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Asm. Cristina Garcia Demands D.A. Investigation of Central Basin While Ignoring Apodaca’s Assault of Vasquez

 
 

BY BRIAN HEWS

Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community News has obtained a letter written by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-58th) addressed to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey demanding Lacey “take action” against the current Central Basin (CB) Water Board, consisting of President Leticia Vasquez, Vice President Art Chacon and Directors Phil Hawkins and Martha Camacho-Rodriguez.

The grammatically challenged letter took aim at only those board members for “illegal acts.”

But Garcia, who herself was accused of harassing and crotch grabbing staffers, did not ask the district attorney to investigate Director Bob Apodaca, who was caught on video haranguing, threatening and eventually  assaulting Director Leticia Vasquez at the last CB Board meeting; several people in the audience witnessed the assault.

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HMG-LCCN has confirmed with the district attorney’s office that they have received the letter and it is “under review.”

Garcia’s letter refers to the contentious January 30 CB Board meeting, and specifically the voting process to appoint new officers. 

The letter started, “I urge you to take action against the Central Basin Water District Board of Directors, which has committed illegal acts and endangered the financial stability of the District. Against the advice of legal counsel, a group of four board members continued to have a meeting without a quorum and voted.”

Garcia first alleged that the board “Illegally appointed [the] President/Chair of the board.”

Present during that Jan. 30 meeting were Directors Vasquez, Martha Camacho – Rodriguez, Art Chacon, Phil Hawkins, and Garcia’s appointed Directors Dan Arrighi and Jahanshah “John” Oskoui. 

Apodaca, as he had done for the past several meetings, had a “emergency” and left.

A motion was made – and seconded – to begin the re-organization but the board could not reach a majority to appoint a new president or vice-president, so the vote defaulted to a “rotation process” as defined by Section 2.2 of Central Basin’s Administrative Code (Code).

The Code states, “Only in the event the Board is unable to agree on the selection of officers in any given year, then the position of President shall be filled by the most senior member of the Board by a rotation process.” 

As they had done in past meetings, CB attorney Steve O’Neil, Oskoui and Arrighi maintained that Apodaca, who has been president for the past five years, should be rotated in since he is the most senior member of the board.

The other board members objected saying that there was a successful motion to re-organize the board which ended Apodaca’s term, moving him to the bottom of the list, and that the next most senior member should move up. 

The board members made their argument, citing paragraph 3 in Section 2.2 of the Code which states,  “once the Director completes his full one-year term as President, he shall be placed at the bottom of the rotation list and all other Directors shall move up on the list.” 

But Oskoui and Arrighi sided with O’Neil, who was extremely argumentative toward the other board members during the entire meeting, and left the dais, lobbing inappropriate comments at the board while laughing like schoolchildren. 

But the two remained in the meeting room, while Vasquez, Chacon, Hawkins and Camacho-Rodriguez remained at the dais, and that triggered the argument about what constituted a quorum.

Currently the CB Board is comprised of eight members, but a seat is vacant because Frank Heldman, a CB Director appointed under Garcia’s AB 1794, resigned in 2019 under a cloud of controversy, which included trying to get his company Liberty Utilities to take over Sativa Water, when Central Basin was negotiating for the take-over.

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Since there are only seven seated members but eight seats, is a quorum – a majority- four members present or five members present?

In her letter, Garcia was siding with serial sexual harasser Apodaca and his cronies, Jahanshah Oskoui and Dan Arrghi and asserting a quorum was five.

All other members were claiming it was four and based their assertion on a 1987 court case.

In that Californian Court of Appeals case, Price vs. Tennant Community Services District, the court addressed a situation that exactly matches the the CB question.

The court asked “whether the quorum is changed if there is a vacancy on the board.” 

The Appeals Court found that the law expressly mandates a board, which is absent members due to a vacancy, can transact business if a majority of the remaining board members vote.

Given the vacancy of Heldman, a majority under the California Appeals Court ruling in Central Basin’s case is four.

As Oskoui and Arrghi watched from the audience, Director Leticia Vasquez quickly took over the meeting and proceeded to initiate the rotation appointment process per the Code asking Phil Hawkins, now the most senior member, if he would accept the president’s chair; Hawkins declined. 

The next choice was director Art Chacon, who also declined. The next in line was Vasquez, who accepted the position as president.

With four board members present on the dais, and Oskoui and Arrghi sitting in the audience, a vote was taken and Vasquez was installed as president on a 4-0 vote.

The board then voted on vice president, Hawkins once again declined but Chacon accepted and was appointed on a 4-0 vote.

It was at that time when Oskoui and Arrighi left the room, which ended the meeting, leaving several important time-sensitive agenda items on the table.

Second Allegation

Garcia’s second allegation stated, [the board] “illegally appointed a General Manager of the District, claiming to appoint a new one when the existing one is evidently on a leave of absence.”

Garcia was referring to Kevin Hunt as the GM who is on a “leave of absence;” but he was not on leave, Hunt had negotiated his release from CB in late December.

In August of last year, HMG–LCCN first reported that Hunt had violated his employment contract by consulting with another company through his outside firm Hunt-Thorton.

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In late December, the board, at its regular meeting, intended to fire Hunt over the violation, but Hunt allies Apodaca, Oskoui, and Arrighi left the meeting.

But attorney Steve O’Neil had discovered that Hunt’s 2019-’20 employment contract had never been renewed. The board leveraged that position and demanded a negotiated release of Hunt, which he accepted; a story was published by HMG-LCCN on Dec. 24.

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O’Neil’s letter to the board saying Hunt’s contract was not valid.

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The board then prepared to review General Manager candidates at a February meeting, but the meeting never officially occurred, called off after Apodaca assaulted Vasquez.

Counsel or Council

Garcia’s last accusation contained several spelling and grammatical errors that would make a 6th grade English teacher blush.

[The board] “illegally appointed a General Counsel by appointing a new council [sic] with the current council [sic],  appointed only five months ago, gives legal advice which the rogue board does not accept, and then act [sic] illegally to appoint a replacement.”

Similar to her other allegations, Garcia’s description stands in contrast to what actually happened.

In mid-January, several of the board members stated that during a closed session meeting, attorney Steven O’Neil made it clear his law firm was resigning from Central Basin.

Acting on that statement, the board subsequently agendized a review of attorney Anthony Willoughby at a special meeting and voted 4-0 to hire him as the agency’s new attorney.

Willoughby was present at the January 30 meeting but a defiant O’Neil, emboldened by Apodaca, Oskoui, and Arrighi, would not allow him to sit at the attorney’s table. Later the firm would admit they resigned.

Garcia’s letter finished, “Not only do these actions undertaken by this group of board members violate the Brown Act, the Water Code and Central Basins’ [sic] Administrative Code, but they are also reminiscent of previous actions taken, leading to the State Auditor’s Report.”

“We don’t know what Garcia is talking about,” said CB Vice President Art Chacon, “everything was properly done, this is a stunt to try and turn attention away from her failed bill.” 

“All the meetings were properly noticed, a legal quorum was present for the reorganization of the officers and the hiring of our attorney. It was O’Neil that gave us the advice we could fire Hunt, and we properly noticed the meeting to consider a new GM. “

“The financial stability portion of the letter shows Garcia’s ignorance of what actually is going on here, her appointees are causing all the financial problems. Jahanshah Oskoui, who is the Assistant City Manager for Downey, voted for an increase in our meter charge, and then the city of Downey turns around and files a lawsuit because of the increased meter charge, costing us tens of thousands. Other appointees were involved in selling assets without informing the remaining board members.” 

“Garcia’s bill has caused the problems here, it needs to be amended so we can get back to business.”

HMG-LCCN emailed Garcia for comment, her spokersperson, Ashley Labar wrote, “Assemblymember Garcia has no comment.”

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