October 10, 2020

Desert Hot Springs Candidate Forum


The video is available on YouTube.

Scott Matas, current mayor,
Adam Sanchez, past mayor
Robert Griffith, city council member
Russell Betts, city council member
Jessica Gilbert, running for city council
Steve Giboney, running for city council
Jason Moore, running for city council
Jonathan Laura, running for city council but absent from this forum

Diana Soto, moderator, Vice President & Director of Public Policy for the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce

Skilled lip readers might enjoy watching Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Giboney whose muted jaws were flapping much of the time when others were speaking.

I've tried to summarize what each speaker said, but when they're spewing nonsense that was impossible and I had to resort to simply typing out their words verbatim. Text in [square brackets] represents my opinions.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

BETTS: We want the city to look good and inviting. The city is on a stable course to more economic growth. City finances have recovered from 2012 and there is money in reserves. DHS is not facing financial difficulties as bad as other cities. We must fight to keep cannabis businesses and jobs that other cities are competing for. The cannabis taxes are too high. There has been continued progress in public safety. There is tremendous momentum on city beautification. Parks have been renovated. Two new parks on the way. Two sidewalk projects are on the way.

GIBONEY: [Momentarily off-screen] "It's time for some people who are now [not?] part of a tight-knit group in our city to try to break into our city clique and nucleus." Mayor Matas has tried to build leadership out of a small circle of people. Infrastructure for the future is being built. Something hidden from people is an offense to him. It is done on a regular basis. The council needs someone in touch with blue collar workers. There need to be more people who know what it's like to raise kids. He will bring a whole different perspective. The clique that we have is not diverse. Some of the attention that is shown to economic growth needs to be shared with the community. "I don't care about money. I don't want to ever deal with it. Money is no object." He wants to help people. He doesn't ask anybody for money. He says he does this at a grassroots level. It is time that a difference of opinion is "allowed" into the city council. His only campaign promise: "I will tell you everything that I can legally tell you that is going on within our city council."

GILBERT: New to politics. A resident here for 28 years. A full-time Realtor for 25 years. Raised three children here. Sat on the boards of DHS Boys & Girls Club, DHS Chamber of Commerce, Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce for DHS, and Advancing DHS. Member of the Elks Lodge and DHS Rotary Club. Helped start Early Act in elementary schools a couple of years ago.

GRIFFITH: Mayor Pro Tem currently. Managing Director of El Morocco Inn. President of the Hoteliers. A member of the Hot Springs Business and Trade Association. Has worked in insurance and financial services. Had a Series 6 license to work on investment products. Has worked in retail, health care and had his own business. (And he has a cat.) Was on the Planning Commission. It's important to keep the city on a stable financial footing. It would be an error to cut revenue streams.

MATAS: Has worked for consensus. The past two councils have improved the city's infrastructure, image and administration. The city has more financial reserves than ever before. Pubic safety and community programs are strong. The unemployment rate (pre-COVID) was 5.6%. New businesses over the last 5 years have created 2,300 new jobs in DHS. Median income is rising. When he became mayor we did not have a good credit rating. Today our credit rating is A+. Seven years ago the city treasury was down to only a few hundred dollars. Now there is an $11.7 million fund balance. The new City Hall has been built without using general fund money. Crime is down again this year by 20%. Two more fire stations will be funded. Animal Control has been brought back to the city. The code compliance team has grown.

MOORE: He has no personal issues with the current city council. He likes and respects those members of the council he has met. He has heard that it is hard to do any kind of business in DHS. Contractors say it is difficult to pull permits here. Cannabis businesses have complained about their tax rates. Parents want more things to do as a family. He is a board member of DHS Eagles football league where families have complained about the fees to play. Kids want to be on swim or basketball teams. Kids have to skate and ride bikes in the street where there are no sidewalks. He said a $10 million city facility was built. He said no ongoing youth activities are supported by the city's parks and recreation department. [The city has no parks & rec dept.] The IT infrastructure at city hall cost $1 million. The sidewalk around the new city hall cost $160,000. He wants to be a catalyst for change.

NUÑEZ: 46 years old. Worked for 20 years for the county. Was on the Coachella Planning Commission in the aughts. He described that as "small-time politics." When he was on the Planning Commission he made sure developers brought in bigger homes on bigger lots. He was on the Youth Advisory Committee in Coachella. He moved to DHS three years ago. He says he has seen big city politics in a small town. The youth are lost here in DHS. The Boys & Girls Club is gone. The community center doesn't service the community, but only a certain clientele. His son in high school plays football. He was rejected from the community center. He was told he had to be 18. The city hasn't given a pathway to the youth, especially at-risk youth. He sat on a human rights commission somewhere in the Coachella Valley. He was President of the Coachella Valley Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce. He brought it back from failure. He has coached soccer. [He continued speaking and bringing up new subjects for 33 seconds after the "Times up" signal from the timekeeper. BTW, the sign should have said "Time's up."]

SANCHEZ: [His volume was extremely low, you may have to really crank it up to hear him.] He is disappointed we can't have local debates in DHS. He moved here in 1997. He worked as a special projects director for the city. He was involved with the team that created our police department then. He said that when he was mayor he really pushed to keep the police department. He claims to have been involved in an $18-million effort to build the Health & Wellness Center. It needs to be restructured to serve the community. "It's the best in the whole Coachella! It's all about health and wellness. We need to embrace that along with our tourism to create a community that's inclusive with diversity and more importantly our youth need to have more programs along with our children." We need to create future programs to keep kids off the street.


Q & A

The questions were provided by the Chamber's Business Legislative Advocacy Committee. All the candidates had them in advance.

Q: COVID HAS OBVIOUSLY CAUSED A DISRUPTION IN TAX REVENUE FOR ALL LOCAL GOVERNMENTS, CITY AND COUNTY. IF THE CURRENT EMERGENCY MEASURES THAT HAVE LOCAL BUSINESSES SHUTTERED CONTINUES INTO NEXT YEAR WE CAN START TO SEE VERY SERIOUS BUDGET DISRUPTION AT ALL LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT. TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE STEPS THAT YOU WOULD BE PREPARED TO TAKE TO PROTECT DESERT HOT SPRINGS' ESSENTIAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES. WHAT KIND OF GOVERNANCE SHOULD RESIDENTS EXPECT FROM YOU IF FACED WITH BUDGET SHORTFALLS?

SANCHEZ: The City of La Quinta is the most progressive city in dealing with COVID. They provided funding for small businesses. It's important to work with the business community. In DHS we didn't develop a plan to do the same thing as La Quinta. He described La Quinta as a "small mountain community in the cove." [La Quinta's 2010 population was 30% greater than that of DHS, and its median income was $72,099. DHS' median income was $32,883.] DHS' budget is fine. "There's always a way to help businesses and take some money out in order to keep that economic development going." Every city should develop a strategic plan on how to engage the business community, residents, families. [He provided no specific suggestions for what should be in the plan.]

BETTS: He recalled how seniors and youths came to the city council during the city's economic downturn around 2012 and asked the council not to cut their programs. The most important thing is to make sure your financial books are in order. You don't cut the services people rely on first. In 2012 expenses at city hall were cut. We should conserve dollars now.

GIBONEY: He read back the question verbatim. Various departments would sit down and collaborate and evaluate what was available. He was criticized in his previous campaign for having no plan. This is because he doesn't make assumptions or promises based on things he doesn't know. He doesn't know where "they" stand at this point. He can't project where we'd be at another point. In a crisis or a problem, where he fits best is figuring out strategic plans to get out of the crisis. It all depends on what's available and what's needed. He can't answer unless he's given the facts. Budget shortfalls won't happen if he is elected. He would be the "vocal voice" of where the city stands financially. If something was getting close to overspending, the people could show up at a city council meeting and object to it. [To summarize: he doesn't know where the city stands financially, he doesn't know what the city needs, he thinks that one person on the council can control taxation and spending, and he would do nothing but talk about it.]

GILBERT: Believes DHS is in good financial shape. She would work with city staff and the council to "meet fiscal restraint and responsibility." If finances were threatened she would work to reprioritize city services to protect the core services of public safety and infrastructure. She would render commonsense governance. She would look for creative ways to fund non-core services.

GRIFFITH: The city council has learned from past mistakes. We had a $300,000 shortfall this past year. We have a diverse business base. We're not 100% tourism. The hospitality industry is not expected to get back to full levels until 2023. We need the federal government to step in where city's cannot do the job.

MATAS: He provided many messages on the help available for businesses. The $300,000 deficit in 2019/2020 was covered with our reserves. This fiscal year the deficit will be about $750,000. We will be able to use reserves again to cover that. We collected $4.7 million in cannabis taxes last year. There will be no cuts to city programs and projects.

MOORE: "Essenital service" may be a misnomer. All of the businesses are essential for providing a tax base. To protect the city you must protect the businesses and their income. The cannabis industry supplies 27% of the city's tax income. He said the Governor's office said we will be in this crisis for five to seven years. We should make sure businesses don't move to other cities.

NUÑEZ: He's very disappointed with how the city handled COVID. He is constantly driving through every city in the valley. "When the pandemic hit, for the first couple months you see social media, you seen little highlights here and there, but after that it just went dormant. And it would just seem to please the Board of Supervisors, at one point, and after that they just dropped the ball." Other cities put up electric signs saying "Hey, Wear A Mask." He didn't see that in DHS. He didn't see a billboard telling people to protect themselves, protect their families, protect others. He sees a lot of billboards now. A pandemic has never happened before. [Yes, it has.] We need to see what people need when we are out of it. Unemployment will be high. Mental health services will be affected. We should maximize our services. He would look to county, state and federal funding. He would collaborate with other cities. [He ran on for 37 seconds after his time was up.]


Q: IS DESERT HOT SPRINGS HEADED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION WHEN IT COMES TO DEVELOPMENT AND COMMERCIAL GROWTH? ARE THERE AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT OR ACCELERATION?

NUÑEZ: "Yes and no." "I see Desert Hot Springs a blank canvas for housing, for commercial, for residential, mixed-use residential, a downtown, mixed-use residential." We need to capitalize on the blank canvas and not rush in developers or "cookie-cutter projects." Be smart and responsible. He was disappointed in the KMart building. If you told him we were going to start a cannabis college, he would be on board. "But we lost a big commercial - two big commercial property pieces right there. [KMart is only one commercial property and the new use is commercial as well.] "We lost it to cannabis." We could have used it for two big projects. He says residents are unhappy that developers are able to come in, build twenty homes and leave the rest empty. [AFAIK, that happened only after the crash twelve years ago, not now.] "Affordable housing hasn't been addressed in many years." This is because "they" changed the standards for the housing coalition and Habitat for Humanity.

SANCHEZ: "We shot ourselves in the foot. When I left the mayor's office in 2015, I told our council and mayor 'There's only two things you really need to pay attention to so make sure we don't shoot ourselves in the foot for development and community development.' And that is this: we knew when I left office that we had annexed land from the I-10 all the way down to Dillon, even Little Morongo. And that was county land back then and we knew, when I took office, we had a six million dollar budget deficit that I inherited from the previous administration. And so, for that fifth, so that 13 and 14, you know, we really didn't have money because we're operating month to month, but we found a way to restructure our budget finances and we went before the voters to pass, you know, the first cannabis ordinance in southern California. And 72% of the residents [sic] voted for it. Now, many voted for the one cent, but it was a clear sign that people didn't want more taxes in Desert Hot Springs. And so, we knew that moving forward we had to do that nexus study, otherwise we're going to end up in a lawsuit which we have right now with Coachillin' business park. A hundred and sixty acre park, the largest in California, and we ended up in a lawsuit with them and that's totally unacceptable. We can't run a city while we're in a lawsuit. [There is never a time when the city is not involved in a lawsuit.] So right now the council, the mayor, they have no input on this because it's all in the lawyer's hands. We can do better Desert Hot Springs, we can't have lawsuits that is costing us economic development." [Can anyone figure out what the "two things" were he told the council and mayor?]

BETTS: There always is more you can do on the economic development front. He said the new business in the KMart building will create a hundred new jobs paying $42,000 and more. The cannabis industry has provided jobs on a regular schedule. But it's too cumbersome for small businesses to open. It's the city's responsibility to make sure new businesses open up. It's not the responsibility of the businesses.

GIBONEY: Again, he felt the need to read back the question verbatim. "First answer is no." The city is not headed in the right direction. First, because it is not organic. The growth is being dictated by larger groups that are up above, umbrella organizations above our city. The designs for our city are just about the same as for any other city our size or larger. It's all mixed use and all European designs passed down to us. It all leads to the same end point. It's not our growth; it's being given to us, dictated by us. We can't be a one-industry town. The city lost its auto body shop "when the one trick industry moved into town." "Our spas are failing." We have to diversify our growth. "Jobs are not going to be growing." AI is taking over.

[I want to point out here that DHS was a one-industry town (tourism) until the cannabis industry came along. Now we're a two-industry town. Auto body repair was never a major economic driver in this city. We have never had an auto repair neighborhood like Cathedral City has along Perez Road.]

GILBERT: We are headed in the right direction. Last December the city hired one of the best economic development people. Royal Emerald just opened. The Grocery Outlet opened in July and hired locally. A new dog groomer/animal day care business opened. A new chiropractor opened her office here. Forbes recently included a DHS resort on their list of six glamorous hotels opening soon in California. Real estate prices are up. Homes are being built in Skyborne. Rolling Hills is building out the rest of its lots. Her goal is to try to get more young families into home ownership. Rents are skyrocketing. The county has great programs for first-time home buyers.

GRIFFITH: There's always room for improvement. We just updated our General Plan and zoning. We updated our housing element. He believes we are headed in the right direction. Now mixed-use is permitted in commercial areas. The Planning Commission will consider next week a 400-unit condo complex that includes some affordable units. All the developments that were stalled by the recession have restarted, including Agua Dulce, Rolling Hills and Skyborne. Grocery Outlet's opening has provided some jobs. Royal Emerald expects to have over a thousand jobs in five years, and they have committed to fund some of our youth programs.

MATAS: Yes, but there is always room to improve. He said his State Of The City address would be available soon and it would include exciting announcements. We have hired an economic development manager. Multiple restaurants and commercial developments are in the pipeline. Tyson Ranch is still moving along. 2021 will be a very strong year for DHS.

MOORE: There's always room for improvement. The people who don't pay attention to the city council have the opinion that the city council doesn't have a future vision. He sees the city being reactive not proactive. The city moves from project to project based only on whoever comes before them at a council meeting, or "things that are happening on social media about what's happening in the city." He is looking for a future vision that includes fairness and access for all citizens. Cannabis will continue to drive growth in DHS. The city must show support to businesses. The city should not find ways to squeak in extra little taxes on our businesses. If there is a clear vision he would like to see it. [The last taxes approved by the voters here DHS were the parcel and utility taxes; before that it was the cannabis taxes.]


Q: WE HAVE INCREASINGLY SEEN CITY COUNCILS ACROSS THE NATION PLAY ACTIVE ROLES IN THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION AROUND SOCIAL JUSTICE, WHETHER IT IS COMMUNITY POLICING, AFFORDABLE HOUSING, OR ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF YOUTH. AS A COMMUNITY HOW IS DESERT HOT SPRINGS FARING WHEN IT COMES TO EQUITABLY SUPPORTING THE NEEDS OF RESIDENTS?

MOORE: The city has addressed the needs of Seniors quite well. The needs of youth are not being adequately addressed. "Where is the youth center in our plans?" Where are the sidewalks? We have great athletic programs for youth. The city does not have a parks and recreation department. The recreation center sits idle after 6 PM. The Furbee pool sits idle from September to June. Those facilities should be in use year-round. He has not seen community policing in DHS. [When Pat Williams was Chief of Police we had community policing.] He works at an elementary school and the police never visit the school unless the school calls them. He has never seen a police officer in his neighborhood.

NUÑEZ: "I haven't seen the city do anything about social justice." He hasn't seen the police engaged or involved in the community. He's lived here three years, but no one has welcomed him to the city. He expects someone from the city council or city staff to come and welcome him. [That, IMO, is a bizarre expectation.] The police officers just seem to punch in and punch out. They don't live here or work here. [I'm pretty sure the police officers consider their jobs to be work.] They don't eat here. They don't play here. He says that is true for some of the (non-sworn) city staff too. DHS lacks a sense of community. How many staff members live in the city? How many shop and dine here? He wants the police officers to volunteer their time. He wants to build a partnership with the parks and rec department in the east valley. [He is probably referring to the Desert Recreation District.] Kids are doing yoga in the east valley. [He continued to talk for 25 seconds after the "Times up" signal.]

SANCHEZ: "Who is Desert Hot Springs?" The median income is around $30,000. In the schools 75% of the children are Latino, and 75% of that 75% qualify for the federal meals program. When Anayeli Zavala, who is Latino, resigned from the council she was not replaced with another Latino. "So that tells me that there's no leadership at the mayor's office cause she shoulda had diversity. She shoulda had equitably. I mean, you should've put another woman or gentleman of Latino there on the council. It was like a no-brainer. But that's the leadership you get at city hall. They don't want you to be represented by people who live in this city and so you don't have that type of social justice." [By law, every member of the city council lives in Desert Hot Springs, and that has always been so.]

BETTS: His goal has been to help and be an advocate for every resident who is economically disadvantaged. He's gone to bat for tenants who are being bullied by their landlord. He has done ride-alongs with the police and seen how they interact with the public. We've had community policing, but it is expensive. The Health & Wellness Center is for youth. We should open it up and use it. But the building is paid for.

GIBONEY: Once again, he read the question out verbatim. "Social justice" can be defined different ways, so we should talk about where the problems are coming from. "When you have a system that is feeding these fatherless homes - when you have a system that's actually supporting mothers to have more children that stay on welfare section 8 they have no incentive to get out into the world and they raise children in a home where there's a father missing. So when you talk about kids getting involved in crime and needing community policing, you're omitting where it's originating. So I can't talk about how to deal with it until we talk about where it's coming from. It's like the whole cancer debate. We're not talking about where cancer's coming from. It's always 'buy a pink badge for cancer.' So 'social justice' is a term that was created for people to get, you know, angry at something. I know there are problems and I know there are bad cops. But community policing is not the answer because that's disarming the cops and what do criminals do to cops that are disarmed? They attack them, so you're creating more problems by going into community policing. So, affordable housing, I pointed this out earlier, affordable housing the best situation is Coachella Valley is the number of units cost to build it $680,000 for affordable housing. Someone's making money. And there's a waiting list of seven years for it." He re-read the question "AS A COMMUNITY HOW IS DESERT HOT SPRINGS FARING WHEN IT COMES TO EQUITABLY SUPPORTING THE NEEDS OF RESIDENTS?" and answered it, "Terrible." They need more information, he said. [I don't think Giboney knows what community policing is.]

GILBERT: She began with what she said was an off-topic comment: "Everyone needs to attend city council." You can watch on YouTube. You can get involved. We can't expect the city council or city staff to come and welcome us. That's what the Chamber of Commerce is for. She thinks the police department is doing a good job. She would like to see us work on a marketing program to get more volunteers (COP officers) to help the police. Affordable housing is lacking badly. Over half the residents of our city rent their homes. Currently a one-bedroom/one-bath rents for $900 or more. "That's crazy. It's just crazy." A three-bedroom/two-bath house rents for $1,900. We have section 8 programs. We used to have programs with Habitat for Humanity and the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition. We are lacking in our housing. DHS is doing the best it can, there's just so much need.

GRIFFITH: THe police department has had several town halls. He attended one. There are many demands on the city, but right now we have to get through this pandemic. We have a lot of very active people and businesses. Now that we have finished our housing element, we can qualify for grants for affordable housing. Coachella Valley Housing Coalition has several infill homes in progress. We have Food Now. The Chandi Group twice has served meals to thousands of people. Royal Emerald has given thousands to Food Now. "We are focusing slowly, but surely, and in the right direction."

MATAS: The city is very diverse. Over the past five years we've had little division within our city. He meets with people who have needs the city can meet. He talked about meeting with the family of the girl who was killed in traffic at Palm Drive and Camino Aventura. Subsequently they had a town hall and, ultimately, the city changed its priorities and redirected funding so that a traffic signal could be erected sooner at that intersection. We should continue to focus on job creation. More than 2,300 jobs have been created in DHS in the past five years.


Q: DESERT HOT SPRINGS WILL BE SUCCESSFUL OVER THE NEXT DECADE IF ITS CITY COUNCIL DOES ________________________

MATAS: Most cities focus on the continued progress of their vision. "The vison for Desert Hot Springs in cannabis, commercial development, public safety, community programs and fiscal stability is strong." Hew wants another term to make sure the vision stays on track.

MOORE: We need a clear and definable vision. We need to take care of businesses increase the quality of life for residents. Taxes must be kept to a reasonable standard. We need to offer incentives for businesses to come to DHS.

NUÑEZ: Don't sell out the city. He repeated his "blank canvas" metaphor. We should make sure growth is responsible. Put families and community first and the rest will come. CVLink should be extended to DHS. We should capitalize on our hiking trails. "I'm not against cannabis, but we have a dispensary on every corner." We have no strategy for our youth. "My kids especially, your kids, to get out of that, you know, systemic. It's just ridiculous the city hasn't strategized a pathway for kids not to be using, you haven't invested in anti-drug use, billboards, social media. You know, we're big on social media at city hall. Why not send a message? We can't lose our kids to cannabis. And it's not going nowhere, it will be here. It's going to be here long, you know, as long as it can sustain. But we shouldn't subject our kids to be future...we're not cultivating users. I'm not. So let's be responsible."

SANCHEZ: We have to look at the strengths in our community. It's the diversity of the people who live here. You have to engage the residents. Develop a strategic plan on where we should be in 10 years.

BETTS: In every community where he's lived the common denominator that made things better was good-paying jobs. One of the biggest challenges for youth is an impoverished family. The incumbents do have a vision for the city. The city is gradually getting better. We're bringing in businesses and jobs that will provide the base for future changes.

GIBONEY: A man of unbreakable habit, he re-read the question verbatim. "Get rid of the city council monopoly and diversify the minds of the council by getting rid of their groupthink." Residents should be allowed to participate in the direction of the city. [He did not explain what the city council monopoly is. The only monopoly they have that I'm aware of is the same monopoly held by every other city council: a monopoly on legislative power on local issues within the city.]

GILBERT: If the council continues to be fiscally responsible. Health care is the most important issue for her. We should have at least two urgent care centers. We desperately need more youth programs. "Not just sports, but music, arts, police activities league, build on Rotary's Early Act and Interact."

GRIFFITH: If its city council continues on the path they have set over the past several years. Fiscal stability has improved. Roads have been improved. More and better street lights are being installed. We can continue progress only if we make decisions that don't jeopardize our revenue stream.

permalink | October 10, 2020 at 11:43 AM | Comments (2)

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.

permalink | 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.

permalink | 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.

permalink | June 17, 2020 at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2020

Some Recent Photos (on film)

Mustang (0001)

Gas Blvd Dispensary (0028)
The city's newest marijuana dispensary.

11360 Palm Drive (0026)
On Palm Drive at 5th.

5th Street Trailer Park (0024)
The trailer park on 5th Street.

Swimming Pool (0010)

permalink | May 31, 2020 at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2020

A few more infrared shots

Heavy Equipment (0636)

Pipes (0634)

Heavy Equipment (0631)

Las Palmas Mexican Cuisine (0648)

Lantana (0628)

Junk Car (0657)

Christian Center (0646)

permalink | April 13, 2020 at 08:02 PM | Comments (0)

April 1, 2020

Photos from around town

Not Social Distancing (2927)
Not observing social distancing in Desert Hot Springs
.

Mailbox (2912)

Lantana (2903)

IVTHC (2847)

Empty Skatepark (2967)

Bougainvillea (2929

Bougainvillea (2869)
The bougainvillea growing along the south side of Las Palmas restaurant
.

11522 Palm Drive (2850)
New dispensary at 11522 Palm Drive (4th Street)
.

permalink | April 1, 2020 at 09:21 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2020

Mission Springs Water District Board Meetings, March 12 & 16, 2020

This is a report on the MSWD Board meetings of March 12 and 16, 2020. I did not attend the meeting on Monday, March 16, and base that part of my report on the video.

Video of the Thursday, March 12 meeting.
Screen Shot Thursday study session

Screen Shot Monday session
Video of the Monday, March 16 meeting.

At both the Thursday and Monday meetings, Director Grasha participated via telephone. Vice President Duncan was absent (excused) from the Thursday meeting.

The Monday meeting began with Grace Gardner speaking by phone. She was not introduced, other than to give us her name, nor was her presentation agendized. Ms. Gardner summarized the federal, state and local rules about dealing with COVID-19. It is now possible for the entire board to participate in board meetings via telephone.


Sewer Connection Financial Assistance Fund

This will be similar to the fund that was set up for AD12, but this one can apply to all future assessment districts. It will be started with $250,000. Loans will be available for both residential and commercial customers. The maximum loan for one residential property is $6,000. The resolution doesn't state a maximum for commercial customers. The board can approve a higher amount. The length of the loan can be up to ten years. The resolution says "Payments shall be included on the utility bill of the improved property." I take that to mean some amount will be added to the water bill monthly. The interest rate will be 5% or the Local Agency Investment Fund yield rate, if higher. Delinquencies will be assessed a 7% penalty and all of that will then go on the tax bill.

Approved 5-0.


Water Supply Assessment For The DHS 109 Industrial Park

The DHS 109 development is east of Little Morongo, west of Atlantic Avenue and north of 16th Avenue. If you know where the self-storage business is on the west side of Little Morongo (in the county), DHS 109 will be east of that, on the other side of the wash. It will include 5.4 acres of light industrial, 17.5 acres cannabis cultivation, 6.6 acres for a power plant (no info on what kind, but I'm guessing it will be natural gas), 25.7 acres of landscaping, 5.7 acres for detention basins and a whopping 49.36 acres for streets and parking. Total water demand will be about 1,800 acre-feet/year, but the developer will set up a water recycling system which will reduce the net water demand to 910 acre-feet/year. The district has sufficient water to supply that.

Approved 5-0.


Public Safety Power Shutoff

The board had asked for an update on Edison's policies on public safety power shutoffs, so Edison sent a couple of reps to explain. This included a visual presentation, so if you want to see that go to 10:15 in the video of the Thursday meeting. Edison is installing more HD cameras in high fire-risk areas. Currently they have about 200 cameras installed. By the end of 2020 they should have camera coverage of 90% of their high fire-risk areas. They are also installing more weather stations. Now they have 400 weather stations. By the end of 2020 they will have over 850 set up. In the past Edison has cleared vegetation back to create a 4-foot buffer. Going forward they will make that a 12-foot buffer. They've begun hardening their grid. That means replacing wooden poles with composite poles in high fire-risk areas. Also, they are beginning to insulate all their bare wire. Insulation will reduce the probability of an ignition point creating a fire by 60%.

Edison has 7 to 10 meteorologists on duty at all times whose job it is to assess threats. They also have fire experts on board who used to work with CalFire or other fire agencies. When winds in an area reach 32 MPH and wind gusts reach 47 MPH then Edison will focus its attention on that area. They try to look four to seven days ahead, if possible, and may "sound an alarm" seven days ahead of an expected event. If a weather event is expected in three days or less, then a team is activated in the emergency operations center. Edison will then begin to notify local agencies and pinpoint a "period of concern." Up to about a year-and-a-half ago Edison did not directly notify water districts, but trusted the local city or county to pass the word on to them. But someone has since pointed out to Edison how important water is for fighting fires, so now water districts get the same notification as cities and counties. Notification is sent out to all customers on any circuit one and two days before any event that Edison thinks may require that circuit to be cut off.

The "period of concern" is when Edison thinks it is most likely that power will be cut off. If power does get cut off, customers should not count on power being restored until 24 hours after the period of concern ends. During those 24 hours Edison will be repairing and inspecting lines.

But, of course, if conditions are moving too fast (such as a wildfire), all those timeframes could be shortened.

With sufficient warning the district can fill reservoirs and move generators to power wells and pumps. The district has permanent generators located at the Horton wastewater treatment plant and at district headquarters on 2nd Street.

Director Martin asked about "hell hydrants" which are temporary water supplies that fire fighting aircraft can use. Staff said MSWD had used something like that in 2006 during a fire in the western part of the district. Here's an article about a fire-fighting base in the Santa Monica Mountains that uses water "pumpkins" that seem to function as I imagine hell hydrants might.


New Meters Project

A little more than 4,700 new water meters have been installed which is about 37% of the total. There are 12 installers and they still expect the job to be completed in June (but that's probably not allowing for any delays that may be cause by the pandemic).

Meters are designed so they cannot overread. As they age, they will tend to underread. This means when a customer gets a new meter, it may look like their consumption has increased, but in reality they were just getting some free unmetered water from the old meter and going forward they will get no more free water.


General Manager's Comments

At the Monday meeting the changes the district was making to deal with COVID-19 were announced. One of the changes was to divide the staff into two halves. Each half would work from home during alternate weeks. MSWD will not shut off any customers, but all the usual billing rules still apply (IOW, there are still late fees, etc.). Director Grasha said he supported this, but thought it could be a slippery slope.


Director's Comments

Director Grasha thanked the staff for their work during this pandemic, and he warned them to try to stay safe.

Director Martin raised the issue of how dirty cash can be, saying he was going to pay for everything using his debit card. Then President Wright made the rather startling revelation that she has no ATM card.

Vice President Duncan said he wanted to remind everyone that what one board member does reflects on the other. He used Director Sewell for an example, saying that if he went out and got a DUI it would look bad for the whole board. It also reflects badly on staff, management and the attorney. If staff does badly, it reflects badly on the board. Then he had a statement to read:

This past Monday, March 9, Steve Grasha posted on Facebook his intent to run against Manny Perez for county supervisor. During the thread of conversation the gentleman told Steve simply "Fix the water," to which he replied "The agency is too corrupt to be fixed. It needs to be disbanded and rolled into the Desert Water Agency. That will be my recommendation to the public." Normally I comment on these things at this point. I'm not going to today because I included this in my defamation of character lawsuit which will be heard tomorrow afternoon, Palm Springs Municipal Court. Secondly, I apologize for the upcoming language, especially to the ladies but I really want everyone to get a true picture of who's representing us. After several pages of comments on that post Dana Reed, a council member from the Indian Wells commented on the conversation by simply saying "That loud noise you hear are cheers from Supervisor Perez's office." To which Grasha replied, and, again, apologize here, "You're one of the morons I want to make sure never gets close to the ribbons of power in this country. You are the most corrupt motherfuckers that ever walked the face of the earth." Didn't say "face," sorry. "Ever walked the earth." That comment was made on Indian Wells council member who has no service with us and has no jurisdiction over us. He simply commented to the Facebook post. That entire conversation also caught the attention of Manny Perez, the current supervisor for the county, who contacted Victoria asking about that conversation and I'm sure wanted to know what the heck was going on here at the district. Again, what one of us do, reflects on us all. Both of those comments made by Grasha are out of line and completely unacceptable. I would like to recommend to this board that we consult with our attorney to find some way to sanction Grasha for these despicable words and actions. This has gone on too long. We cannot leave this the way it's going.

Attorney Pinkney said he would not comment on that.

As President Wright was about the wrap up the open session, in anticipation of moving to closed session, Director Grasha piped up without waiting to be recognized.

I'm glad to know that it's okay with the director that drinking and driving is okay, but having a discussion with a director from another community is not okay.

permalink | March 23, 2020 at 07:18 PM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2020

Shot in the Coachella Valley: "They Made Me A Criminal"

I just happened to run across They Made Me A Criminal (from 1939) on the local OTA movie channel one night a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised to see a sequence that was obviously shot in the Coachella Valley, as Mt. San Jacinto can be clearly identified. I got the DVD from Netflix and grabbed that short bit to share below. After walking to a date grove, star John Garfield settles in romancing the blonde lady who owns the grove and teaching some east coast juvenile delinquents (played by The Dead End Kids) boxing. All is paradise until Claude Rains shows up.

IMDB identifies the shooting location as "Palm Desert, California," but nothing of Palm Desert existed in 1939.

permalink | March 18, 2020 at 05:11 PM | Comments (0)

March 9, 2020

MSWD Board Meetings February 13 & 18, 2020

Director Grasha was absent from the meeting on Thursday, February 13. No reason for his absence was given during the roll call. During Director's comments, Director Martin asked if anyone had heard from him with a reason for his absence. No one on the board had, but Attorney Pinkney said he had talked to Director Grasha who told him privately why he would be absent. He went on to say that nothing in the communication indicated this would be an excused absence.

After the meeting I saw that Director Grasha had been posting on Facebook, so, since he seemed to be well enough to deal with a keyboard I asked him via Facebook why he had been absent. His response:

I’m not sure I can adequately explain this to meet your expectations but it’s my belief that senior staff at the district including certain members of the board need to be allowed the breathing room necessary so that they can consider the trajectory they are on by removing my presence In hopes that it will relieve the pressure that they must feel by my presents for a few days. I hope this action will help facilitate them having the emotional space needed to adequately address the obvious personnel issues at the district.
WhyGrashaDidNotAttendBoardMeeting

At the meeting on Tuesday, February 18, an email from Mr. Grasha was read out. The message said that he would be absent from this meeting because he would be working with the Trump visit to the valley. However, Mr. Grasha showed up at the board meeting just a few minutes later.

Also at the Tuesday meeting, President Wright announced that Richard Cromwell had passed away the day before. Rather than the usual prayer, she called for a moment of silence for Richard.


Public Input

Russell Betts lectured the board on the purpose of public comments. He said they are for "business before the board, not for people's personal squabbles." He said it was the board's responsibility to police the comments of the public so that only those that deal with water district business are presented. They should not permit political squabbles to be expressed during public comments, he said. He also suggested the board meetings be scheduled at 6 PM rather than 3 PM.

Well, of course, Mr. Betts is waaaaaay off base in his remarks about public comments. For the edification of those who need it, here is the text of the first amendment of the Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It is not in the government's power nor is it the government's responsibility to tell the public what they may or may not say in their remarks to public officials. Public Comments is the time for elected representatives to Shut Up And Listen for three minutes. It is the public that decides what is said during public comments, not the government. Mr. Betts should know this well because any time the subject comes up at City Council meetings the attorney makes it very clear that the City Council cannot censor what the public says. The Mayor may request a respectful tone, he may ask that no individual council member be the focus of criticism, he may tell the speaker to address him directly rather than the crowd in the room, but those are all mere requests that the members of the public are free to observe or ignore as they see fit.

As requested by Director Martin, Attorney Pinkney had his say on the issue later in the meeting (Mr. Betts didn't wait around to hear this). The Brown Act restricts the board to discussing only the items on the agenda. Members of the public are NOT restricted by the Brown Act. They can raise any issue. The board cannot regulate the content of what the public says. He cited Reed v. Town of Gilbert (a Supreme Court decision from 2014) which had to do with a sign code that had content-based restrictions. That is, sign regulations varied depending on what someone was trying to communicate via the sign. "Almost all the time, the effort by the government to regulate the content is going to be struck down." He also cited a section of the Brown Act: "The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs or services of the agency or the acts or omissions of the legislative body." He added that it's most important to protect the public's right to free speech when they are being critical of government. Director Martin brought up the "rules" the city attempts to apply to public comment. I think if he asks he city's attorney about that, she will confirm the rules are mere requests, regardless of what any members of the City Council may think. Attorney Pinkney said that the city of DHS is not alone in what it does, but he considers it a risky path to attempt. President Wright asked if they had to tolerate profanities. The answer was "that's debatable." There is no clear, objective definition of what is profanity.

Anyone who has followed the City Council for a few years will recall that there have been several chronic commenters who criticized individual city council members, and the occasional attempts to rein them in were fruitless.

Members of the public, however, are not permitted to interfere with the progress of the meeting. They can say their three minutes worth, but after that they have to sit down and be quiet.

Philip Bettencourt spoke next. He owns 21 acres at the intersection of Dillon Road and Highway 62. He has been preparing for some development and now he is prepared to deal with MSWD.


District Elections - Public Hearing #2

No member of the public had any comments to make. The board had the demographer come up and repeat his presentation from January. If the process can be completed before June 1 or thereabouts, then it will be in effect for the November 2020 elections. At the next public hearing on this matter we should see proposed maps.


Retaining A Sacramento Lobbyist

General Manager Wallum said that historically the district has not had any representation or involvement in the political process in Sacramento. This statement seems to me to contradict some of what I've learned in MSWD board meetings over the years. I believe MSWD has been involved in Sacramento politics sometimes. For a water district to have NO lobbyist or political involvement in the state capital seems woefully naive to me. Nevertheless, that's what the GM says. But the staff report in the agenda packet says that the contract with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for governmental services expired in January 2020. This item before the board was to authorize a month-by-month relationship with BHFS at $10,000/month, expiring July 2020.

Approved 4-1, with Director Grasha voting no.


Repair Of The Administration Building Roof

The bid for just roof repair (not repair of any damage to the interior, just strictly the roof) came in at only $72,480 which is considerably less than some of the numbers that had been guesstimated. This item before the board was to augment the capital budget by $105,000 and authorize $91,050 ($72,480 plus a 25% contingency amount) for the roof repair. Staff had requested bids from six different companies. Only two companies submitted bids. The others said the job was too small or they were "just too busy." R & R Roofing & Waterproofing was the low bidder. The other bidder, PuroClean Services, bid $130,682.53.

A bid of less than $60,000 to do interior repairs has been received, but not yet accepted. If the work were to include renovation of a restroom, that bid would rise to a little more than $70,000.

Approved 5-0.


Drywells For Wells 27 And 31

Currently, at wells 27 and 31 any wastewater drains into a detention basin which does not have adequate capacity now. One result of using a detention basin is that vegetation will grow there and that means MSWD has to spend money to control the vegetation. In the long run, drywells make more sense. The low bid for this project came from Weka, Inc., in the amount of $239,891.

Approved 5-0.


District Counsel Comments

The attorney had some reminders based on the recently approved Board Handbook. The meetings are conducted according to Robert's Rules of Order as a guideline. At the Tuesday meeting, a different attorney (I don't know her name) said that the board uses Rosenberg's Rules of Order. The President of the board decides all points of order and is responsible for maintaining order and decorum. No one is allowed to speak who has not first been recognized by the President.

Director Sewell asked about Director Grasha's reference at the prior month's meeting to some litigation concerning the Board Handbook. the attorney said there is no such litigation.


Directors' Comments

Director Martin responded to Mr. Betts' suggestion that board meetings be held at 6 PM. He said the district has had a number of meeting at night and there was "no appreciable difference" in the number of people that came out. There his memory is just wrong. The only evening meetings of the MSWD board that I can recall were public hearings for setting rates and they were very well attended. The usual public attendance at the 3 PM meetings is just one or two people. Sometimes as many as half a dozen might show up for a Monday business meeting. In addition, Mr. Martin cited the cost of overtime for having the staff stick around late into the evening, calling it a waste of money and resources. Somehow that expense was never a consideration at the city which has not until recently been as financially secure as the water district. And the city pays staff overtime not just for the city council meeting, but also for the meetings of its three commissions.

Vice President Duncan asked about the final page of the Board Handbook, where each director was to sign. When was that going to be made available for signatures? The reply was that the handbook, having been approved by the board, is in full effect whether they do the signature page or not.

permalink | March 9, 2020 at 06:59 PM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2020

Some More IR Photos

Big Horn Sheep Sculpture (0615)

Cactus (0591)

El Paseo, Palm Desert (0582)
El Paseo in Palm Desert
. I shot this from my hip without even looking.

Bus Stop Shelter (0595)

Speed Limit 25 (0555)
In Desert Hot Springs
.

Welcome to Desert Hot Springs (0561)

permalink | February 16, 2020 at 07:04 PM | Comments (0)

February 3, 2020

MSWD Board Meeting, January 16 & 21, 2020

It Starts Early

Link to the YouTube video at 2:38. Before new Board President Nancy Wright called the meeting to order at the Thursday meeting, Director Steve Grasha used his live microphone to announce that he had just been served a subpoena for small claims court. He quoted from the subpoena "I have asked him to stop lying about me multiple times." He told President Wright that this was her problem. New Board Vice President Randy Duncan said "She has nothing to do with that and knows nothing about it."

Then the meeting was called to order.


Public Input

Jeff Bowman commented at the Tuesday meeting. Link to the YouTube video at 5:56.

Madame President, members of the Board. Steve Grasha, during the 2018 campaign you lied and called me a pedophile and a sex trafficker. On 9/23/2019 we went to court and the court found you guilty of libel. You appealed that decision and we went to court again on 12/6. You lost that appeal and the judge wrote in her verdict dated 12/13 the following, and I quote: "The uncontroverted evidence before the court is that defendant Grasha posted libelous material on his Facebook account and under his own name and under the name of Steve Davis. Grasha posted numerous statements unmistakably referring to Bowman as a pervert or pedophile. Having reviewed the photograph, the court finds Grasha's claim regarding the photograph to be outlandish at best. Even assuming that both men are public figures, the court finds that Grasha's statements were libelous and highly damaging to Bowman and that the statements were made without any good faith and that they were made maliciously. Furthermore, it is self-evident that the statements published by Grasha would be highly distressing to their target. Plaintiff Bowman is awarded $10,000 in damages and his court costs of $75."

Steve Grasha, you have not paid me this judgement. Be informed today that I will be pursuing these monies by all legal means possible unless you pay before February third, 2020. Your failure to pay this judgement will land you back in court where you will have to produce a statement of assets and you'll ultimately be forced to pay.

To the rest of the Directors and staff in this room today: Steve Grasha has libeled MSWD. He has boldly claimed that you secretly laundered $300,000 in cash through a nondescript storefront located in a strip mall of Desert Hot Springs, and that you were doing this for years. Please realize that Grasha isn't someone speaking as the public from the podium. He is an elected official. One of you. He has taken the oath to selfishly [sic] uphold the principles of this district. [At this point Mr. Grasha attempted to interrupt, claiming Mr. Bowman's time had elapsed, but YouTube will show you that only 2 minutes and 45 seconds had elapsed. President Wright called him out of order and Dori Petee reminded them that she has the timer.]

Counsel, will you please control your Director? [President Wright said that she had called him out of order and Mr. Bowman thanked her - District Counsel did not respond.] Such a claim, that you've laundered 300,000 in cash must be taken seriously. He must either prove it or be held accountable for such an outrageous attack on the very district he has sworn to protect. Steve, I'll see you in court next Monday. Our second lawsuit.


Elections By District - First Public Hearing

Link to the youTube video at 12:48. MSWD is proceeding with changing to elections by district without waiting for any demand letter to show up from any attorney who wants to claim $30,000. Districting info can be found on the district's website at mswd.org/districting. That includes the Powerpoint presentation given to the directors at the Tuesday meeting which includes maps showing

  1. Median income
    Median income
  2. Poverty
    Poverty
  3. Renters
    Renters
  4. Overcrowding
    Overcrowding
  5. Under Age 18
    Under Age 18
  6. Same residence for at least one year
    Same residence for at least one year
  7. College degree
    College degree
  8. Latino citizens of voting age (CVAP)
    Latino citizens of voting age
  9. Just Population
    Census blocks

This hearing and the next are informational only. The second hearing will be during the February board meeting (which should be February 18). David Ely is the demographer the district has retained for this process.

If you were paying attention when the Desert Water Agency went to districts, then you know the drill. The rules are the same. There will be (at least) four public hearings. January 21 was the first. February 18 will be the second. After that, draft maps will be created, then there will be two more public hearings. All draft maps must be published at least seven days before any hearings where they will be discussed. Same for any revised maps. Maps must be published seven days before the board can adopt them.

They will be using census date from 2010 to determine the population of the districts. The most populous district cannot be more than 10% larger than the least populous district. The population of the entire district (as of 2010) is 37,572, so an ideal district would have 7,514.4 residents. We are 53.4% Latino, 36.1% white, 6.5% black and 2.2% Asian. If you count only adult residents or only citizen residents, the ratios change.

The numbers in each colored block on the median income map is the actual median income in that block. "Overcrowding" for the purposes of the map means more than one person per room in a residence. The College Degree map counts any college degree from Associates degree on up. The Census Block map (which is labeled "BG Population") simply shows the total population in each census block.

Director Grasha raised the point that two people surnamed Sanchez have run for the MSWD Board, but were not elected. He then pointed out his high vote total, saying "The idea that people didn't have a fair shot at getting elected seems to be to be not accurate." Unless Mr. Grasha now identifies as Latino, his point seems to be that electing yet another white man to the MSWD Board somehow means districting is not necessary. He went on to say that he now opposed districting unless "People get down here and ask for it."

If the MSWD Board waited to do anything until the public came in and asked for it, they would be doing nothing. At a lot of the board meetings I'm the only member of the public present. Sometimes one or two others show up. If there's any demanding, it's usually for improved customer service.


Board of Directors Handbook

This was discussed in detail at the meeting on December 17, 2019. A few minor revisions were made based on input from the Directors. Director Grasha recused himself from this vote, saying it was subject to litigation. I'm not aware of any litigation around the handbook itself. The subpoena Director Grasha received concerned his behavior not the handbook.

Approved 4-0.


Mid-Year Budget Review

Link to the YouTube video at 14:23. Staff requested an increase in the legal budget of $250,000 and in consulting services of $120,000. Director Grasha asked to know "exactly" what those were for, with an emphasis on "exactly." Finance Director Matt McCue said he could not give an exact explanation, but that perhaps the General Manager could add some detail. Mr. McCue said it had to do with CGMA, meaning the lawsuit against DWA. General Manager Wallum pointed out that was a closed session subject. Director Grasha demanded to know how it could be "out here" if it's a closed session item, obviously failing to understand that ALL budget items are approved (or disapproved) in open, public sessions, not closed sessions. [Welcome to California, Steve!]. District Counsel began to explain, but Director Grasha interrupted him to say that he had attended closed session and he never heard about a budget increase [see my earlier point about budget items being reserved for open session]. Attorney Pinkney explained that they are working on a settlement with DWA. If it is settled, then the expenses won't be so significant. But if the settlement falls apart, it's difficult to predict the expenses.

Director Grasha said that hiring a consultant was both a personnel and policy issue and the board should know what it is. General Manager Wallum said the consultant is Hunt Thornton and they are doing financial analysis in relation to the suit with DWA. The attorney said that the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the MSWD and DWA boards are negotiating the settlement without anyone else present, including legal counsel. Mr. Grasha said "So Randy Duncan is deciding the future of this district without the input of the five members of the board?"

Mr. Grasha's question was answered with a No from General Manager Wallum, President Wright and the attorney, in that order. Attorney Pinkney began to explain further, but Mr. Grasha interrupted him to say "How did it happen, because I can count to three." The attorney asked to be allowed to finish his statement. He went on to explain the board gave him direction at the last closed session and now they will have a meeting based on the direction given in closed session. Mr. Grasha said that having "inexperienced" board members negotiating "is completely outer space." He accused Vice President Duncan of "inventing" the idea of negotiating this way.

Changes in the personnel classification plan also required an additional $94,823. Those changes include elimination of the Administrative and Government Affairs Specialist position and the addition of an Assistant General Manager position. The total number of FTEs remains at 49. Costs allocated to capital jobs have been reduced by $64,620. The net increase for the operating budget then comes to $400,203, a 2.6% increase.

The board had given direction to the General Manager to get an Assistant General Manager at his last evaluation by a board...a meeting that Mr. Grasha did not attend. Mr. Grasha asked if the board "approved" a new position during that evaluation (evaluations take place in closed session). The answer was of course not. During the evaluation, the board instructed the General Manager to get an Assistant General Manager. This item before the board today, the budget revisions, would, in effect, approve the new position, but that seemed to go over Mr. Grasha's head.

Mr. Grasha asked what the salary range would be for the Assistant General Manager. It will be from $220,000 to $272,000. Mr. Grasha asked how many positions pay more than that. The answer was none. Mr. Grasha disagreed, asserting that the General Manager makes more than $220,000. Both Mr. Wallum and Ms. Wright simultaneously answered "No." Ms. Wright explained to Mr. Grasha that they were looking solely at salary, not at the total compensation package. Mr. Grasha said that Mr. Wallum was making more than $300,000. Again, Ms. Wright tried to clarify the difference between salary only and total compensation. Then Mr. Grasha asked "Are we actually going to try to pretend that he's not making over 200 grand a year?" "I am," was Mr. Wallum's response. "Close to 215," he added. Mr. Grasha said he thinks a lot of people make more than $200,000/year.

The capital budget also needed increases totaling $127,000. Those increases are $17,000 for new construction meters, $25,000 for effluent filtration preliminary design review at the Horton plant, $50,000 for the regional urban water management plan and $35,000 for the San Gorgonio Pass Groundwater Sustainability Plan.

Approved 4-1 with Mr. Grasha voting against.

Link to YouTube video at 50:43. After this vote, discussion moved on to the following item, but after a few minutes Mr. Grasha seemed moved to explain his vote. Mr. Grasha said it was wrong to add personnel to the budget in secret. President Wright pointed out that it was not in secret, it was discussed by the board (with Director Grasha present) the previous Thursday in the study session, and on the day of this meeting it was voted on openly and publicly. Mr. Grasha claimed the evidence of the secret meeting was sitting in the audience. I have no idea what he might have meant by that. The additional position that was authorized in the budget vote not five minutes prior was for an Assistant General Manager. No Assistant General Manager was hired in those few minutes. The district does not have an Assistant General Manager. Mr. Grasha was raising his voice. President Wright called him out of order and offered a 5 minute recess so that he could control himself.


Ordinance Amending the Policy on Discontinuation of Service Due to Nonpayment

This reflects changes that are mandatory under state law. Service could not be discontinued before 60 days of nonpayment. Partial payments and payment plans (up to 12 months) may be accepted. The fee for reconnection during normal business hours will be $50; during nonoperational hours it will be $150.

Approved 5-0.


Correspondence

This is the part of the agenda where the board can discuss correspondence the district has received. There was none to discuss this time, but at the Thursday study session Director Grasha said "I have a litigation that I'd like to refer to legal counsel for defense." President Wright responded, "We're not done with the board meeting yet." Attorney Pinkney said he would take a look at it.

Mr. Grasha's request was agendized for closed session discussion at the Tuesday meeting. Both Mr. Grasha and VP Duncan recused themselves from that meeting. The remaining three board members voted 0-3 on providing MSWD counsel to defend Mr. Grasha.


General Manager's Report

Well 28 has been taken completely out of service. Water from that well required uranium treatment, so it was only used as a backup well. Now the uranium treatment has been removed, saving the district a big chunk of money.

About 1,200 water meters have been replaced. That's 10% of the project.


Director's Comments

Link to the YouTube video at 1:40:18. At the Thursday study session VP Duncan said that the papers served on Director Grasha were a personal matter between the two of them, but he had a statement to read which described as his "opinion in defense of the district." He read...

For three months leading up to the October 17 study session, Mission Springs Water District was host to a team of auditors and Certified Public Accountants from the accounting firm of Lund and Guttry, LLP for the annual financial audit which was done in accordance with government auditing standards. During those three months that team of auditors and CPAs interviewed our Finance Director, Matt McCue, a CPA, accounting manager Arturo I-can't-pronounce-his-last-name [Ceja], also a CPA. They had access to our books and records, including accounts receivable, accounts payable, our checking account, our investments, loans, bonds, payroll, budget, cash flows and more. At that October 17 study session Gary Dak, a Certified Public Accountant Lund and Guttry, gave a review of that audit to the Board of Directors. He praised Matt for his impeccable records and for earning the district over a million dollars in our investments over the last year. Gary gave the district a "No opinion" for the audit which, as funny as that sounds, is CPA language for the highest grade possible. [Director Grasha attempted to interrupt at this point]. At the October 21st board meeting the Board of Directors, as it sits here today, voted unanimously in favor of accepting the audited financial statements. On December 20th, 2019, only two months after that very intensive audit, Steve Grasha wrote the following on Facebook: "Why did the Board of Directors of the Mission Springs Water District secretly launder $300,000 in cash through this nondescript storefront located in a strip mall in Desert Hot Springs? The larger question, or why did the owner of this scheme flee to drug cartel-controlled Jalisco, Mexico as soon as I started asking questions about this?" That's the end of his quote. There was some back and forth conversation between Director Grasha and a couple of commenters to which Grasha replied "Because they are on the receiving end. They have been looting the district for years." This is only two months after Director Grasha voted unanimously with the rest of the board to accept that auditor's report. The auditing team of CPAs I mentioned earlier camped out in our offices and conference rooms for three months and gave us an impeccable rating. Steve Grasha made that statement two months later and did not consult with our General Manager, the Finance Director, the accounting manager, the front end manager who handles all our cash, hasn't reviewed any of our books and records, spoke with any of the ladies in customer service and there was nothing about accounts receivable or accounts payable for the district. During the thread of conversation on Facebook Steve also said "Need to get to the truth, no matter what." Steve, the truth of the matter is you are lying. You know it, I know it, and the rest of this board knows it. [Director Grasha attempted to interrupt again.] These are my comments. [President Wright called Director Grasha out of order. Director Grasha said VP Duncan was out of order. President Wright repeated that Director Grasha was out of order, adding "Nobody bothered you during yours."] In fact, you have been successfully sued and proven to be a habitual liar in court. Twice in just the last four months. Three times if you count the appeal you lost where the judge's decision was re-affirmed. Today you've been served with another summons to appear in court and be held accountable for the statements you made to this board on December 20th and several other statements you've made over the past year. Stop lying and become a productive member of this board. You have your seat. You are a Director. Start acting like one. Stop lying about me. Stop lying about this board. And, more importantly, stop lying about Mission Springs Water District. Madame President with your permission I would like to... [Director Grasha tried to interrupt again asking "Would you deny that you wrote a check.". President Wright called him out of order.] I didn't write any check. With your permission I would like to give this to Dori and have it... [Director Grasha interrupted "Then what did they do with the money?"]

Link to the YouTube video at 1:12:33. At the Tuesday meeting Director Sewell said that Director Grasha's statements about a secret meeting are false. The meeting itself was an evaluation of General Manager Wallum (a closed session). Director Grasha had been invited to that meeting; "encouraged" is the word Mr. Sewell used. At this point Mr. Grasha began to interrupt and President Wright called him out of order. Mr. Sewell went on to say that Mr. Grasha declined coming to the meeting because he was new to the district. The decision to encourage the General Manager to hire an assistant was from yet a previous year, before Mr. Sewell was on the board. He said further, "I just want to make sure that we continue to understand that, the five of us, our decision as a whole is what..." Director Grasha began to interrupt again. President Wright called him out of order. Mr. Sewell continued, "Any decision that has been made by this board prior to your arrival, prior to my arrival, to anyone's arrival, we still stick by it until that policy changes."


Public Input

Link to the YouTube video at 1:13:54. Jeff Bowman wanted to comment on the closed session which was scheduled on Tuesday at the end of the open session. Mr. Bowman said that it appeared that Director Grasha was attempting to use the district's counsel for his personal defense. He went on to say that Mr. Grasha has been tearing down the district publicly, destroying the goodwill that MSWD enjoys in the community. Director Grasha, of course, began to interrupt Mr. Bowman's comments. President Wright called him out of order, but Mr. Grasha continued talking. Finally, President Wright asked him to leave. Then he stopped talking. Mr. Bowman continued, addressing his remarks to district counsel, saying he thought it was part of counsel's job to referee these interruptions "and to help our board navigate the waters of somebody that is not fit for public office."

permalink | February 3, 2020 at 09:56 PM | Comments (1)

January 5, 2020

Some Infrared Photos

Most digital cameras filter out infrared light before it gets to the sensor. The early Canon Powershot G cameras (G1, G2 and G3), however, allowed some through. I used to have a G3 and all I needed to do was put on a deep red filter to take infrared photos. But the G3 was stolen. Some years later I acquired a used G2 to do the same thing, but it was old and had a few burned out pixels. Those are easy to fix in editing if you've only got one photo, but it gets pretty tiresome to fix the same 12 tiny specks on every photo if you've got a lot to edit, so I haven't used it in a long time.

Last month, I acquired a Canon G12 from LifePixel that they converted to shoot infrared. They remove whatever internal infrared filter there is and then install an internal deep red filter. I already had a regular G12, so I was completely familiar with the camera and the two cameras could share some equipment. Here are some of the resulting photos:

Train Passing Through Palm Springs Amtrak Station (0438)
The Amtrak station in Palm Springs
.

Target (0413)
Target in Cathedral City
.

District East (0411)
New housing behind the Target
.

Joshua Tree at Pioneertown Mountains Preserve (0549)
At Pioneertown Mountains Preserve
.

Cholla at Pioneertown Mountains Preserve (0545)
A cholla at Pioneertown Mountains Preserve
.

Big Morongo Preserve (0530)
At Big Morongo Preserve
.

Big Morongo Preserve (0522)
At Big Morongo Preserve
.

Big Morongo Preserve (0507)
Big Morongo Preserve
.

Big Morongo Preserve (0483)
Big Morongo Preserve
.

Big Morongo Preserve (0471)
Big Morongo Preserve
.

Big Morongo Preserve (0477)
Big Morongo Preserve
.

Big Morongo Preserve (0450)
Big Morongo Preserve
.

Desert Plants (0366)
In Desert Hot Springs
.

permalink | January 5, 2020 at 08:01 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2019

MSWD Board Meeting, December 17, 2019

This is a report about the meeting of the Board of Directors of Mission Springs Water District on December 17, 2019. All directors were present. No votes were taken during this meeting.

My full-length audio recording of the meeting is available here [YouTube].


BOARD HANDBOOK UPDATE

General Manager Arden Wallum introduced Robert Deloche, a consultant who was hired to put together a draft Board of Directors Handbook based on policies that are already in place.

The draft copy of the MSWD Board of Directors Handbook is available here (PDF, 1.7MB).

Mr. Deloche gave some background on how long the work on this handbook had been going on (since 2017) and explained that the board could approve the handbook at this meeting or wait until their next regularly scheduled meeting in January. Director Grasha asked him how he came up with that "timing." "The way you just put it, it sounded like we have to approve it at the next meeting." Mr. Deloche answered no, saying they could put it off until any date they liked.

Then Mr Grasha asked Mr. Deloche what other agencies he had worked with on a similar activity. He answered that he was currently working on one for the City of Pomona. Mr. Grasha asked if he had done one for West Valley Water District (Rialto). Mr. Deloche answered, "No, I offered to do one for them, they asked me to do one..."

Director Grasha interrupted him to ask if he had done work for them. Mr. Deloche said he had.

Grasha: And what's happened since then?

Deloche: They didn't follow it.

Grasha: Right. Is that right?

Deloche: Mmhmm.

Grasha: Or they did follow it and the place collapsed. In fact, the General Manager is dead and everybody in the agency was fired and then the Board of Directors nearly turned over 100% since then and just two weeks ago because of this kind of...

Director Nancy wright: What does this have to do with this?

Grasha: Because that's what this stuff creates, okay? This agency has existed for nearly 70 years without this kind of monkey business going on, and suddenly there's an election and now we gotta get him, so we create 21 pages of rules that...

Wright: You don't know what you're talking about.

Grasha" Excuse me ma'am, but I've been around for a long time. I know what's going on here and...

Wright: You heard him say we've been working on this since '17.

Grasha: You're fully welcome to pass this as it's written. But as it's written it will turn one board member against four board members, and four board members, three of them are up for re-election and let me promise you, as a result of this, it won't be a pretty election.

President Randy Duncan: All right. You know, if you keep that up we're going to stop the meeting again until you compose yourself. I'm not going to take this crap again.

Grasha: I'm completely composed. I'm telling you what you have to look forward to as a result of this. Okay? Now, carry on.

Duncan: This is going to kill people?

Grasha: Just let it be known that it's...

Wright: Okay, you don't like it. Fine.

* * *

Later in the meeting, after Director Grasha had been escorted from the building, Mr. Deloche explained what had gone down at the West Valley Water District, so I will break with a strict chronology and give you that info here.

He said, "West Valley Water District originally solicited proposals to do this. They were having a change in the Board of Directors. They had a general manager who had been there for 40-some years, in perfect peace and harmony. But there was change in the wind. They elected not to create a board handbook and establish policies and procedures and guidelines. The board majority changed. The board president reached out to a couple of us and gave them proposals and asked us again, how quickly could you put something together? We don't do these quickly. You can see how much effort went into this. And so nothing was ever done, the board's majority changed and it's been somewhat chaotic ever since. I will tell you I was retained to do one piece of it which we did here early. And in a public meeting I read verbatim from state law the authority of the board and the authority of the general manager. And in state law, the general manager has the authority to hire and fire employees. He's the CEO of the company. The board president, at that time - new - said 'no way, no how, if I want to walk into an employee's office and discipline them I want to do that, I don't have to check with the general manager, if I think they should be gone then I'm gonna get rid of them, I don't have to get approval from the GM first.' And I looked at the attorney, walked over and gave the attorney a copy of the section - I forget what it is right now - in the water code and the board president asked the attorney to go to Sacramento and change state law.

[chuckles all around]

"So the board president...obviously that never happened - won't happen. So that board president is now in the minority."

Ms. Wright asked how long ago this had happened. Sixteen years ago was the answer. Mr. Deloche added, "I don't know anybody that died."

Now to return to our regular chronology.

* * *

Mr. Deloche explained that the Board Handbook would be just one piece of the district's codified rules and regulations. He then proposed to go through the 16-page handbook (19 if you count the title page and table of contents) and review every part. GM Wallum said that district counsel had already reviewed and made revisions to this draft. A copy of this draft had been sent to each of the directors about three weeks ago. Mr. Deloche said no changes to the draft had been made since then.

When he got to section 3 "Culture: Vision and Core Values," he began to explain that this section was developed in a discussion with the attorneys under the direction of the General Manager.

Grasha: Were there any board members involved in that?

Deloche: No.

Wright: They're involved now. You tell us what you don't like about it in a minute.

Grasha: I understand this is staff's wet dream that's being presented to us and I just want the board to understand that this is a slippery slope and you will fall on a banana peel. It will split your heads open. All of you.

Duncan: But to answer your question, yes, the President and Vice President [Russ Martin] helped in putting this together.

Wallum: And the board did get involved with the mission, vision and values.

Duncan: This is a compilation of everything that we already have. This is not new. This is not created.

Wallum: Three years ago we started this.

Grasha: There's not one word of anything similar to this in the current code or you would have used it already. Not one word.

The meatier part of the handbook begins with section 4 "Authority, Role of the Board of Directors and General Guidelines." Mr. Deloche had just gotten to section 4.02 "Responsibilities of Office" when Mr. Grasha asked "I noticed in here it talks about the responsibility of Directors to go through the President only. [Raising his voice] The President of this board refuses to accept emails from a Director. How is that going to work, exactly?"

Wright: Can we wait until we get to that part?

Grasha: If you're going to play games here, let's have it all out there.

Wright: Just be organized while we do this.

Grasha: This is nothing organized about this. It's a hit job. You're just not very good at it.

Duncan: Steve, if you're here just to disrupt the meeting please leave.

Grasha: The Director's not leaving.

Duncan: If you would like...

Grasha [raising his voice] The duly elected Director is not leaving.

Duncan: Don't start this shit today.

Grasha: [voice still raised] The appointed Director is welcome to do whatever he wants.

Duncan: Thank you, since I...

Grasha: That's never won an election in 14 years.

Duncan: 14 years on the board. 14 years on the board. Don't start this shit today.

Grasha: [yelling] That's my point. And it comes to an end in 10 months.

Duncan: Oh, I'm trembling.

Grasha: I know you are, that's why you're writing this.

Duncan: Let the consultant do his job. If you don't like it when your turn for comments come around you can reply...

Grasha: Whoever votes for this will not be on the sleigh car. [? that's what it sounded like]

Duncan: Oh, I know, I know. You're so important.

Grasha: [normal voice] Glad you noticed.

Vice President Martin raised a point when Mr. DeLoche got to item 6 under section 5 "Role and Responsibility of the President and Vice-President of the Board of Directors" which says "The President acts as the ceremonial head or representative of the District at various civic functions. In his/her absence the Board may designate or appoint another member of the Board to fulfill this role." Mr. Martin said he thought that if the President were unavailable, those duties should naturally fall to the Vice President. The Board would not usually have the time to call a meeting and designate a replacement.

Grasha: Well, how does a Director that's not allowed to...as I understand it, this doesn't allow a Director to contact anybody on the staff in any way.

Deloche: No.

Grasha: That includes the General Manager that all communications from Directors need to go through the President.

Wright: Which number is that on this page?

Grasha: I don't know. I stopped reading when I got to it.

So this is as far as Director Grasha got in reading the draft handbook.

Director Wright asked about item 11, "The President regularly communicates with the General Manager and keeps other Board members fully informed on matters of District business." She wanted to know how this was to be done. Due to the Brown Act the President could only share this information at public, agendized board meetings. (And at a board meeting, you might as well get those updates from staff.) Ms. Wright suggested that the item be rewritten to say that the President should communicate with the General Manager regularly to stay updated, and that the General Manager would update the board at noticed, agendized meetings.

Mr. Deloche had gotten to section 6 "Principles of Behavior and Performance Expectations of the Board of Directors", item 2, which read "The Board values a visionary, constructive, high-energy work environment, and the District, and its constituents benefit from that environment."

Grasha: As long as it is met with no resistance from the President.

Duncan: What is your problem today?

Grasha: I'm just parroting what he's saying. He's telling us how we're all going to get along well, but we don't, and it's not a level playing field around here. It hasn't been since I got here because you have never approved of my being here for some reason.

Duncan: Have I ever disapproved?

Grasha: Often, at every meeting.

Duncan: You know what, it's not pertinent to this.

Section 7 is "Board of Director's Interaction and Communication." Mr. Deloche read item 2:

Board members will direct comments to the merits of issues and items before them through the Board President, while refraining from personal attacks against other Board Members, the General Manager, members of the public and District staff. If a Board member has a grievance with another Board member, he/she should first discuss it privately with that person. This should always be done in compliance with the Brown Act. If the matter is unresolved, the Board member should go to the General Manager and the General Manager can seek resolution of the issue.

Grasha: For instance, if I ask him, you know, how does it feel never to have won an election in 14 years, would that be a personal attack?

Wright: That's not a thing you can decide right now.

Deloche: I don't think that's for me to decide.

Grasha: Well, that's what the board majority wants to be able to vote on. That's the problem. This allows...

Wright: How do you know what I want to do?

Grasha: Because you're doing it.

Wright: We're going over it. We're going over it. We haven't voted on anything. Just sit there and listen and put your comments...if your comments are constructive on this that's great, but so far they haven't been.

Grasha: That's just what he pointed out. I was just asking a question, a for instance.

Wright: Well, tell him which part you would like to have changed. How would you like to have it changed? Tell us.

Grasha: I think that the majority shouldn't use anything like this as a weapon because it will split the board in such a way that there will be no way to conduct...

Wright: In here. In here. [gesturing at her copy of the draft handbook] If you don't have anything constructive to say, Steve...

Grasha: [steadily raising his voice] ...the board meetings between now and 12 months from now until there's an election and the voters get a chance to hear all of the nonsense you guys in secret [yelling] you spent $300,000 of district money to infect the public and the lady gets questioned by DA and she takes off to Mexico.

Wright: That's your opinion. So let us hear your opinion on this when we get to the part you don't like.

The discussion continued on a more substantive level as directors discussed how item 2 would actually work in practice. Ms. Wright explained that it would be voluntary action for a Director to go to the General Manager, and no Director would do it unless he thought it would help. She emphasized that this just a guideline.

Grasha: The whole thing would be used against minority of the board and that's not cool. And the minority of the board raises up, just like they did over in West Valley and the staff got two...they've been through two entire staffs.

Wright: We're not West Valley.

Grasha: [raising his voice] Everybody got fired and then they hired a new staff and they got fired and the only guy left over there is the target of the original policy.

Wright: Lower your voice. Lower your voice. Okay, that's interesting trivia.

Grasha: [voice still raised] Well, go read it!

Wright: I'm not concerned with what another district does.

Grasha: People are dying over there because of this...

Wright: [unclear]...trivia!

Grasha: Well, it's not trivia. It's fact.

Wright: It's trivia to me.

Grasha: [raising his voice more] ASK THE DEAD GUY'S WIFE IF IT'S TRIVIA!

Wright: Oh, my god!

Mr. Deloche said that individual behaviors could not be policed beyond certain parameters. He offered to work with the General Manager and District Counsel to come up with some language to clarify how members of the board should try to work out differences together first, and then they may take it to the General Manager.

Grasha: As an example, let me try this out as an example. Very interesting. Because it came up down the road, West Valley. I gave up my district credit card because I didn't it to appear that I was abusing it. In West Valley, one of their directors gave up their district credit card because he didn't want to appear that he was abusing the company credit card. [raising his voice] Because he did that, and now the allegation is held against him that he is using his personal credit card so he can rack up mileage, air mileage or some kind of thing. As if using your personal credit card somehow is injurious to the district and he shouldn't be allowed to do that. And I'm very uncomfortable with where this goes.

Wright: In our district, the secretary does all the reservations for us.

Grasha: [raising his voice more[ The secretary is out actively trying to remove me from office.

Duncan: All right, that's your personal opinion.

Grasha: [yelling] NO, IT's NOT! IT"S NOT. IT'S A FACT! OKAY?

Duncan: It's not a fact.

Grasha: IT IS A FACT. AND SHE'S OUT THERE ON THE INTERNET PROMOTING MY REMOVAL FROM OFFICE.

Wright: Okay, we can talk about...Steve!

Grasha: [still yelling] AND THIS IS THE PERSON THAT I HAVE TO GO TO...

Duncan: We're going to take a break. [gavels]

Grasha: IF YOU THHINK THAT THIS IS GOING TO EASE UP...

Wright: We can talk about your internet stuff too, but we don't.

Duncan: You need to control yourself, Steve. This is a business meeting.

Grasha: Why? [yelling again] YOU DON'T LIKE IT WHEN I INCH AHEAD IN MY ARGUMENT. I'M TRYING TO APPEAL TO TWO DIRECTORS HERE, NOT YOU BECAUSE I KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING.

Duncan: Settle down. Settle down.

Grasha: OKAY? YOU'RE GOING TO BE OUT THERE ON THE CURB WITH BOWMAN [which he pronounced like "bough-man" rather than "bo-man"] IN 12 MONTHS.

Wright: Who are you talking to?

Grasha: [still yelling] THE QUESTION IS WHETHER HE WILL BE ON THE CURB AND HE WILL BE ON THE CURB BECAUSE I'M GOING TO FINANCE TWO CANDIDATES, MINIMUM, I MIGHT FIND THREE AND THAT'S WHERE YOU'RE GOING BECAUSE OF YOU AND YOU. [it was completely unclear to me who he was directing his statements to] JUST SO EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT'S COMING.

Duncan: STOP. RIGHT NOW! KNOCK IT OFF! GROW UP! TAKE YOUR PILLS. WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAINTAIN...

Grasha: THIS ISN'T INDIAN WELLS AND THE DESERT SUN HAS ALREADY TAKEN THEIR BEST HIT FOR THAT FORTY GRAND YOU PAID THEM, ALL RIGHT?

Wright: Oh, my goodness.

Duncan: My gosh. You need to read this.

Wright: Yeah, you need to read it.

Grasha: [at less than a yell] Like I said the other day, I've been doing this since high school. I know how this play ends.

Duncan: This is your first elected seat. Don't tell me you've been doing this since high school.

Grasha [voice raised] I've been involved in politics since high school. I've removed lots of people, including judges, members of Congress, multiple people.

Wright: [laughs]

Grasha: Nobody has ever survived.

Duncan: Your résumé is so impressive. Knock it off. Let's get back to...do you know how disrespectful this is to our consultant?

Grasha: I want the two directors who's most at risk over this to understand where they're going. And it's because of you and because of her.

Wright: Are you done?

Grasha: No!

Duncan: Can you be an adult for one meeting?

Grasha: I'll give you another one. The first time I met him [here we was referring to Mr. Deloche] I asked him what he did for the district. His mouth fell open, his face turned pale, and [yelling] HE DIDN'T ANSWER! AND IT'S BECAUSE HE WAS DOING THIS.

Wright: You have no business yelling at a consultant.

Grasha: [voice raised] I'm not yelling!

Wright: Well, what do ya think you're doing, Steve?

At this point President Duncan recessed the meeting for a 5-minute break, announcing that the police were on their way.

Grasha: See how it ends up? You guys get to decide. What you want to be here...

Wright: No, you're making the decision right now.

Duncan: It is your decision.

Grasha: We have a recording. The police can make their decision whether or not it's whatever your observation is. I think it's important to get this stuff out and this is a good opportunity.

Wright: But this is not the place.

Grasha: [yelling] IT IS EXACTLY THE PLACE.

Wright: It is not.

Grasha: THIS IS A MEETING OF THE BOARD.

Wright:That's not on the agenda!

Grasha: EVERYBODY NEEDS TO KNOW WHAT'S AT STAKE HERE AND WHY AND WHY WHEN YOU TOOK $300,000 OUT OF PETTY CASH AND USED IT TO SPREAD AROUND THE COMMUNITY ALL THESE BALONEY RUMORS AND WHEN YOU'RE ENTIRE REASONING FOR THIS LAWSUIT [probably referencing the lawsuit against DWA] COMPLETELY OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOUR PUBLIC STATEMENTS ARE MAKES YOU IN MY BOOK A CRIMINAL.. ALL RIGHT? AND THERE'S TWO INVESTIGATIONS: A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION AND A STATE INVESTIGATION. One's coming from the bottom, and one is coming from the top. You don't know where they will meet, but I promise you what you did in that [unclear] is completely inappropriate. And you and you, I am certain, led the whole thing. Oh, they'll never figure it out. Well, they did.

Wright: Paranoid.

Grasha: [voice raised] I'm not paranoid It's all public record. All you got to do is read it.

Wright: Well, it doesn't seem to be that you read much, 'cause you didn't read this agenda today.

Grasha: I stopped when I realized what it was. There's no reason to. And I'm laying it out to the board so they know what they're doing. If you want me to go, I will, I don't have a problem."

Wright: Are the cops really coming?

Duncan: Yes, I'm having the police come in and escort Director Grasha out.

Wright: Okay.

Grasha: [laughs]

And then the recess really became a recess. People wandered in and out. People looked at their phones. If you're listening to the audio recording, you can skip ahead to 48:24 without missing anything. And then the police showed up to escort Director Grasha out with no drama, leaving behind his unread copy of the draft handbook.

Someone came to the boardroom to ask if Director Grasha would be allowed at the next board meeting. The answer was, of course, yes. "As long as he can control himself," President Duncan said. Director Wright observed that it was interesting that Director Grasha had read West Valley's handbook, but not the draft for MSWD.

President Duncan gaveled the meeting back to order and apologized to the consultant, to the public (just me this day) and to Dori, the secretary. Vice President Martin said he didn't think that apologies were necessary for Director Grasha's behavior. "That's all on him," he said. President Duncan stepped out of the room for a minute to talk to the police. While he did that, Mr. Deloche explained to the board what happened in the West Valley District (as described above).

GM Wallum said he believed Mr. Grasha was being intentionally disruptive and that it was important for the meeting to proceed. "I can't see how anybody could object to setting up a standard of conduct and protocol."

VP Martin wondered if Mr. Grasha had thought the handbook would be applied retroactively to catch him up in something.

Ms. Wright said "We never really did find out which part he would like changed."

Director Ivan Sewell observed that pretty much everything in the handbook was consistent with the guidelines from the California Special Districts Association.

At about this point DHS City Council member Russell Betts showed up.

In the discussion of section 8 "Role of the General Manager, Board Interaction with Staff and Role of District Legal Counsel" VP Martin brought attention to item 5 (under "8.02 - Board Interaction with the General Manager") which says "The General Manager is charged with handling internal District matters, including matters regarding District personnel." He said a provision needed to be added saying "Addressing allegations of illegal and/or inappropriate conduct by the General Manager shall be the responsibility of the Board of Directors."

Russell Betts left the meeting about this time.

The final page in the Board Handbook is "Commitment to Board of Director's Best Practices." It includes a list of nine statements and is intended to be signed by each Director. Here are those nine statements:

  1. I shall help create and maintain an atmosphere of professionalism, respect and civility where individual Directors, District staff and the public are free to express their ideas and strive to work together to their full potential.
  2. I shall conduct my personal business and public affairs with honesty, accuracy, integrity, fairness and respect for others.
  3. I shall keep the common good of the Mission Springs Water District and those it serves as my highest priority and focus on achieving constructive solutions for the benefit of the District and the public.
  4. I shall avoid and discourage conduct which is harmful to the best interests of the Mission Springs Water District.
  5. I shall respect the decisions of the Board of Directors, acting through its majority, including its policies and procedures, and avoid utilizing the District's financial resources in a wasteful, manner.
  6. I shall not interfere with the orderly progress of District Board meetings or the meetings of its committees;
  7. I shall not interfere with the execution by the General Manager of his/her powers and duties, or give direction, assignments or orders to his/her staff without the General Manager's prior consent;
  8. I shall be accurate and truthful when communicating as a Board Member of the District, including communications about District issues, activities and/or business;
  9. I shall treat all people with whom I come into contact in a professional and respectful manner and consistent with the way I wish to be treated by others.

IMO, Director Grasha is going to have a challenge conforming to each those nine statements. There was a discussion among board members of making the signing of this page a public ceremony so that the public could be aware if any Director declined to sign.


BUILDING DISCUSSION

Ironically, this is the part of the meeting that Director Grasha had said he was especially interested in at the study session the previous Thursday. He had said he wanted to demolish the district's headquarters building on 2nd Street. He did not say why he wanted to do that, nor did he suggest what the replacement should be.

GM Wallum said there are two issues; one is the long-term question of a new headquarters building while the other is what do with the current building in the meantime. The roof developed leaks in October 2018. Those were repaired and held up well through last winter, but more and worse leaking occurred during the rains of Thanksgiving week 2019. Currently, the mess is being cleaned up and the entire roof is covered with a tarp. The district does not yet have a reliable estimate of what it will cost to fix the roof, but there has been an estimate as high as $300,000, a price that does not include the current clean up.

Staff explained that the district has not yet gotten an appraisal of the value of the headquarters building. That will be necessary before deciding to put $300,000 into repairs.

President Duncan said that no matter what decision is made, they are going to be in the current headquarters building for at least two more years, so the building has to be repaired. But if a full roof replacement is required that means the building will be unusable for a while.

GM Wallum said that staff will gather more information and present it to the board at a future workshop.

Staff said that the company that put the tarp on the roof has had difficulties in securing it against the wind. I was surprised by this, since I've seen many larger tarp-roofs well secured against wind at Burning Man. If a lot of amateur volunteers can do it, I would expect it to be easy for a company that's in the business of doing it.


GENERAL MANAGER'S COMMENTS

During this part of the meeting Ms. Wright asked if the police had simply walked Mr. Grasha out of the building and sent him on his way. President Duncan said that it took a while; he didn't want to drive away. Mr. Grasha sat outside in his car and waited for Russell Betts to show up.

permalink | December 19, 2019 at 05:20 PM | Comments (2)

December 5, 2019

GoPro Hero5 Black, Night Mode

I recently acquired a used GoPro Hero5 Black. I am finding that when the price of a GoPro drops below $150, I feel like I'm getting what I pay for. I wanted to test the night mode, so I headed down to Palm Springs tonight to take a few photos of a friend's pool and then headed over to Village Fest for more photos. All of these photos are handheld. Almost all the photos turned out well, which is the opposite of what I expected. I would say I'm quite pleased with night mode. Here are some of the photos.

Andy's Pool (0039)

Architecture and Design Center (0068)

Lulu California Bistro (0060)

See's Candies (0059)

Starbucks (0051)
Starbucks.

La Akua (0050)

Palm Springs Downtown Parking Ramp (0043)

permalink | December 5, 2019 at 08:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2019

Lomography Diana F+

I recently acquired a Lomography Diana F+ "Mr. Pink" camera, a film camera. Here are the results from the first two test rolls.

The camera is cheap and cheaply made, which is supposed to be part of its charm. To my utter amazement and pleasure, the instruction manual is written in excellent, idiomatic American English. The camera also comes with a hardback book (over 300 pages) with stories, anecdotes and sample photos.

It takes 120 film. If I shoot full size, I can get up to 12 exposures on a roll. On my first roll, the color film (Kodak Portra 400), I made a mistake in setting which film image size to shoot at (I can shoot smaller images and fit 16 images on a roll), so the result was overlapping double images, but I edited out the overlaps. The camera has two shutter speeds 1/100 and bulb. It's got three aperture settings: cloudy, partly cloudy and full sun. I can also simply remove the lens and use it as a pinhole camera. It's got zone focusing. I can just rotate the (very loose) lens to 4 meters to infinity, 2 to 4 meters, or 1 to 2 meters. There are no automatic stops when advancing the film, as there are on 35mm film cameras, and nothing prevents double exposure. To advance the film I just keep turning the knob while I keep my eye on the little red window on the back of the camera. When the next number for a frame becomes visible, then I've moved the film far enough. One challenge is that I cannot see the dim number through the little red window in anything less than full sunlight. I will need to have a flashlight with me when I use this camera.

These photos came out a lot better than I expected. Very little light leakage and I guessed the focus range well enough on most of them. The black & white film is T-Max 400.

I have not tried the flash yet, nor the pinhole.

I found one review of the camera from someone who took it to Burning Man. The camera is so leaky, the dust penetrates all parts of it easily, ruining the film for sure, and maybe the camera too.

View across I-10, Coachella Valley

Vehicle at the Patton Museum (1)
At the Patton Museum.

Tank at the Patton Museum (2)

Tank at the Patton Museum (1)

Car at the Patton Museum (2)

Sunnylands (7)
At Sunnylands.

Sunnylands (4)

Flowers (7)

Andy's Pool

The complete set of photos is here.

permalink | November 18, 2019 at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

October 3, 2019

Bomb Threat at Cabot Yerxa Elementary

On October 3, 2019 at approximately 10:36 AM, Desert Hot Springs Police Department responded to Cabot Yerxa Elementary School in Desert Hot Springs after kitchen staff at the school received a phone call indicating there was a bomb within the school.

Officers arrived and quickly determined the call was a hoax after ensuring there was not a bomb on the school grounds. Detectives immediately began investigating the call and with department resources and tools, quickly identified, located and arrested the suspect within 90 minutes of him placing the original call to the school. Detectives arrested 31-year-old Jerrett Tagger III of Landers, CA, who was booked into Robert Presley Detention Center for the following charges:

  • PC 422 - Criminal Threats
  • PC 148.1(c) - False Report of a Bomb in Public Place

Jerrett Tagger III
Jerrett Tagger III

permalink | October 3, 2019 at 05:21 PM | Comments (0)

July 8, 2019

MSWD Rate Study - June 24, 2019

Immediately after the roll call, President Duncan had some remarks to make:

Need to make a correction. Not real sure why two members of the public are here, what you're anticipating. Despite what you may have read on the internet, we're not here today to talk about a rate reduction. That is not scheduled. That is not part of our agenda. What we are looking at is we had a water study done in 2015. It was adopted in 2016. We are here on an annual meeting to see if we want to go with the rates that were approved way back then, at the most, at best we'll make no changes at all. So, if you're looking for a rate reduction hearing, it's not going to happen today.

By now it's become obvious that whenever President Duncan has some sort of declaration to make, it means that Director Grasha has somewhere, sometime misled or misinformed the public in his role as Director. So, Director Grasha must have promised a rate reduction, which would have been a promise based on nothing more than some mental fiction he played in his own imagination. Now, why President Duncan thought to direct his remarks at me and the other member of the public in attendance, former Director Jeff Bowman, I really have no idea. I showed up because it was an open, public meeting of the Board of Directors of the Mission Springs Water District, and I don't need any better reason than that. I'm sure that neither Jeff Bowman nor I shape our expectation of board meetings on anything that Mr. Grasha ever says.

General Manager Arden Wallum said the board was to consider whether they should implement the final step of the rate increases that were approved in 2016. A decision is needed now, so that the district knows how much the sewer bills on the tax rolls should be.

Jonathan Barnes from Lighthouse Consulting Services was available via telephone during the meeting. He was involved in the rate study in 2015 and has updated the data for this meeting. The approved water rate increase for 2020 is 9.5%, which would mean an average increase per household (using 13 units of water) will be $3.79/month. The sewer rate increase is 5%, raising the annual rate by $28.68.


Changes Since The 2015 Rate Study

  • The district needs to pay for a new automated meter infrastructure ($6.5 million)
  • New Well 42 needs to be constructed ($3.5 million)
  • Chromium 6 costs have been delayed and will likely be lower than projected
  • Additional staff
  • Sewer plant capital costs have increased
  • Sewer system maintenance has been deferred
  • Administration building ($5.5 million

Director Grasha asked when the board voted for a new administration building. President Duncan said they had not voted on it yet. "So, you're just padding the budget here, aren't you? Five and a half million here, twenty million for chromium six removal that no longer needs to be removed. But we're not going to mention how much that is. For God's sake [unclear] consider the needs of the ratepayers. Have a twenty-five million dollars laid on their doorstep in increased bills and with nothing but word soup to explain it. It's offensive. Go ahead. Sorry. That's what you read on the internet. Something to that effect."

[And this is a good moment to point out that's why you don't believe everything you read on the internet. You can go to the district and get real facts.]

GM Wallum said "That's incorrect."

Mr. Grasha interrupted him, "It's not incorrect. There was twenty million dollars"

Vice President Martin interrupted him, "You said that you would let him respond, so let him respond. Okay?"

GM Wallum: "What we're doing is getting estimates of what that would cost to expand the building. Now you can see we can't stay here."

Mr. Grasha: "I don't have a problem with that. The problem is the board never voted on it. It gets put in the budget because it was a way to hide the reality of these massive increases in billing that you...[mumbles]."

[Here we see that Mr. Grasha has confused a Powerpoint slide created by a consultant with the district's budget. They are two very different and separate things. And I don't see how padding an expense budget would hide rate increases from the public.]


Goals

  • Maintain unrestricted reserves at an amount equal to about six months of operating expenses
  • Fund capital reserves
  • Maintain debt service coverage at 1.5x or greater
  • Fund all operating and capital costs


Future Rate Increases

Mr. Barnes reported that rising expenses are going to require future rate increases. He estimated an increase of 3% in the water rates every year beginning in 2021 and a 4% increase in sewer rates every year, also beginning in 2021 and continuing through 2024 would be needed.


Comparison With Other Districts

Water rates in nearby districts
Rate Survey - Water



Sewer rates in nearby districts
Rate Survey - Sewer



Public Comments

Jeff Bowman said that in 2011 the district was in a dire situation as regards its reserves. If the district had not increased its rates, would it have been able to fight DWA? He encouraged the board to stay the course.

Erica [last name unclear] from the Building Industry Association spoke next to ask if the rates being discussed were for the end user. The answer was yes.

Director Wright said that when the market crashed in 2008, the district lost 25% of its revenue. The current set of rates was intended to catch the district up.

Director Grasha asked a question. "So, we're going to stick to...are we going to collect the twenty million and remove chromium since it's been overdone by the court and the district has shut down all wells that produce chromium?" The reply was that the rules from Sacramento could be changed tomorrow. Mr. Grasha continued, "It's against the law to collect money in this district for what services that are not going to be rendered. That's the whole reason for doing this is only to collect how much money it requires to run the district. We're collecting twenty million dollars off of this last rate increase to remove a toxic carcinogen from the water that we're not going to remove. According to the district, we don't even have it in our water now. But we told everybody in the district that we did when we passed the twenty million dollar increase to make up for that. So the idea that we're going to start lying now or if we were lying then."

Mr. Grasha's been making up stuff again. There was no $20 million rate increase. The district's rates are required to be high enough to cover expenses, but no higher, and that's where they are when predicting a lower expense for chromium mitigation.

permalink | July 8, 2019 at 03:59 PM | Comments (0)

July 4, 2019

Fireworks in Desert Hot Springs


July 4 2019, Desert Hot Springs.

permalink | July 4, 2019 at 11:04 PM | Comments (1)

July 1, 2019

MSWD Board Meetings, June 13 & 17, 2019

This report covers both meetings of the Mission Springs Water District Board of Directors on June 13 and 17, 2019.


Water Standy Assessments

Every year, the board sets these standby assessments. The basic rate for an undeveloped parcel less than an acre which abuts a street or easement where there is a water line is $26.80/year. There are variations for larger pieces of land. The total amount for the district is $240,139 assessed against 4,097 owners of 4,886 undeveloped parcels.

Approved 5-0.


Sewer Standy Assessments

Same concept, but for sewer lines...so fewer parcels are affected. The total for the district is $13,331 affecting 763 owners of 1,124 parcels. The basic rate starts at $10 for a parcel less than acre that abuts a street or easement where there is a sewer line.

Approved 5-0.


Putting Delinquent Accounts On The Tax Rolls

Account balances of greater than $5 that are more than 60 days delinquent are to be transferred to Riverside County tax rolls. The total delinquent amount at this point is $209,851.51.

Approved 5-0.


FY 2019/20 Budget

The budget had been discussed in an earlier board workshop. Approved 4-1, Director Grasha voting against. He did not say why he voted that way.

MSWSD Capital Budget and Continuing Appropriations 2019-2020 (click for a much larger version)
MSWSD Capital Budget and Continuing Appropriations 2019-2020


MSWD Departmental Budgets 2019-2020 (click for a much larger version)
MSWD Departmental Budgets 2019-2020


MSWD Departmental Budgets Comparison FY 2019-2020 and FY 2018-2019 (click for a much larger version)
MSWD Departmental Budgets Comparison FY 2019-2020 and FY 2018-2019


Employee Classification Plan

Here's the employee classification plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

MSWD Proposed Classification Plan 2019-2020 (click for a much larger version)
MSWD Proposed Classification Plan 2019-2020


MSWD Salary Schedule FY 2019-2020 (click for a much larger version)
MSWD Salary Schedule FY 2019-2020

There was no discussion of this at this meeting. When President Duncan called for the votes in favor, there were four "Ayes." When he called for those opposed there was one more "Aye," and that was from Director Grasha who then clarified that he was not late voting in favor, he was voting against the employee classification system. He didn't give any reason for his vote. Approved 4-1.


Contract With TKE Engineering For Sewer Design In Areas H And I

$285,969 is the value of this contract to design sewers for 675 parcels.


Areas H (gold) and I (blue).
2019_06_13-17 MSWD Areas H and I



Approved 5-0.

Consent Agenda

Director Grasha will tell you he has attended many public meetings over many years, and he might be telling the truth, but somehow he has failed to perceive how those meetings are conducted. Here we have an example. President Duncan asked if anyone wanted to pull anything from the consent agenda for discussion. Mr. Grasha, not speaking into his microphone (he often does this) mumbled something. If I crank up the volume really high on my recording I can hear him say "The minutes look like they were written by you." This was directed at President Duncan. He mumbled some more, but I couldn't make it out. Director Wright who sits only two seats away from Mr. Grasha also couldn't hear him and asked him twice to repeat himself. He then rephrased his request to "He asked if there was anything to pull. I said yes, you can pull the minutes so we can have a conversation about the minutes."

With this clarification, the minutes were "pulled," and Mr. Grasha just sat there like a bump on a log, not understanding that since he had asked to have them pulled for discussion, it was now up to him to do whatever discussing he wanted. Finally, he said "I think the chairman is well aware of my concerns. If he doesn't wish to make the changes, he's welcome to leave them." Everybody knows (except Mr. Grasha, it seems) that no Director writes the minutes. If Mr. Grasha thinks a correction is needed, he has to man up and state those corrections clearly in the open, public meeting so that the secretary can hear them so she can then actually make the corrections. Finally, Mr. Grasha decided to wait until the Monday meeting to state whatever corrections were needed.

At the Monday meeting, President Duncan asked Director Grasha if he still wanted to pull the minutes for discussion. Again, Mr. Grasha mumbled his reply and avoided speaking into the microphone, but this is what I could make out:

There was some statements in there in the minutes that didn't seem appropriate for...that I...just want to enter my objection to the comments you had made in there and they were word for word in the minutes as if you were somehow [unclear].

At this point, President Duncan had the board vote on the remainder of the consent agenda (approved 5-0) and then turned back to Mr. Grasha so he could state his concerns with the minutes.

I just think when you're making personal attacks that when they appear in the minutes as if the Director [unclear] I don't understand how they are repeated in the minutes word for word, but the person that's being attacked his comments are not registered at all...

So, he seems to be objecting to the fact that the final remarks by President Duncan at the May 2019 board meeting were included in the minutes, but that his own comments which were not uttered in the meeting are missing from the minutes. He doesn't seem to understand what the minutes represent. And probably due to that misunderstanding, he doesn't know how to counter President Duncan's remarks. All Mr. Grasha would have to do is read out his own comment, just like President Duncan did. The most appropriate time to do it would be during the Director's Comments on the agenda. His comments would be even more effective if he speaks up and into the microphone.

The attorney stepped in at this point to say "The board member is just noting his objection for the record."

The minutes were approved 4-1 with Director Grasha voting against. The attorney pointed out that it was Director Grasha who had voted against, whereupon Mr. Grasha gave him one of his looks, so the attorney clarified for the benefit of Mr. Grasha that the law requires them to audibly identify who voted for and against the item whenever a vote is not unanimous. This, apparently, was news to Mr. Grasha, although he tells us he goes to lots of these public meetings.


Director Comments

Director Grasha objected to the district having a relationship with the legal firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck because, he said, they own 500,000 shares of stock in the Cadiz water project. Later, Mr. Grasha asked for a future agenda item to discuss the contract with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. President Duncan said it would be done. I don't believe the MSWD Board of Directors has ever taken an official position on the Cadiz project.


Future Meeting

General Manager Arden Wallum polled the Directors to find a date when they would all be available for a "workshop on these rates." "A rate study," he clarified. They settled on Monday, June 24.

permalink | July 1, 2019 at 07:21 PM | Comments (0)