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Commentary by Lynne Plambeck
| Thursday, Feb 11, 2016

mug_lynneplambeckThere’s an old journalist’s trick used by every reporter at one time or another to track down information from public agencies. It’s called a Public Records Act request.

A public record request is a formal request for information based on the California Public Records Act, approved by the Legislature in 1968 and signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. This important public protection begins by declaring that “access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”

Under this law, “access to government records has been deemed a fundamental interest of citizenship.” It emphasizes that “maximum disclosure of the conduct of governmental operations (is) to be promoted by the act.” By promoting prompt public access to government records and thus transparency of agency actions, this law is “intended to safeguard the accountability of government to the public.”

Of course, it is not just journalists who use this law to access public information. Any member of the public can make a request for information and has the right to obtain it (with certain limitations), if such information exists.

So when Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) members attended the short Valencia Water Co. shareholders meeting on Jan. 25 – it was all over in about 30 minutes – and then made a public records request for all of the financial or other information provided to the Shareholder’s Committee, we fully expected we would get some information. After all, these gentlemen are overseeing a $73 million stock investment on behalf of the taxpayers of this valley.

 

Background

As readers will undoubtedly recall, in December 2012 in a lightning-swift action orchestrated behind closed doors, the Castaic Lake Water Agency illegally acquired Valencia Water Co. from Newhall Land-Lennar Corp., its former owners. The purchase was illegal because CLWA’s enabling act does not permit it to operate as a water retailer outside of specified boundaries as described in their act. The reason for this is to guard against a water monopoly in our valley.

The deal took place over the winter holidays with only 24 hours’ notice to the public. It cost the taxpayers $73 million, and we had no say in this purchase.

The purchase contract set forth, among other things, the provision of water to 30,000 housing units in Newhall Land-Lennar projects on the west side of our valley. There was a huge public outcry against this action, and litigation to unwind the deal is still tied up in court, putting Valencia Water Co. in limbo.

The Valencia Shareholder’s Committee is a committee of CLWA set up to oversee its legally dubious acquisition of Valencia Water Co. It is made up of five CLWA board members: Bill Pecsi, Jerry Gladbach, R.J. Kelly, William Cooper and Tom Campbell. The information is provided to the committee by Dan Masnada, who has now been hired as a private consultant to CLWA. Each board member receives about $200 for attending these short meetings.

Meetings of the Shareholder’s Committee are not held regularly, and in fact no shareholder meeting had been held since July 20, so one would of course expect that some report regarding the financial state of the water company would be provided to the committee at the January meeting. One would also expect that the committee members would ask for such information.

 

Overseeing a $73 million public asset with no information?

But at the January meeting, no written information was available to the public. Only sketchy verbal information was provided to the committee members who did not ask for details.

In response to SCOPE’s Public Records Act request for financial details on this $73 million public asset, we received only two paragraphs regarding valve maintenance program and rip rap.

We did not receive a monthly budget report – something routinely provided at City Council meetings, school board meetings and every board meeting of the directors of Newhall County Water District about their agencies. We did not receive financial reports, a balance sheet, a check registrar or any other financial information.

And apparently neither did the CLWA Shareholders Committee members.

The question is, why?

Do they have so little concern for the taxpayers’ money they are supposed to be overseeing? Do they not think a $73 million investment needs oversight? Or are they hiding something from the public?

It seems to me that everyone in this valley should be asking about this serious breach of duty by these board members. What in the world are they doing on behalf of the public for their $200 meeting stipends?

This is also a prime example of why everyone is this valley should be worried about the current proposal to make this same agency, CLWA, a water monopoly controlling all of the water in the entire Santa Clarita Valley. With this lack of transparency, who knows what would go on with our water?

 

Lynne Plambeck is president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment and an elected member of the Newhall County Water Board. Her opinions are her own.

Comment On This Story
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12 Comments

  1. Michael Hunt says:

    The only thing sketchy is that 25 year picture of the article’s author.

  2. Bruce Hector MD says:

    Thanks to Lynne Planbeck for doggedly following and reporting this non-transparent behavior by our public servants. Keep on ’em.

  3. Isaac Lieberman says:

    $73 milllion dollars of taxpayer money spent with no financial data available?

    Didn’t CLWA illegally purchase, or attempt to purchase, ANOTHER water retailer in this valley more than 10 years ago?

    Chinatown was a fascinating movie about money, power, and corruption in the Southern California water business. I wonder if its available on Netflix?

    Many thanks, Lynne Plambeck, for keeping your eyes on these crucial issues in Santa Clarita and letting us know when things aren’t looking right.

  4. David Barlavi says:

    Nice

  5. Carole Lutness says:

    Thanks to Lynne and SCOPE for being ever vigilant and alerting our citizens about wrongdoing by public government agencies such as CLWA that have been captured by corporate forces.

  6. Barbara Cogswell says:

    I have known Lynne Plambeck for the last 13 years of what another commenter describes as “sketchy” history, and find her to be solidly for this valley’s consumer, always looking to our best interests…That sufficient water exists to warrant new construction, and that new construction companies provide their share to pay for increased costs to the taxpayer.
    and definitely that the water remain clear of contaminents. I say Yeah Lynne !

  7. Sally White says:

    Lynne Plambeck, a guardian of our valley and the very quality of life that we experience. She is vigilent, always watchful, and can detect shenanigans almost before they actually happen! We are blessed to have her living in our midst!
    KEEP UP THE EXCELLENT WORK, LYNNE!!!

  8. Rosemarie says:

    Thanks Lynne for this extremely important information. Unfortunately many of us are not able to keep up with the shinanigans these powerful officials are doing!

  9. C. Harris says:

    My question: How did CLWA get $73 MILLION in the first place
    and how did they get $71 MILLION bond passed without either getting voter approval? At the ” informational” meeting the other night on the possible “take-over” of the Newhall County Water Agency it was made CLEAN that even the recycled water from OUR Valley would go to the Newhall Ranch project West of !-5, not a drop for OUR Central PARK.
    I don’t know about you but I am tired of having my lawn turn brown and reduce the value just so more houses can be built. I am also “tired” of saving shower water for the plants and NOT flushing the toilet unless it is brown. MY NEWHALL neighborhood want our water to stay in NEWHALL. We like our water company as it is run by dully elected members of OUR community with Ms. Pllambeck receiving the MOST votes!!!

  10. Catherrine Flynn says:

    Citizens can’t make informed decisions if the facts are hidden behind closed doors. The Brown Act was intended to stop just the sort of thing Ms. Plambeck has alleged. Taxpayers need MORE representatives like her; she takes her responsibilities seriously and is as honest as they come.

  11. C. Harris says:

    Question: The Newhall Water Board was all for and voted to sue the CLWA then did a total reversal in CLOSED section. WHY? WHAT happened to change their mind to NOW want to be taken over by CLWA? What were the Board members promised ? HUM? Someone knows something and IT WILL come out. Question is WHO or HOW MANY will be going to jail? Just like the rats floating in the sewer, someone will be pushed off the raft to try to save themselves.

  12. jim soliz says:

    Thanks for the great article!!! FYI similar problems being raise3ed in Palmdale!!!

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