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LA County Supervisors Move to Explore Taking Over Central Basin Water District

Central Basin Water InvestigationEXCLUSIVE 6/4/14 10:20 P.M. 

 

By Brian Hews and Randy Economy

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has taken the unusual move to force its way into the legal quagmire that has plagued the Central Basin Municipal Water District during a public meeting held at the Hall of Administration on Wednesday morning.

A political bomb was dropped on the Commerce based public agency when LA County Supervisor Chairman Don Knabe began to explore the process of taking over the agency.

Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper has learned from several sources that Knabe has been holding private meetings inside his operations that led to the approval of an agenda item that directs County Chief Executive Officer William “Bill” Fujioka as well as the Director of Public Works to open up “consultative” negotiations with Central Basin officials.

Knabe’s plan, according to documentation obtained by HMG-CN, instructs all county officials to “consult with Central Basin Municipal Water District to ensure all necessary steps are being taken by Central Basin to immediately address and correct their ongoing problems; in consultation with County Counsel, major water stakeholder agencies within the County and at the Regional and State levels, as well as the County’s Sacramento Legislative Representative.”

Knabe’s motion also calls for a discussions that will center on what he called “the situation affecting Central Basin and to investigate options to ensure continued water availability and service to Central Basin’s customers, including the option of having another local water management agency undertake Central Basin’s responsibilities.”  Knabe is asking that a report be prepared and submitted back to the Board of Supervisors in 90 days with “findings and recommendations.”

The motion went on to say,” Several major issues have arisen that potentially threatens the ability of Central Basin to effectively serve its customers within Los Angeles County, the most recent being the cancellation of Central Basin’s insurance policy as a result of industry concerns about rising liability claims. Reforms are clearly needed at the Central Basin. Due to the magnitude of the County population that would be affected by the ongoing problems at Central Basin, the Board of Supervisors must consider the full range of potential options to maintain water availability to our constituents.

HMG-CN contacted CBMWD GM Tony Perez who said, “CBMWD is completely willing and anxious to work with County Staff to demonstrate that CBMWD has made great progress in turning around the agency, and we feel we are right track on serving its mission to deliver quality services and water to our constituents.”

HMG-CN attempted to contact Chairman Knabe but texts and phone calls were not returned.

For the last 18 months, Hews Media Group Community News has reported on the embattled Central Basin Municipal Water District (CBMWD) and was instrumental in rooting out corruption and cronyism and holding the Commerce agency accountable for its actions.

The agency had problems before Leticia Vasquez and James Roybal were elected, but once Roybal and Vasquez were elected, the problems seemed to multiply.

HMG-CN exclusively discovered that Roybal was in LAUSD “teacher jail” and attending paid-CBMWD meetings, a violation of LAUSD policy. Sources tell HMG-CN that the LAUSD Inspector General has completed the investigation and is reviewing its options in dealing with Roybal.

HMG-CN reported that Director Leticia Vasquez filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the very agency she was elected to serve costing the agency over $500,000 in legal fees.

HMG-CN also exposed that GM Art Aguilar had approved several no-bid contracts in favor of Pacifica Services, owned by Ernie Camacho, and that Pacifica’s employees, who had offices at CBMWD, were sending out hundreds of racially insensitive emails. After the articles CBMWD fired Pacifica and removed all employees from the premises.

Despite all this, CBMWD GM Tony Perez kept the agency afloat. Perez negotiated an insurance contract that will be in place after June 30, 2014, has kept reserves over $13 million, settled all potential lawsuits, and consummated the biggest sale in the history of CBMWD ready to go through in September 2014.

It looked as if the agency was finally headed in the right direction, but this newest attempt by Knabe and other county officials calls that progress into question.

HMG-CN will continue to follow this situation throughout the coming days.

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