June 27, 2020

MSWD Board Meeting, June 11 & 15, 2020

This report combines the two meetings of the Board of Directors of Mission Springs Water District on Thursday, June 11, and Monday, June 15, 2020.

Video of the June 11 meeting.

Video of the June 15 meeting.


Water Standby Assessments

Annual assessments on those parcels that don't have a meter, but have a water line running in front of them. Approved 5-0.


Sewer Standby Assessments

Annual assessment on those parcels that are not hooked up to the sewer system, but have a sewer line running in front of them. Approved 5-0.


Addition of Delinquent Accounts to County Tax Rolls

There are two lists of what appear to be delinquent accounts in the agenda packet. There was no discussion of this item, so no one said what the difference was between the two lists, but adding the amounts on both lists gives a total of $57,404.82. Approved 5-0.


Budget for FY 2020-2021

Approved 5-0. Any discussion took place at the budget workshop earlier this month. Video here.

Appropriations limit approved 5-0.

Employee classification plan (no changes from last year) approved 5-0.


Professional Services Contract for Sanderson Landscape Solutions

This is a contract to maintain landscaping and irrigation at 37 sites in the district. Bids were received from four companies:

  • Sanderson Landscape Solutions: $74,520
  • So. Cal. Land Maintenance, Inc.: $77,700
  • JP Tree Care: $91,120
  • Mariposa Landscapes: $96,169

Approved 5-0.


Professional Services Contract for Southern California Fleet Services, Inc.

This is for maintenance and repair of all 78 district vehicles and other equipment units. The amount of the contract is $100,000.

Approved 5-0.


Contract Agreement with Tryco General Engineering for 8th Street Sewer Line Repairs

The storm drain project on 8th Street, which is a flood control district project, not a water district project, will include a full pavement resurfacing of 8th Street. The water district has inspected its sewer lines (not the newly built storm drain) under 8th Street and found it in need of some repairs. This project is to get those repairs done before the repaving project so that (1) the street looks nice afterward and (2) the water district doesn't have to pay for the repaving.

There were two bids received for this:

  • Tryco General Engineering: $84,890
  • Tri-Star Contracting II, Inc.: $85,785

Approved 5-0.


West Valley Water Reclamation Facility Update

This is the new sewage treatment plant that the district will be building south of Dillon Road along Little Morongo Road. Plans are still being reviewed. The district is cooperating with the city, although it is not required to get permits from the city. There are plans for a regional conveyance line which would carry wastewater from somewhere (but not from the Horton Wastewater Treatment Plant) to the new plant. The district needs to acquire easements for this and some of the easements would be on Coachella Valley Conservation Commission land which was described as "not impossible." But partnering with the city for a road easement would be faster and easier.

Director Grasha said he wanted to schedule a meeting of the Engineering Committee (which consists of Director Grasha and Director Sewell) to raise some questions and get some answers. President Wright suggested a workshop so that all five directors could be involved. Director Grasha said he wanted to put together a list of concerns and questions and not feel like he has a timer running against him.

There are no timers at board meetings. If a director has a million questions on an item a board meeting is the place for him to get a million answers, but Director Grasha has been habitually shy about disclosing his opinions in regular board meetings.

Director Grasha expressed his paranoid fear that President Wright didn't want him to have a meeting. Why he allows his perception of President Wright's wishes to control his behavior he has never explained. President Wright said that in addition to a workshop any director can simply telephone staff and get answers to any questions. Director Grasha replied, "Because of the hostile work environment that you've allowed to be created down there, I find it difficult to allow some certain staff members to be around as the popularly-elected director on the board I think I have to protect the public as well as myself and staff. We have a situation that we're better served meeting like this."

At the Monday meeting Danny Friend provided more information. The total cost for the project will be around $50 million. Every month he reports on the two major components of that project which are the plant itself and the conveyance line. Initially, the conveyance line will provide startup flow for the new plant. The line does not, however, connect the two plants.

President Wright repeated her desire for a workshop rather than an Engineering Committee meeting to discuss the plant.

President Wright then moved on to the next item on the agenda, the consent agenda. When she requested a motion, Director Grasha raised his hand, requesting recognition.

Director Grasha: "Hello! Excuse me. Thank you. This has somehow turned into a staff meeting and not a board meeting. Let's try to remember this is a board meeting and not Arden's staff meeting. And that nobody that you spoke about a minute ago is going to be the one to approve or authorize this funding." [No one had been speaking about anyone. The discussion was solely about the new plant.]

"Since the day I got here you've told this board that without this new plant the stress that's on the existing plant is going to overwhelm the system with new connections. Now we're being told that we're not going to be able to use this new plant for that purpose." [The board had heard nothing of the sort.]

"So everything we've heard it's almost like this new bit of information comes in right under the wire after a new 3-year contract is issued and I'm telling you it's offensive to me and if the ratepayers knew what you just did, it would be offensive to them, and it should be offensive to every board member." [There was no new bit of information and "what you just did" was unanimously approve the contract with Tryco General Engineering.]

"You should all be running through that building with on fire after what just happened." [No censorship on my part, either the video recording or Director Grasha dropped a word.]

President Wright: "I don't understand what you're talking about."

General Manager Wallum: "We can explain that. It does take some stress off the plant."

Director Grasha: "Without a conveyance line, you can't connect them." [What a genius he is! This is exactly why the district is building a conveyance line, as the board was just told.]

GM Wallum: "The conveyance line will be built."

Director Grasha: "I'm not and no member of this board should vote to put these ratepayers into debt if you can't connect those two plants. And it would be simple to explain that, but with the microphone off and you going on to another item I can't ask a question about what is exactly the hold up between being able to run that line and how do we overcome that."

GM Wallum: "We'll explain that in the meeting."

Director Grasha: "Then when will the Engineering Committee have the meeting? Do I need to set a time and date, or do you guys want to do it? Because I don't want Nancy running the meeting with Dori Petee with her finger on the mute button. I'm sick and tired of this nonsense."

President Wright: "You know what, we can't talk about it or actually discuss this workshop. I don't know if we can right now, about when or where to have it or if anybody who else wants it besides you..."

Director Grasha: "Why are you so afraid of a committee meeting? You guys have your meetings all the time. I'm not allowed to go to those."

President Wright: "What meetings?"

Attorney: "Hold on. So the board, as I understand it, the decision's been made you're going to have a workshop on this. And then you can have the drilldown at that time, but the Board President is in control of the meeting, and under your rules, runs the meeting. So, it sounds like move on to the next agenda item."

Director Grasha: "I want to have a committee meeting. If she wants to chime in on the Zoom later or even listen on the side she can."

Attorney: "My understanding is you're going to have a workshop on this."

Director Grasha: "And a workshop is run by the President. A committee meeting is run by the chairman of the committee. That would be me. I've got a lot of questions and it's just opening bit of questions"

Attorney: "Well, that's why it's being done as a workshop, because presumably..."

Director Grasha: "Because that way you get to call the cops and escort me out of the building. Nonsense!"

President Wright: "Oh, come on. So we'll have a workshop and we'll decide when later."

Director Grasha: "Add ten grand to the pile I send out in mail against you people. It's disgusting! It's disgraceful, what you're doing."

President Wright: "I'm assuming all the other board members would also like to partake in the workshop. I have not heard any of them say 'No, no!'"


Directors' Comments

Just as President Wright was about to adjourn the Thursday meeting Director Grasha had something to say. "I can't imagine how you would be so calm when he just told you that he won't be able to connect the two plants. You're going to have two isolated plants. Based on what we were just told tonight, 70% of the reason why we're building this plant has just been wiped away, in my view. Not comfortable in getting this community with a hundred-million dollars worth of debt or whatever it is you guys are going to come up with, with a new district headquarters, and all of this other stuff, when you can't interchange between the two facilities. It's ridiculous."

President Wright: "That would be concerning to all of us."

Director Grasha: "Well, I would think so, but you don't seem to show any concern at all. You go through these meetings and as long as Steve doesn't get to talk then that was a good meeting. So here we are, six months from an election and you've got three guys who are probably going to be out on the curb because they won't take their hands off their own necks."

President Wright: "Do us a favor and bring your questions on Monday." She continued to speak, but I couldn't make out what she said because Director Grasha spoke over her.

Director Grasha: "I think we'll do it at the engineering meeting when it's been called."

I'm not going to sit here with a stopwatch to confirm it, but I would estimate that over the past 18 months the one director who has spoken far more than any other director during board meetings is Steve Grasha.

Filed under California,Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Politics | June 27, 2020 at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2020

Mission Springs Water District Final Public Hearing on Elections by Division, June 24, 2020

TL;DR: The Board of Directors chose Map 2.

The video of this meeting of the Mission Springs Water District Board of Directors can be viewed here.

Elections by Division

The only significant change from last week's hearing is the presence of the proposed ordinance to put elections by division into place. The ordinance also includes the voting order which will be:

  • 2020 - Divisions 2,3 and 4
  • 2022 - Divisions 1 and 5

The three proposed maps:
MSWD Board District Draft - Map 1-1
Draft - Map 1

MSWD Board District Draft - Map 2-1
Draft - Map 2


MSWD Board District Draft - Map 3-1
Draft - Map 3


Public Comment

Susan Warner commented via telephone. She wanted to know if the proposed divisions were encompassing communities. She said she has lived here only 9 months and doesn't know the area really well yet.

Next, written comments from Chuck Parker were read aloud. He urged the board to slow down. He asked what methods have been used to inform the community of this process. He thinks the process should be stopped until another hearing "several months in the future." He says people will feel left out if the process is rushed.

I'll point out here that this was the second request from the public for the board to go slower. Both requests were made by white men and neither of them acknowledged that slowing the process would mean that the current inequitable system where we elect Directors at-large would continue for another two years. OTOH, the board could approve one of these maps now and things would be much improved for the 2020 election. If there are refinements needed, those can be done when they redistrict in 2021.


Director Grasha made the point that no one asked for this to happen. "It's a mystery to me, how it became before us today. I don't think we'll ever find out the truth."

That's very strange. Director Grasha has been present at every board meeting where elections by division was discussed. He was present for all four of the public hearings. He voted along with the rest of the board in favor of every step of the process along the way. He must have had his memory erased.

He also asked if the board approved elections by division, could that be reversed later.

You don't need a lawyer to answer that one. It's an ordinance. If the board approves an ordinance, the board can also revise or repeal that ordinance...and face the consequences.

Director Grasha said he thought the ordinance itself constituted a change in the maps.

[If the maps are changed, then the board has to publish the revised maps and wait at least seven days for another hearing.]

He said this particular provision in the ordinance is the change: "In the event a vacancy occurs before the expiration of the term of a Director in office at the time this Ordinance takes effect, a person who is appointed or elected by special election to fill such vacancy may reside anywhere within the District." [emphasis added] All of the current members of the board represent the district at-large. If any of them have to be replaced before their terms are up, they will be replaced by another at-large Director. This provision dies a natural death after the 2022 elections, and would only come into play before then if a Director leaves the board.

The attorney clarified these issues in answering Director Grasha. He said that in answer to the question "Who asked for this," it was Director Grasha who asked for this. He was the one who suggested elections by division. President Wright pointed out that Director Grasha had bragged online that he was somehow solely responsible for initiating this process.

Director Grasha said he was happy that this process has moved forward, but he did not bring it to the board. "It was delivered to the board...by, I don't know who. It was brought to the board right after I was called on the front page of the Desert Sun a 'racist'." He believes the other four members of the board have pursued elections by division as part of a scheme whereby they could "chase him off the board." He did not say how this would be accomplished, nor why he thought he would be more effectively chased if there were elections by division. He said there was "egg on every face on this screen," without explaining what that meant.

Director Sewell said that he recalled MSWD started this process right after Desert Water Agency had completed their conversion to elections by division. The MSWD board decided to be proactive and not wait for the inevitable letter from the attorney.

Director Grasha brought up a comment made by President Wright at the previous hearing which was that it was important to keep Mission Lakes Country Club in division 1, which is mostly county. Mr. Grasha said he lives in a [proposed] division where there is only one voter in one square mile. "I'm the only voter," he clarified. I believe Mr. Grasha lives in the Two Springs RV Resort on Indian Canyon. He did not say if he means he is the only registered voter there or that he's the only one who actually votes there. He wanted to know why, if it was important for one community to be in the mostly county district, it was not important for another community to do the same?

The easy answer is that if they created a division that included all the county areas west of the city, the population numbers would be too far off from the constitutionally permitted deviation of 5%. Also, it would put both President Wright and Director Grasha in the same division. If he is trying to say that he would like to run against President Wright, he never makes that clear.

Director Grasha went on, "No one should doubt what is really happening in here. What we're really attempting to do is carve out entire sections of the community from this election cycle to protect one favored board member from having opponents file against him. And those opponents would come from a particular area that have now been written out. They won't have any ... they won't be able to run for office. They won't be able to vote. And I think it's offensive that this board is doing it for that reason. There's no doubt that's what's happening in here. There's no doubt that the reason this is before us is because this district's attorneys caused another district to go in a direction they were forced to go in by our own counsel. And I find that offensive. And I find it offensive we're paying him two-hundred thousand dollars this last month to dump us in this trash can. It's a dumpster fire. It's your fault. And now you're going to have to live with it and for me, all I have to do is drag my trailer across the street."

President Wright had been trying to interrupt him for a while, and finally the attorney brought his rant to an end.

Director Grasha has never made any suggestions or motions to revise the process, to slow it down, or to revise any of the maps. The board has voted unanimously every step of the way, so he is at least 20% responsible for where the board finds itself. I don't know who the "favored board member" is but if I had to make a bet, he's probably referring to Vice President Duncan. How going to elections by division will protect any individual board member, I have no idea and Director Grasha never said. I don't know where this geographical area is that he thinks all the candidates would come from, nor why he thinks they would be denied the right to run and vote in their own division. I think every one of the five divisions has intelligent, interested people who might run for the board now that they know they only have to carry their division, not beat out everyone in at-large races.

The attorney asked the demographer "Mr. Ely, did you create the maps that you created in order to protect one particular board member of Mission Springs Water District?" Mr. Ely answer, "No, I was completely unaware of where any of the board members lived when I created the drafts. The modifications that I made to the drafts were extremely slight in order to put each of the incumbents into a separate district."

The attorney then stated, "That is apparently not an issue and it's not based on fact, that allegation."

Director Grasha, addressing himself to President Wright, said, "I can run in any of the five districts or any of the two districts in this two years and believe me, you're going to have the run of your life. Cause I got nothing else to do, except sit around and figure out ways to stick you with toothpicks."

Director Martin moved to select Map 2. Seconded by VP Duncan. President Wright called for the vote, but Director Grasha wanted discussion. President Wright said that when he's given time for discussion he just rants and raves, so she insisted on the vote. Director Grasha kept trying to talk, so the attorney intervened to remind everyone that the President presides and she had made her decision. Approved 5-0.

Director Grasha moved to approve the ordinance, but wanted to delete the provision whereby an at-large board member would be replaced by another at-large board member, if necessary; and he added a provision to spend up to $25,000 to to inform every resident of the district what division they reside in and that all registered voters are eligible to run, including a copy of the map.

His motion died for lack of a second. The attorney pointed out that the provision to inform the voters doesn't necessarily have to be in this ordinance. The board can approve that later.

Vice President Duncan moved to approve the ordinance as written. Seconded by Director Martin. Approved 5-0.


Notice of General District Election

The standard resolution that every political body in the state has to issue in order for their elections to happen. Approved 5-0.

Filed under California,Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Politics | June 25, 2020 at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2020

MSWD Public Hearing on Elections by Division, June 16, 2020

This meeting was the third (of four) public hearings on the subject of electing Mission Springs Water District board members by division.

Here's the video.

The three draft maps (PDF) are available here.

  1. First
  2. Second
  3. Third

The next, and probably final, hearing on this subject will be Wednesday, June 24 at 5 PM. The board will probably select the final map then, and the divisions will be in place in time for the elections in November this year.

To help myself get a quick overview of the differences between the three draft maps, I whipped up this GIF:
MSWD District Map animation

David Ely, the demographer, gave an overview of the process, citing the data shown below:
MSWD Board District Draft Map 1 data
Draft Map 1 data.

MSWD Board District Draft Map 2 data
Draft Map 2 data.

MSWD Board District Draft Map 3 data
Draft Map 3 data.

You will see that in all three draft maps there are two Latino-majority divisions, 4 and 5, whether you count by total population, population of voting age or citizen population of voting age. In draft maps 1 and 2, divisions 1 and 3 have white majorities in citizens of voting age, while the biggest demographic in division 2 is whites, they have a slim lead over Latinos. In draft map 3, divisions 2 and 3 have a white majority in citizens of voting age, while in division 1 the white population (citizens of voting age) is 45.9% and Latinos are 38.9%.

The demographer explained that any attempt to create fewer than two Latino-majority divisions would land the water district in federal court.

The overall maps for the entire district can be found in the three PDFs linked above, but all the variations occur right in the city, so the maps below exclude the western part of the district and some of the unpopulated northern area. Here are those three maps:
MSWD Board District Draft - Map 1-1
District Draft - Map 1

MSWD Board District Draft - Map 2-1
District Draft - Map 2


MSWD Board District Draft - Map 3-1
District Draft - Map 3

The underlying map used by the demographer has some old street names on it and he uses those names instead of the names we know. "16th Street" is Mission Lakes Boulevard, although west of Indian its name is "10th Avenue." "14th Avenue" is Two Bunch Palms Trail east of Little Morongo.

The demographer pointed out that the borders between divisions are a bit simpler and straighter in draft map 2 than in draft map 1.

Draft map 3 shows greater variation from the other two. In draft map 3 Mission Lakes Country Club goes from division 1 to division 2. Division 1 is extended into the city center so it encompasses the area around Palm and Pierson.


Public Input

Susan Werner submitted a written comment which was read aloud to the board. She resides on Avenue Ladera, which is in division 1 on draft maps 1 and 2, but in division 2 on draft map 3. She prefers draft map 3 because it unifies the communities north of Mission Lakes Boulevard.

Russ Betts also commented. He said he thought this process had been halted by COVID-19. He said this hearing came about rather abruptly, short-circuiting the public hearing process. He said this appeared to be a matter of trying to beat the clock so they could get the decision made in time for it to be effective for the next election. He said it appeared the board was rushing the matter.

Then he raised the issue of whether the directors were carving out divisions that were best suited for themselves. [At this point in the process the directors have had no say in how these draft maps were drawn. The demographer drew them himself, and the demographer is not going to run for the board.] He pointed out an area in draft maps 1 and 2 where the boundary along Mission Lakes Boulevard takes a short detour north to include the houses on the north side of the street between West and Santa Cruz. Mr. Betts said it looked like this had been carved out to include the residence of one director. He did not say (and it never came up later) that he knew with certainty that a director lived there. He called this gerrymandering.

As often happens, Mr. Betts is living inside his head while reality continues around him unnoticed. This process, to establish elections by division, never halted. I have no idea why he thinks that. There were two public hearings before this one and then we were told there would be a gap while the demographer prepared his maps. All through the process the board has made it clear they intended to wrap this up in June so it would be in effect for November.

He objects to rushing this matter, but he must be forgetting the underlying issue that is driving agencies to switch from elections at large to elections by division; and I don't mean the California law that allows a law firm to send a letter and then collect $30,000. No, I mean that across the entire state, people of color have been denied their full voting power by elections at large, when white people constitute the majority in almost every city, county or special district. As an example of the racial bias in at-large voting we don't have to look any further than the board of directors of the Mission Springs Water District. Has any non-white person ever been elected to that board? Certainly none while I've been living here. To avoid "rushing" this matter is to tell the Latinos who live in this district that their voting rights can wait while we dither over just exactly, precisely where we should draw the lines - even though all three of the draft maps as presented meet constitutional muster. Any one of them could be approved and the voting rights of people of color in this district would be improved. But Mr. Betts sees little need for that.

And as for "gerrymandering," if he thinks that's gerrymandering, he has no idea what gerrymandering is. Here are a couple maps focusing on the area of his concern. On these maps it looks like the line follows a road that's between Mission Lakes Boulevard and Avenue Ladera, but that's only the alley behind the houses along those two streets.

Draft 1 close up
Draft 1.

Draft 2 close up
Draft 2.

The demographer said he prepared rough draft maps with no direct input from any board member and without knowing where any board member lives. Then he looked at board member's residence addresses and made minor changes to boundaries so that no two sitting board members would be in the same division. He said this required shifts of no more than a couple hundred people. He said this is common practice and legal. He did not say (and no one ever said) if a board member lived on the north side of Mission Lakes between West and Santa Cruz.

There are some distinctions between cities (and probably counties) and special districts in terms of redistricting. Cities (and counties?) are more restricted in what they can do.

Director Grasha had a question, but he can't just ask a question. His "question" had so many pauses, circumlocutions, tangents, explanations and excuses before he got to his stumbling point, I could have gone and done something useful with my time, like make a sandwich, and missed nothing. Once election by division is set up, if someone wants to file a recall petition, do the petition signatures have to come from that board member's divison only, or from the entire district?

The answer seems pretty clear to me. The signatures would have to come from within that board member's division, otherwise you could have the voters from the other four divisions running a recall against a possibly ethnic minority board member in another division, and that would turn into a federal case real fast. The official answer was they thought the signatures had to come from within the division, but they would check that to be sure. However, all five current board members were elected at large, so until each is re-elected in their division, a recall against one of them would seek signatures from throughout the district without regard for division.

Director Martin said he preferred draft map 2 because the divisions are more geometrically simple, using main thoroughfares for boundaries. Vice President Duncan said he had no preferences, but he liked Director Martins' views on it.

Director Sewell suggested the district put out something like a social media post to encourage district residents to submit their opinions in writing before the next public hearing on the 24th. He like draft map 3, where Mission Lakes Country Club is in the same division as its neighbors to the east, but draft maps 1 and 2 are acceptable to him. President Wright prefers draft map 1, but says draft map 2 is okay. She pointed out that Mission Lakes CC is in the county, and putting it in division 1 which is mostly county would make sense. Division 1 in draft maps 1 and 2 also more closely aligns with Supervisor Hewitt's district than in draft map 3.

Director Grasha asked about a situation where a voter might end up NOT being able to vote for a director through two election cycles. The situation could come up if a voter lives in a division that is not electing a director in November 2020; then the 2020 census data arrives and the district has to adjust the division lines to reflect that; and that voter now finds themself in a different division that had its election in November 2020, so no election in November 2022. That voter would not get to vote for a director until November 2024. The answer boiled down to that's just one of those things that can happen when any district switches to election by division right around the time of the census. It's too bad, but legal and accepted.

Wasn't there a U.S. Supreme Court decision where they said something like the Constitution guarantees elections, but doesn't guarantee perfect elections?

Then Director Grasha asked about the hypothetical case of the division boundaries being redrawn after the new census figures come in, in such a way as to exclude an incumbent director from running for re-election. The attorney dismissed that, saying he didn't think that would be an issue.

No director suggested any changes to any of the three draft maps.

At the next hearing on June 24th (5 PM) the board will, in addition to selecting a map, decide on the chronology of which divisions will be up for votes this November and which will wait until 2022.


My Opinion

I prefer draft map 2 for the same reason as Director Martin, but I would find draft map 1 acceptable. I don't like draft map 3 because it takes division 1, which encompasses a large area that is county, but excludes Mission Lakes CC from it, and then to compensate for the lack of Mission Lakes CC the division dives right into the city center. If we thought, for some reason, that every director had to have some areas in the central urban areas of DHS, then draft map 3 would do it, but nobody expressed any desire to have the divisions laid out that way. To me it seems draft map 3 takes an urban neighborhood that is primarily people of color and dilutes their voting power with the mostly white western areas of the district.

Filed under California,Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Politics | June 17, 2020 at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)