatment plant in Fountain Valley.

Despite the surprise BBK location, in addition to the usual inconvenience of morning meetings that are designed to accommodate MWDOC’s directors, most of whom are retired from professional life, but not the working public, 10 citizens at large—a rare turnout by MWDOC standards—attended, barely fitting into a small setting that clearly wasn’t intended for them.

But that setting was perfect for MWDOC’s seven water buffaloes: a towering view of Irvine’s skyline to be enjoyed with two large bowls of salad, what looked like two large dishes of lasagna, and plenty of chunky chocolate chip cookies, all nicely placed buffet style.

BBK’s recent additions, partner Russell G. Behrens and counsel Daniel J. Payne, both know what six of the seven MWDOC directors like (the seventh, Wayne Osborne, is a new comer) because they worked for them before as part of Kidman Behrens and Tague.

In January they left KBT for BBK and took MWDOC with them, entering into a five month test, according to MWDOC’s General Manager, Kevin Hunt. The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was for BBK to seduce and corral MWDOC’s water buffaloes, thus sealing the deal.

So BBK’s managing partner, Eric Garner, used his very brief presentation to try to impress the board with the firm’s expertise in public agency law in general and water law in particular.

“When I’m not managing lawyers, I do still practice water law,” Garner cheerfully explained. “It would be a great privilege to work with the district if the opportunity ever arises for the need for my expertise. I can’t imagine ever practicing any water (sic) but water law to me. It is by far the most fascinating, interesting area in the legal world.”

Garner might get that opportunity to use his expertise sooner than he expected; but, judging from the sour look on his face, he wasn’t happy to hear former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook infer that the opportunity would only arrive due to BBK’s incompetence. Continue Reading

Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water Boarding2 Comments

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