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February 12, 2019

Mission Springs Water District Board Meetings, January 17 & 22, 2019

This is a summary of the board meetings of January 17 and January 22, 2019. On the 17th, all five board members were present. On the 22nd, President Duncan was absent.


Public Comments

Jeff Bowman came to the podium.

Jeff Bowman, owner of Living Waters Spa. The office of Director for Mission Springs Water District is critical to the people of the district. They depend on their directors to be smart, honest, caring and, above all, truthful. Steve Grasha, you are not a truthful person. You are liar. You won the seat on this board by lying. The pinnacle of your lies was when you called me a child molester, both on Facebook and in an email blast to the voters. It was so outrageous that even the Desert Hot Springs chief of police wrote an email where he said, I quote, "Mr. Bowman, you are not nor have you ever been linked to child pornography or any type of sexual exploitation of a minor. I have never even heard a whisper of impropriety about you."

But, Steve, you are a liar and you made that up. You started out with a campaign statement that has lies and fabrications in every paragraph. Let me start with the very first. "Technical Water Systems Engineer for 34 years." Doing an internet research on this occupation reveals that a water engineer is someone who deals with the provision of clean water, disposal of waste water and sewage, and the prevention of flood damage. How does one get this very specific title? Well, water engineers must have a Bachelor of Science or a Master of Science degree in either civil engineering, geology, environmental sciences, or mechanical engineering.

So, Steve Grasha, where did you get your BS or MS engineering degree? As it turns out, you don't have one. So you lied and deceived the voters about your education. You presented yourself to the voters and told them that you are a "water systems engineer." And by calling yourself an engineer, you're insulting all those who have earned degrees and you deceived the voters. Then you spun your lie even further and you said "I have designed technologically advanced and sophisticated water projects worldwide. Steve, you've never designed technologically advanced or sophisticated water projects. I cannot find your name associated with any such projects. You've never worked for a company as an engineer because you're not an engineer. Last month when you were sworn into office at the end of the meeting you were served a lawsuit we saw. You've been sued many times. What is the reason you're served now. I'm sure we'll find out.

You, Steve Grasha, are a liar, a fraud and deceived your way into public office. Thus, your election is really a sham. It came about by lies. For a fact, if the voters knew these things they would not have voted for you. I'm calling you to resign as you're an embarrassment to the district.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Bob Thiery with People Over Pollution spoke next. He's also on the SSMP long term committee for the Salton Sea. He came to speak about an MOU that he said would be coming before the board soon. It is being circulated by the Salton Sea Authority. The MOU does not include ocean water importation. He asked the board to add an additional "whereas" to the MOU expressing support for including ocean water importation in the long-term plans for the Salton Sea. The City of Desert Hot Springs has already done so, he said.

Dotty Wilder wanted to know if within her park are the water and sewer pipes privately owned by the HOA or by the district? The Finance Director was directed to meet with Ms. Wilder to answer her question.

Dick Cromwell thanked the maintenance department for taking care of the CNG station. During the heavy rains, mud washed across the road and into the CNG station. MSWD staffers cleaned the mud away.


California Voting Rights Act

This was an informational presentation made by the attorney. Voters who are a member of a race, color or language minority group are said to be in a protected class. When there is racially polarized voting, members of a protected class are unable to elect their candidate(s). To determine if there is racially polarized voting, election results are examined. Proof of intent to discriminate is not required.

An agency with at-large elections would be served with a demand letter from a potential plaintiff to force them to comply with the voting rights act. The agency then has four months in which to enact district elections. The attorney then said she believed that 91 days is about four months (obviously a student of Russell Betts). 91 days is about three months. The agency can negotiate with the potential plaintiffs for more time. At the end of the process, the agency would pay the potential plaintiffs $30,000.

A few political entities have refused to comply and have fought back. All have lost and ended up paying far more than that token $30,000. The population of Mission Springs Water District is about half white, half people of color. An agency does not have to wait for a demand letter, but could switch to district elections on its own and be spared the $30,000 payment.

The attorney said many of the demand letters have come from "Southwest Voters and Outreach Project." Google can turn up neither hide nor hair of an organization with that name, but there is the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project which sent just such a demand letter to the City of Palm Springs. Director Grasha asked if they were all lawyers, but without waiting for a complete answer from the attorney, he said he had looked them up and "they're all lawyers." Actually, the President of that organization graduated with a history degree and the vice president with a bachelor's degree in sociology, so there are at least two of them who aren't lawyers.

Mr. Grasha complained that the district had paid an attorney $75,000 last month and there had been no explanation. He said that if the district acts to conform to the California Voting Rights Act it will have to pay more money to attorneys.


Spicer Consulting Group

The district is putting together an assessment district (Assessment District 18) that will allow residents to install sewers to replace septic tanks. This item is for a $39,000 contract with Spicer Consulting Group as assessment engineer. Forming an assessment district is a process that will require a vote of the property owners in the proposed district to form that district. Before that vote, the district will engage in a neutral education effort.

Below is a map showing the several non-contiguous areas that will make up AD 18, the biggest of which is Mission Lakes Country Club. MSWD will seek grants, as it has in the past, that will greatly reduce the cost of building sewers for the property owners.

Assessment District 18

Approved 4-0.


San Gorgonio Pass Subbasin Rules of Conduct

The district is part of the San Gorgonio Pass Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Other members are the Desert Water Agency, Banning Heights Mutual Water Company, City of Banning, Cabazon Water District and San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency. This item is only to approve or disapprove the rules of conduct. An example from the agreement:

The GSP Working Group members agree to work together to create a problem-solving environment and agree to the following ground rules:
  • Use common courtesy
  • All ideas and points of view have value and will be respected
  • Be honest, fair and candid
  • Avoid editorials
  • Honor time and be concise
  • Think innovatively and welcome new ideas
  • Invite humor and good will

They have received a grant of $1 million towards the cost of establishing a groundwater sustainability plan for the San Gorgonio Pass.


Mid-year Budget Adjustments

Operating Budget Increases:
 Replenishment of other budget items
Meter Postage3,500
Returned Check Charges1,000
Smart Meter Pilot Program79,000
83,500
 
Mid-Year Increases to budget
 Legal500,000
Water Prod. Spvsr. Interim75,000
SOMA Annual Report7,000
Credit Card Processing60,000
Valve Maintenance Pilot Program40,000
Wastewater Outside Services15,000
Supplies (warehouse)2,800
699,800
783,300
 
Increases related to changes in Classification Plan3,868
 
Total Operating Budget Increases$ 787,168
% of Total Operating expenses5.0%
 
Capital Budget Increases;
Production Meters50,000
Hydrological Study for Indio Subbasin125,000
Total Capital Budget Increases$ 175,000

The additional legal expenses are for the lawsuit against the Desert Water Agency.

Approved 3-1 with Director Grasha voting against. He did not explain his vote.


Federal Advocacy Services

To renew the annual contract with the district's lobbying service at $48.000 per year.

Approved 3-1 with Director Grasha voting against. He did not explain his vote.


Coachillin' Reimbursement Agreement

Coachillin', the big marijuana cultivation site being developed on the east side of Indian Canyon between 18th and 19th Avenues, will construct sewer and water lines. This 10-year agreement allows Coachillin' to be reimbursed for its expenses as new property owners develop their sites.

Director Grasha asked if water would be supplied to Coachillin' at agricultural prices. The answer is that MSWD does not offer an agricultural rate. Customers in the Coachillin' development will pay the non-residential rate for water. Mr. Grasha then asked if it was going to be an outdoor grow. [FYI, no one has proposed any outdoor grows in the Coachella Valley]. Coachillin' is the industrial property developer that will sell sites to individual cultivators. So far, all are indoors. Mr. Grasha asked what the enforcement mechanism is to ensure that cultivators are not simply dumping their sewage out onto the desert. There are three operating cultivators there now. Two are already connected to sewer. The Regional Water Quality Control Board regulates the sewage that is flowing to a septic system.

Mr. Grasha said he never noticed anything on the site until just a few months ago, even though development of that site has been going on much longer than that. He said he didn't know it was going on, that he doesn't read the newspaper or go to city council meetings. Mr. Grasha said there are some holding tanks on the site. "What are they doing with that...at night?" he asked. A staff member began to reply, but Mr. Grasha didn't wait for the answer and spoke over him saying "'Cause I know what goes on over there." Director Wright who is on the Regional Water Quality Control Board said they know what's going on there. Staff explained that the City of DHS is working out an arrangement to verify that cultivators there are using legitimate haulers to take their waste to treatment facilities that will accept it. MSWD is working with the city on that. Mr. Grasha said that if they are growing hydroponically, then their waste water is toxic. Staff said no one is growing hydroponically there now. Every facility is using reverse osmosis to filter their recirculated water. The two operating cultivators are discharging about 1,000 gallons every three months. There are places in Orange and Los Angeles Counties that will accept their waste.

Mr. Grasha said the cultivators are going to provide a paper trail only for what they admit to. Someone told Mr. Grasha that two police officers keep an eye on this. President Duncan explained that regulations are in place for all businesses governing their disposal of wastewater and no district can micro-manage the businesses in its purview. Ms. Wright explained there are big fines for violating the rules on the dumping of wastewater.

Approved 4-0.


Liens In Assessment District 12, Area J-1-2

Upon completion of the new sewers in AD12, Area J-1-2, the district notified all property owners that they were required to connect to the sewer. The district files a lien against any property that doesn't connect so that they are forced to connect when they want to sell the property. There are only 12 properties being affected by this.

Approved 4-0.


Committee Appointments

The board president gets to appoint the committees. They are...

  • Executive committee: Randy Duncan, Chair, and Russ Martin.
  • Engineering: Ivan Sewell, Chair, and Steve Grasha.
  • Finance: Russ Martin, Chair, and Nancy Wright.
  • Human Resources: Steve Grasha, Chair, and Ivan Sewell.
  • Public Affairs: Nancy Wright, Chair, and Randy Duncan.


Affiliations

The first name listed is the one with primary responsibility for attending meetings of the affiliated entities; the second name is backup.

  • CSDA - Russ Martin
  • CVWD - Randy Duncan, Russ Martin
  • DHS City Council - Russ Martin, Nancy Wright
  • Hoteliers - Ivan Sewell, Nancy Wright
  • RDA Oversight - Russ Martin
  • Groundwater Guardians - Ivan Sewell, Nancy Wright
  • San Gorgonio Pass - Russ Martin, Nancy Wright
  • Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce - Ivan Sewell, Russ Martin
  • Riverside County Flood Control - Ivan Sewell

Director Grasha asked if the city still had a redevelopment agency. Russ Martin explained to him the process by which RDAs were dismantled statewide.

Mr. Grasha said there seemed to be lot of work outside of the district. He said the district has a built-in plan for failure. President Duncan had offered him an affiliation with the Groundwater Guardians, but he had turned it down. Mr. Grasha said there is only one meeting a month and there are so many things on the agenda it's like "you're trying to keep us out of the building."

There are at least two meetings a month, a study session and a business session. In addition, there is often a monthly workshop to focus on one subject. Also, IMO, we don't elect directors to sit in the MSWD headquarters building. The building is for staff. The directors are supposed to be making contact with the public and then voting.

Mr. Grasha said the directors should focus on district business. And they should be able to do that without having to go to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in order to receive the per diem. President Duncan explained directors go to other meetings in order to form relationships outside the district and to gather information. Mr. Grasha said the same value was being put on two separate functions. He said young people should never get involved in public life because they would go bankrupt helping their neighbor. Mr. Grasha said the $100 per diem was not enough. Mr. Grasha said that at the business meeting they would be approving a $75,000 payment to an attorney for work "that has yet to be identified as critical."

Mr. Grasha is sadly mistaken on that point. The $75,000 was approved and paid before he came on the board. The actual payment is listed in the Register of Demands this month. The Register of Demands is essentially the checkbook statement. You might disapprove of your checking account statement, but doing so won't make those checks you wrote magically reverse direction and flow back into your account.

Mr. Grasha said the district can't identify why it's suing. He then went on to say that it has been explained to him, but he doesn't understand it.

At this point he was far enough off the agenda that the attorney stepped in and redirected the discussion who offered to discuss the case in closed session. "There's a lot of money flowing in a lot of directions..." Mr. Grasha said, trailing off. President Duncan agreed and pointed out this was only his second meeting and that with time he would learn the purpose of the lawsuit and what could be lost. Mr. Grasha continued to ask for an explanation, but President Duncan said it was not doing to be discussed at this time. Director Wright suggested that Mr. Grasha be given a copy of the lawsuit. Mr. Grasha said he had it and he had read it.

The lawsuit they are talking about is against the Desert Water Agency which is trying to take control of our aquifers.

Approved 4-0.


New Wastewater Treatment Facility

In the past month they have completed the preliminary design report, the geotechnical report, and the permitting technical memorandum. That's about 95% of the Phase 1 tasks. The survey plans are still outstanding. Developing plant specifications and estimates are part of Phase 2, which has now begun. They have completed updates to the NEPA/CEQA project description. They have completed preliminary design on the conveyance, that is, the lift station and pipe to carry wastewater from developed residential areas to the new plant.


Solar Plant

The solar power plant has been tested and is now online generating electricity.


I-10/Indian Sewers

Every property owner in that area has been contacted and "they are, frankly, just not ready to take any action." They may be considering an alternate, more expensive plan from the City of Palm Springs. The district's next task will be to talk to Palm Springs about the current status of our new wastewater treatment facility.


Register of Demands

Director Grasha pointed out two items in the Register of Demands:

Check NumberCheck DatePaid ToDescriptionOperatingCapitalTotal
998550512-20-18Slovak Baron & Empey LLPLegal Fees71,283.85 71,283.85
6688312-20-18Desert Sun Publishing CoMarketing Expense3,332.75 3,332.75

He didn't say anything about these two, but merely read them aloud.

Approved 3-1, Mr. Grasha voting against. When Vice President Martin called for the No votes, Mr. Grasha sat silently. Mr. Martin explained to him that if intended to vote No, now would be the time. Mr. Grasha said he thought that when he pulled it from the consent agenda that would register as a No vote. Mr. Martin explained to him that first the board discusses and then it votes on it. Upon hearing this, Mr. Grasha said he voted No.


Director Reports

President Duncan reported on the DWA meeting he attended where he noted that they were discussing going to district elections in closed session. Karl Baker was in attendance there also and asked the DWA board to move the discussion to the open session, but of course, they did not do that.

When Director Grasha was asked if he had a report to make he said "I do have thoughts."

President Duncan asked "Thoughts or reports?"

"I'm afraid how far afield I'll go if I start on..." On January 8 he attended the swearing in of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. He rambled on about working on the Sheriff's election campaign four years ago. He asked the Sheriff to resign in December 2017. He said his endorsement in the Sheriff's race was "circulated on the internet more than any other endorsement in the entire 2018 cycle." He didn't share with us his means for making that measurement. The Sheriff was sworn in "just a few days ago," he explained. "I can't and will not address your allegations because of ongoing investigations. I won't do it." He did not identify who he was addressing when he said that, but President Duncan explained that this was not the part of the agenda to do that. Mr. Grasha said he would have to do it in such a way that no one would understand it.


Director Comments

Director Wright said she was very sad to hear about Greg Pettis passing away. She had worked with him many times. "God rest his soul."

Director Grasha said he was with Greg Pettis the night he got the phone call he was going to be appointed to city council. "He was a lefty! A no good lefty."

Mr. Grasha also commented on the subpoena he was served a month previously. He said that was due to Karl Baker investigating his lack of disclosure. The subpoena was from the Fair Political Practices Commission. He had not been willing to provide his bank account records without a subpoena. If he had submitted them by email, then they could have been accessed via a public records request. He used his personal bank account to finance his campaign which is not legal. He was fined $147.

Mr. Grasha said he thought he was elected to the board because the subject of the Sentinel power plant came up for discussion during his campaign and he got "a thousand likes" on that. He said he had gotten word that CVAG has "promised" that they would "go after $22 million in funding to put Desert Hot Springs back in the CVAG loop." He said he is opposed to CV-Link. He said CVAG is "laying $22 million at our doorstep as a peace offering." When Director Wright said the money had already been divided up (she's right), Mr. Grasha said this was "new funding." (He's wrong.) "This is a victory for Steve Grasha," he said, "not for Nancy." When Director Wright asked him to explain this, he said "No, it's a surprise." He said "You can read about it on the KESQ website."

You can believe that I came home and searched the KESQ website for any recent info on CVAG, Steve Grasha, $22 million, CV-Link, or Desert Hot Springs and found zilch. Repeated my searches the next day and still zilch. Fortunately, a very well-informed person told me after the meeting that Mr. Grasha doesn't know what he's talking about.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | February 12, 2019 at 01:59 PM

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