BY BRIAN HEWS • May 31, 2020
This past week, Hews Media Group was first to report that Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell) co-sponsored SB 625, a bill that would place Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District, a public agency with elected officials, into receivership.
The bill would dissolve the current board of directors and cancel the November 2020 election.
The agency has its problems but they are not endemic; directors who were appointed under Garcia’s AB 1724, passed in 2016, are not allowing the agency to move forward with its regular business.
The appointed directors have banded together with Garcia, elected Director Bob Apodaca, three CB employees, and water purveyors inside CB’s boundaries in an attempt to eliminate and transfer the assets of the agency.
Among other things, the directors and employees leave meetings and refuse to write checks to cover crucial expenses – all while cutting payroll to themselves.
Garcia wants receivership despite the fact that there are no safety issues with the water, the agency has the revenue to cover expenses, boasts $8 million in reserves and owns an $8 million building free and clear.
But an HMG investigation could stop all that and cause Assembly and Senate officials to think twice about Garcia’s bill and stop the attempted privatization of Los Angeles’ water system.
An examination of several campaign finance documents on FollowtheMoney.org and the California Secretary of State’s website Cal-Access has revealed a complex web of relationships and monetary donations related to elected officials favoring CB’s take over.
The investigation found that Garcia took thousands from water purveyors inside Central Basin Municipal Water’s boundaries, the same purveyors causing problems inside the agency itself.
In addition, the documents showed several possible campaign finance violations.
The same water purveyors inside CB boundaries that gave money to Garcia donated thousands to several political action committees (PAC’s), with the PAC’s turning around and giving money to Garcia.
Finally, the investigation found a massive web of donations – from the same purveyors and PAC’s that gave to Garcia – paid to elected officials who have their name on AB 625.
Influential names such as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Ian Calderon, and Steven Bradford, who co-authored and is carrying the bill.
Bradford’s co-authoring of the bill has many scratching their head; his district has very little to do with CB, unlike Sen. Lena Gonzales and Sen. Bob Archuleta who command 99% of CB’s area.
The donations by the individual water purveyors and PAC’s to candidates present a laundry list of conflicts, implications of pay-to-play and possible campaign finance violations.
The purveyors who gave money are all inside Central Basin’s boundaries including Whittier-based San Gabriel Valley Water; Whittier-based Cadway/California Domestic Water; Downey-based Park Water and Liberty Utilities.
One of the most questionable donations was by San Gabriel Valley Water, who donated $16,900 to Garcia.
SGVW is current Garcia-appointed CB Director Dan Arrighi’s employer.
Arrighi, who is an ally of Director Bob Apodaca, has been adamant about stopping all business at CB, constantly leaving meetings and unwilling to negotiate a truce brokered by CB’s current attorney Anthony Willoughby.
Park Water is based in the city of Downey and is on the Assembly record supporting Garcia’s bill.
Park buys water from CB and delivers to Downey, Downey’s Assistant City Manager is John Oskoui, another Garcia-appointed director who currently sits on the CB’s board.
Oskoui has been even more destructive in his efforts to take over CB, pulling agenda items involving litigation off closed session meetings without informing other Directors and nearly defaulting on the questionable termination lawsuit filed by former CB General Manager Kevin Hunt.
Liberty Utilities counts as one of its employees Frank Heldman, another dysfunctional Garcia appointed CB Director who resigned under a shadow of corruption after an HMG article found Heldman filing false 700’s. He also attempted to broker a deal between Liberty and Sativa Water while a Director at CB.
Individual Company Donations to Candidates
Arrighi’s company, San Gabriel Valley Water, gave Garcia-
- $4,700 in 2012
- $4,700 in 2014
- $3,000 in 2016
- $2,500 in 2018
- and just recently gave $2,000 in 2020.
SGVW gave Speaker Rendon $5,600 from 2014-2016 and gave Calderon $6,500 from 2014-2018.
California Domestic Water Company, also known as Cadway, is another water purveyor in CB’s area; Cadway gave Garcia $2,500 in 2016 and $2,200 in 2018.
But these companies, with already questionable connections, did not stop at the individual level, donating over $128,000 to PAC’s that would eventually support Garcia, Rendon, Calderon, and Bradford.
Individual Company Donations to PAC’s
Three PAC’s were beneficiaries of the SGVW, Liberty/Park, and Cadway donations:
- California Water Association
- California Association of Mutual Water Companies
- Consumers for Clean Water.
The California Water Association was the biggest recipient, garnering over $58,000 in donations;
second was Consumers for Clean Water who took in $21,600 from Cadway and $22,100 from SGVW. Last was California Association of Mutual Water Companies, who took in $25,900 from the apparent cash-cow Cadway.
PAC’s Donations to Candidates
The CWA, flush with money donated by water purveyors who have a clear conflict of interest, donated to all the major players involved with SB 625. The donations are total numbers:
- $7,500 to Garcia (2012, ’14, ’16, ’18)
- $5,000 to Rendon (2014)
- $5,800 to Calderon (2012, ’16,’18)
- $9,000 to Bradford (2012, ’16)
And in what looks like pay-to-play, CWA gave Bradford, who is carrying the bill and who is up for re-election in November, $3,000.
Information from Followthemoney.org showing CWA giving Bradford $3,000
Next in line was Consumers for Clean Water who took in $43,700 from Cadway and SGVW; Consumers gave Rendon $4,100.
Last was the California Association of Mutual Water Company PAC. After taking $25,900 from Cadway, the PAC turned around and gave Garcia $2,000 in 2016 and $3,200 in 2018.
The Conflicts Continue
HMG has obtained the agenda for the Assembly hearing on SB 625 in Sacramento tomorrow by the Committee on Local Government.
The lone argument for support of the bill is from the city of Downey, and is an almost exact copy of what current CB Director John Oskoui authored and read into the record at a Downey City Council meeting.
Also supporting the bill is the California Association of Mutual Water Company $5,200 to Garcia) and the California Water Association ($7,500 to Garcia).
Garcia’s first bill passed in 2016; during that year, the companies and PAC’s cited in this investigation gave $53,300.
$10,500 (19%) went to Garcia.
In 2018, the companies and PAC’s cited in this investigation gave $54,100; $9,400 (17%) went to Garcia.
This year, the two authors of the bill took $5,000 in donations; Bradford from a company who is on the record supporting AB 625 and Garcia from a company that has an employee on the Central Basin Board as a Director who wants to see an agency takeover.
Now Bradford and Garcia are paying them back.
CB Director Art Chacon told HMG, “Senate Bill 625 is an attempt to privatize a public water agency and deny the public their right to elect their representatives. Central Basin is not in financial dire straits nor fiscally unstable. The issue with Central Basin is a local political battle between private water companies and Central Basin. This bill lacks transparency and smacks of a blatant power grab by special interests. Central Basin is currently in litigation which will address the very issues in SB 625. The author of this bill never reached out to CBMWD nor communicated any concern of Central Basin’s operations. SB 625 should not be voted out of committee and let Central Basin handle its own political battles.”