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 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)

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)

June 29, 2019

MSWD Board Meetings - May 16 & 20, 2019

Director Sewell was absent from the Monday, May 20, meeting.


Sewer Construction on Indian Canyon

This is a contract for $566,041.78 with Tri-Star to construct a sewer along Indian Canyon between Dillon and 18th Avenue. Indian Canyon will be improved and upgraded by the county and cities, and putting in the sewer first saves the district money and will result in a better road. Approved 4-0.


Rehab of Well 24

Usually, Well 24 produces 1,100 - 1,200 gallons per minute of water, but in March, production dropped to only 300 - 400 GPM. The pump assembly and well casing need to be repaired. While that is going on, production from Well 28 can be increased to make up for the loss of Well 24, but Well 28 requires treatment to remove uranium which makes it more expensive to run. The district has contracted with Layne Christensen Company to fix Well 24 at price of $217,512.92. Well 24 was drilled in 1973. Approved 4-0.


President's Comment

President Duncan had this special comment that he read out at the end of the Thursday study session. He said it was in response to some phone calls he had recently received.

While neither Mission Springs Water District nor myself directly represent the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), we are an active, well respected, longstanding member of that organization. At no time does ACWA hold meetings at 6 AM, regardless of the topic. At no time in the past, or foreseeable future, will ACWA address the subject of holding meetings to protect women and children from sexual predators. Those are criminal activities handled by law enforcement agencies. ACWA's focus is on California water-related issues.

Secondly, since adopting our current rates in March of 2016 MSWD has not addressed the subject of water rates, nor has it been on the agenda for the past three years for discussion, adjustment or vote. The process to perform our last water rate consisted of the following: a recommendation from staff to consider a rate change, a thorough and detailed rate study conducted by an independent third-party consultant, creation of a website to keep the public informed along the way, several mailings to our customers, a Proposition 218 mailing as required by law and several public hearings, also as required by law. That process lasted almost an entire year. Then and only then was a motion or vote taken by the board of directors to adopt new rates.

To imply that rates could be reduced by nearly one million dollars or any other fixed dollar amount is an incomprehensible and immeasurable statement. Any statements made that recent votes have been taken to adjust our current rates are an outright lie.

Lastly, I want to be careful about this, because this is not intended to supercede or override whistleblower act or any other legal rights we have as Americans. This statement applies to usual and customary business of the district. It is not intended to restrict whistleblower laws or any other right of the American people. At no time does any Director, employee or contractor of Mission Springs Water District have the right or obligation to send information at their own discretion to the District Attorney, Sheriff, police, FBI or any other law enforcement agency regarding routine district business. For example, bypassing a water meter.

With a nod from the board, I would like to direct our General Manager to post some sort of a statement on our website saying that we have not addressed rates, we've not voted on rates, since March of 2016.

I have been unable to find anything on the MSWD website that seems to fulfil the President's request.

permalink | June 29, 2019 at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

May 7, 2019

MSWD Board Meeting, April 11 & 15, 2019

Public Comments

Jeff Bowman spoke.

Mr. President, members of the board, one week after the last election, The Desert Sun did an exposé on you, Steve Grasha. The headline read, "Desert Hot Springs elects a man with history of angry, sexist, racist tweets, to water board"*. Here are a few highlights from that article:

They wrote, "The Mission Springs Water District's newest board member, Steve Grasha, has tweeted at Sen. Lindsey Graham that the senator should shoot himself in the head and that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio should be beheaded. These and other tweets are part of a long history of Twitter posts that include violent, sexist and racist language from a man elected to serve the customers of the water district. Grasha has written many tweets saying politicians or journalists should be executed or urging them to kill themselves. In response to a tweet from journalist Anna Navarro in November 2017 in which she said 1,000 Puerto Ricans had died after Hurricane Maria and millions were without power, Grasha replied: 'Listen you're [sic] a lying C-U-N-T. Not a single Puerto Rican has died because of that effin' Hurricane. Go f--- yourself bitch.' In interviews with The Desert Sun during his MSWD and CVW campaigns, Grasha expressed serious concerns about the levels of chromium-6 and accused Wright and Bowman — and The Desert Sun — of poisoning children."

The irony is, Steve, you drink that very bottled water that sits in front of you during board meetings. Not very poisonous, is it?

If The Desert Sun had written this article prior to the election, you would not have won. The people of this district that voted for you were fooled. You have a lying problem. You lied about yourself, your credentials, your experience. You lied about the district, saying MSD has serious problems and is poisoning children. And you lied about me. And, as The Desert Sun reported, you have a serious anger issue. I was witness to you yelling at our MSWD staff. If the people only knew, as they are learning now.


Statewide Community Infrastructure Program

This is an alternate way of handling assessment districts. The traditional assessment district has certain administrative overhead expenses that makes it financially impractical for a district with only a few parcels. The State of California created the Statewide Community Infrastructure Program that allows small developments to be pooled into a statewide resource, reducing the overhead. SCIP issues bonds twice a year, usually. Ninety-five agencies are participating in the SCIP program, including Banning, Blythe, Cathedral City, CVWD, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio and Palm Springs. To participate, an agency joins California Statewide Communities Development Authority which operates SCIP, and then it joins the SCIP program.

From the parcel owner's perspective, SCIP looks like any other assessment district. It shows up on their annual property tax bill until paid off. The developer handles all the work locally and the state government is responsible for issuing bonds and paying for the intended infrastructure. With MSWD this would usually be used to pay connection fees.

Director Grasha asked if this was a proposal to create a district that would cover all of the MSWD, indicating his complete lack of grasp on this. The SCIP program is only used at the developer's initiative on whatever small project he is working on. Then Mr. Grasha asked if this was a plan to give up our connection fees, which suggests he may not understand what an assessment district is. The SCIP program does not require MSWD to give up its connection fees, nor does it take any revenue or source of revenue away from the district. The district is paid upfront from the state bond issue.

John Pavlek of Watermark Homes came to the podium to speak. He favored the SCIP program.

Two resolutions were required in order for MSWD to participate in SCIP. Both were approved 5-0.


California Voting Rights Act Presentation by Demographer

This is part of MSWD's voluntary decision to consider elections by district (AKA elections by division).

The process of going to district elections requires a minimum of four public hearings: two before and two after maps are drawn. The demographer assembles the census data and any other data that MSWD would consider relevant to drawing districts. That information is then shared with the public at the hearings. After two initial public hearings, the district would draw up proposed maps. Those would be presented to the public at the second pair of hearings. Along with the proposed maps there would be a proposed election schedule. New districts that had no currently elected Director residing within them would usually be in the first election cycle.

Director Grasha said he thought MSWD covered about 130 square miles and Desert Hot Springs only 8 square miles (according to Wikipedia, DHS covers 30.61 square miles). He wanted to know how that would be divided up.

If, after the 2020 census, the population of each district is within 10% of being equal, then redistricting would not be required.

Director Grasha suggested waiting to go to district elections until after the 2020 census, but that would mean the first district elections would be in 2022. It's extremely unlikely the district could coast along for that length of time without being forced into districting, which would make it a more expensive process.


Resolution of Intention to Transition to District Elections

Approved 5-0.


Grant Application For Automated Meter Infrastructure

This concerns an application for a grant of up to $1.5 million from the Bureau of Reclamation. The funds would be used in the Automated Meters Infrastructure Project that would replace the current water meters with smart water meters. The full cost to do that will be about $3.7 million. The district may provide up to $2,237,536 in matching funds.

Approved 5-0.


Human Relations Committee Report

The HR Committee (Directors Sewell and Grasha) recommended adoption of a COL adjustment and adding an additional "administration day." Cost-of-living has risen 2.8% since the last time the board granted a COL adjustment. An administration day is an optional day off for a salaried employee (about half of MSWD staff are salaried) that is not a usual holiday. Currently, MSWD allows up to 27 hours of "administration" time. Other nearby districts allow about 40 hours. The proposal to add 8 hours would bring MSWD up to 35 hours. Other requests that the HR Committee did not support were additional holiday time and a lowered employee contribution for insurance. Currently, the district pays 95% of insurance costs.

The HR Committee recommendations were approved 5-0.


I-10/Indian Sewer Collection Financing District

John Soulliere said that preparation for actual construction of the new wastewater treatment plant has generated some renewed interest among the property owners in the I-10/Indian Canyon area in financing themselves some sewers.


General Manager's Report

An estimate was obtained for repairing the roof at MSWD headquarters on Second Street: $289,000! Director Wallum said he would organize a board workshop to discuss that before proceeding. Director Wright said she considered that a high bid.

Well 24 has been shut down for repairs. In the interim, Well 28 is being used. That's the well with uranium removal equipment on it, which works very well, but which is very expensive. The district may sink a new well (Well 42) next year.




*From https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/politics/elections/2018/11/13/desert-hot-springs-elects-water-board-member-history-violent-sexist-tweets/1920936002/
Desert Hot Springs elects Steve Grasha, a man with history of angry, sexist, racist tweets, to water board

The Mission Springs Water District's newest board member, Steve Grasha, has tweeted at Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, that the senator should shoot himself in the head and that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio should be beheaded.

These and other tweets are part of a long history of Twitter posts that include violent, sexist and racist language from a man elected to serve customers of the water district, which services most of Desert Hot Springs.

Grasha was easily elected to the MSWD board last week with 33 percent of the vote. In an interview on Thursday, he acknowledged he uses extreme language in his posts but said he did not think it was inappropriate for a public official.

"I think people should be honest, we have a crisis of honesty in our country," he said. "What they should be concerned about is newspapers like yours, trying to tear down the only honest person."

Grasha has written many tweets saying politicians or journalists should be executed or urging them to kill themselves. He has used terms like "lying c---" and "stupid c---" to insult women.

Grasha also has repeatedly faced judges in Riverside County Superior Court. He was charged with two counts of felony stalking and one felony count of making death threats in 2013. All the charges were either dismissed or discharged.

He said the case was falsified by former District Attorney Paul Zellerbach. Grasha said he then worked with current District Attorney Mike Hestrin to unseat Zellerbach. A representative of the DA's office said Grasha did not "formally" work for Hestrin's campaign.

"I ended his career with one email, boom," Grasha said of Zellerbach's tenure in office.

He was also named, along with relatives, in two lawsuits brought by Rimcrest Community Association, a condo and apartment complex in Palm Springs. He was sued by the condo association for minor infractions; both cases were dismissed.

He has also been taken to small-claims court regarding debt collections at least twice; judges ruled against him and ordered him to pay both times.

Further, he was sued for libel in 1999 by Environmental Engineering Concepts after publishing a letter stating the company had its California State Contractors license revoked, which it had not. The company had been a competitor of Grasha's company, TrueFog. That suit was settled in 2000.

MSWD board member Nancy Wright, who was re-elected last week with 31 percent of the vote, said she recently became familiar with Grasha's social media history and said it wouldn't preclude her from being able to work with him on water district issues.

"I'm a professional and I can work with anyone," she said, adding she did have some concerns about a lack of transparency with his campaign finances. Grasha did not file any campaign finance forms with the county this year or in 2017.

California Fair Political Practices spokesman Jay Wierenga said the agency had received a complaint against Grasha and that its enforcement division has an open case involving Grasha relating to "potential violations of the campaign disclosure provisions of the Political Reform Act," according to documents provided by the FPPC.

In a phone interview, Grasha accused The Desert Sun of poisoning children by running print advertisements from the Mission Springs Water District. He also said his constituents had no reason to be concerned about his language.

"The only people that should be concerned should be people like John Brennan," he said of the former CIA director, whom Grasha accused of being a Muslim who wants to destroy the country.

In response to a tweet from journalist Anna Navarro in October 2017 in which she said 1,000 Puerto Ricans had died after Hurricane Maria and millions were without power, Grasha replied: "Listen you're [sic] lying c---. Not a single Puerto Rican has died because of that f------ Hurricane. Go f--- yourself b----."

In August of this year, officials in Puerto Rico acknowledged 3,000 people died as a result of the hurricane after the results of an independent study were released.

Grasha has tweeted at journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald to "take a bottle of pills and kill yourself," and that former President Barack Obama was a "criminal and should be hunted down and trapped like the lowlife scum that he is." He once responded to a tweet by conservative commentator Bill Kristol about meeting an American citizen who immigrated from Afghanistan and fought against the Soviets by saying if the man was a "hero" he would have killed Kristol.

In response to a tweet from former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward calling for the end of amnesty and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Grasha tweeted he felt threatened at a local convenience store.

"I walked into a 7-Eleven near my house the other day and it literally felt like I was in a foreign country and that I needed an armed security force to get me out of the store safely and alive," he tweeted Jan. 5.

Other tweets have praised President Donald Trump for his relationship with porn actress Stormy Daniels.

"President banged a porn star and walked away with a $211,000 profit! Greatest. President. Ever," Grasha tweeted on Oct. 30.

The majority of his tweets are about local or national news, retweets of the president's tweets or retweets of statements of support for the president from other individuals.

I walked into a 7-Eleven near my house the other day and it literally felt like I was in a foreign country and that I needed an armed security force to get me out of the store safely and alive! And I am not being overly dramatic at all.
— Steve Grasha (@RiversideWeekly) January 5, 2018

His Facebook profile also contains frequent posts about regional and national news and politics. During the campaign, he posted a picture of MSWD board member Jeff Bowman (who was not re-elected last week) naked, with two other individuals — a man who appeared naked, and a topless woman. Bowman, who owns and operates a clothing-optional resort in Desert Hot Springs, appeared to be officiating a wedding.

In the post, Grasha said Bowman was with "a seemingly underage girl" and accused him in an email, provided to The Desert Sun, of child pornography. In an interview with The Desert Sun, he accused Bowman of possibly molesting or trafficking a child, based on the image he shared, which he said originated from Bowman's website.

"The voters decided that wasn't cool," he said, adding that he didn't send out the email or Facebook post to be underhanded. "That was a chance I had to take because people have a right to know what might be going on."

Bowman vehemently denied all of Grasha's accusations. He said the wedding in the photo was from 2006 and the pair pictured were "a lovely couple" who were both of age and had a valid marriage license.

"There's no words to describe when your life is slandered in such a way that your integrity is called into question, your business," he said. "For something that was so sacred to be taken and spun 180 degrees and then the slander, defamation of character. I have never met a person that has done something so heinous."

Grasha said he believed the post may have led to action from the Riverside County District Attorney.

John Hall, the district attorney's office spokesperson, said the office was unaware of the photograph Grasha referenced and said the sexual assault task force, which is separate from the Gang Impact Team, conducts regular sweeps of registered sex offenders, and Bowman was neither a target of the task force nor a registered sex offender.

In an email to Bowman, Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Monday [sic] said Bowman had never been implicated in any child pornography or child sexual exploitation.

Grasha dismissed that statement.

In addition to a prolific social media footprint, Grasha formerly published an online newsletter, the Palm Springs Village Voice, and is the owner of TrueFog USA, which sells the type of misting systems seen outside many Coachella Valley bars and restaurants.

Grasha made several unsuccessful bids for public office before his election to the MSWD board. In 2014, he ran for the District 1 seat on the Coachella Valley Water District board but was defeated by G. Patrick O'Dowd. He ran for a seat on the Palm Springs City Council multiple times, including a special election in 2002 and a regular election in 2013.

He said in 1999 that he had registered as a Democrat to run for the congressional seat encompassing the Coachella Valley (the 44th Congressional District, at that time). He announced in 2011 that he would run for Congress in 2012 as a Republican, challenging then-incumbent Mary Bono Mack for the 36th Congressional District seat, but did not win.

Grasha said winning an election was a "new experience" for him and said Thursday that MSWD voters had overwhelmingly voted to make a change.

He has flip-flopped between saying he was a Democrat or Republican in previous campaigns, though many local races are nominally nonpartisan, and in a 2003 interview with The Desert Sun he said he wasn't concerned about the way those inconsistencies would look. That year, he had touted himself as a Democrat to try to get the endorsement of the Desert Stonewall Democrats, a powerful local LGBTQ political group, during the Palm Springs City Council race.

He is a criminal and should be hunted down and trapped like the lowlife scum that he is. He is responsible for MILLIONS of Dead Americans.
— Steve Grasha (@RiversideWeekly) October 27, 2017

"I understand the process. I understand politics. I understand I should be kissing up to these (special interest) groups," he said.

In interviews with The Desert Sun during his MSWD and CVWD campaigns, Grasha expressed serious concerns about the levels of chromium-6, a cancer-causing agent found at varying levels in drinking water across the county, and accused Wright and Bowman — and The Desert Sun — of poisoning children.

After his election to the MSWD board, Grasha released a statement on social media saying he was "honored" and thanking Bowman, whom he accused of poisoning children and being a child molester, "for his commitment to public service and our water district since 2009."

Grasha said in the statement that the water district was facing challenging circumstances.

"I will work together with anyone and everyone who wants to create a better path forward for families that rely on our sacred duty to protect our most precious resource, our water supply," he wrote. "And I will fight for all of you, each and every day to make your lives better and our entire community stronger."

Bowman was the third highest vote-getter on Election Day, netting 21 percent of the vote. Malcolm McLean finished last among the four candidates, with 15 percent of the vote.

permalink | May 7, 2019 at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2019

Desert Water Agency Tour

I went on the Desert Water Agency tour of their facilities at Snow Creek, Whitewater and the Mission Creek recharge ponds. Took some photos. Below are most of them.

Snow on Mt San Jacinto (5073)
Snow on Mt San Jacinto
.

Snow Creek Weir (5083)
The weir on Snow Creek where Snow Creek water feeds into the DWA water system
.

Snow Creek (5075)
The weir on Snow Creek
.

Flood Damage at Snow Creek (5069)
Flood damaged road at Snow Creek
. The car on the other side is staying there until the road is repaired.

MWD Colorado River Aqueduct Water Being Dumped Into The Whitewater River (5087)
Water from the Colorado River Aqueduct flowing to the Whitewater River
after having been given a spin in the hydroelectric facility there.

Confluence of Whitewater River and Colorado River Aqueduct water (5090)
Whitewater River on the left; water from the Colorado River Aqueduct on the right
. We're facing downstream.

Whitewater Hydroelectric (5093)
The hydroelectric generator at Whitewater
.

Whitewater Hydroelectric (5096)
In the hydroelectric facility at Whitewater
.

Whitewater Hydroelectric (5099)

Whitewater Viewed From Snow Creek (5066)
Whitewater viewed from Snow Creek
.

Mission Creek Recharge Basin & Mt San Jacinto (5108)
A recharge basin at Mission Creek
. Mt. San Jacinto in the background.

Mission Creek Recharge Basin (2003)

Mission Creek Recharge Basin (2004)
A pair of recharge basins at Mission Creek
.

permalink | April 24, 2019 at 12:23 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2019

MSWD Board Meetings, March 14 & 18, 2019

As every month, this meeting took place on two different days with the same agenda on both. I'll summarize the meetings as if they were one.

On Monday the 18th, President Duncan was absent for jury duty.

Public Comments

Karl Baker spoke first. He reported on the most recent Desert Water Agency board meeting, which he had attended. A resident of the Desert Highlands area of Palm Springs spoke in favor of district elections there. Later, he spoke to Mr. Baker and said that the Highlands is not big enough to constitute one district.

Mr. Baker also asked the board to publish the full agenda packet online before each meeting. He also requested that a copy of the district's budget be posted online. [The full agenda packet is, in fact, published online and you will find it at the same place you find the agenda which is at this link: www.mswd.org/board.aspx. The agenda appears there a few days before the Thursday study session. The full agenda packet shows up later, but still before the Thursday study session.]

Jeff Bowman spoke next.

Steve Grasha, your campaign of lies. In that campaign you also did a slick marketing ploy. You created a problem, got a reaction and then solved the problem. This past month you wrote "During the most recent Directors election one re-occurring theme I continued to notice was our agency's need to improve community outreach." Actually, Steve, MSWD has an exceptional community outreach. But, you went out and smeared the district. You did this by going on Facebook and reviving old threads in multiple groups, all of which were several years old where people expressed their issues with MSWD. Then you said, "Vote for me, as I can make things better." Actually, these old issues had been dealt with by staff and the Directors of MSWD, and many customers had fees reduced and/or removed because of the community outreach of MSWD. Steve, you deliberately maligned MSWD so that you could be the hero. Now you are bragging to all that you are helping the customers of MSWD and fulfilling your promise of improving community outreach by giving your first quarterly stipend to the United Way of the Desert. Like your fake credentials of "technical water systems engineer" and fake title of chairman of the Riverside County Leadership Forum, this giving back is your way of calling attention to yourself. "Look at me! I'm fulfilling my promise of solving a problem I created"

The facts are, Steve, the United Fund was started by MSWD years ago, and staff and Directors of MSWD have contributed to this fund over the years without fanfare. They also have sacrificially given to the community with their volunteerism, supporting the holiday parade, Women's Club, Rotary, Cabot's Museum and other civic groups. MSWD has made a difference in our community and has always been a positive, proactive partner with the city. Steve, your gift was not the first nor will it be the last from someone at MSWD. Actually, you did nothing more than what the others have done for years. In fact, you're a newcomer to the community served by MSWD, and you haven't served the people, volunteered or even paid a bill to MSWD. You fit the definition of carpetbagger: someone who moves into a town just to be elected. You really do not care about our city or district. You only care about promoting yourself as demonstrated by your self-centered post about your promise kept.


Engineering Services With Michael Platt Consulting

This is a one-year renewal of the contract for not-to-exceed $100,000. Approved 4-0.


Contract With AES For Seismic Valve Controller Installation

The district has 24 water reservoirs. This contract is for the installation of six controllers for a cost not-to-exceed $140,499.60. A controller will sense seismic activity and act to fully or partially close the valve on a reservoir. When this project is completed, the district will have these controllers on 11 of the reservoirs.

Approved 4-0.


Presentation On Elections By Division

Karl Baker commented, urging the board to move ahead with this. He said it was only a matter of time before it becomes necessary. He predicted that it is only a matter of time before every elected body in California will have to move to elections by district.

"Elections By Division" meaning district elections. This was a presentation by an attorney who also participated in the districting for Palm Springs city elections. A demographer would be retained to get an accurate idea of the population demographics of Mission Springs Water District.

The district could choose to do nothing, but wait for a demand letter to arrive. If a demand letter is received a tight timeframe comes into play, but that can be negotiated with whatever party sent the demand letter. The tight time frame would require the object of the demand letter (MSWD in this example) to adopt a resolution within 45 days indicating the intent to move to district elections. Then the district would have 90 days within which to hold two public hearings no more than 30 days apart. After that, demographic data would be used to draw draft maps. There would then be two public hearings on the maps, those two hearings being no more than 45 days apart. If the maps are revised, then at least 7 more days must pass before the final map vote. Then the board would vote to create the districts and settle with the party who sent the demand letter - and the California Voting Rights Act sets that settlement at $30,000.

If the district initiates the process rather than wait for a demand letter, then the timeframes are easier, and they don't have to pay anyone $30,000 at the end of the process.

General Manager Wallum said he could have a demographer present at the April board meeting.


permalink | April 21, 2019 at 08:43 PM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2019

Desert Water Agency Hearing For Elections By Division Maps, April 15, 2019

The Desert Water Agency board has held two public hearings on proposed maps for election by division. The first hearing was in Desert Hot Springs at the Carl May Center on April 15. The second hearing was the next day at DWA HQ in Palm Springs. I was at the hearing in DHS and this is my summary of that.

I've made my audio recording available on Soundcloud. You can listen to it there or download it; no charge, no registration required.

The three proposed maps that were considered at these hearings can be found here as PDFs.

There is also an Interactive Division Map Tool that you can use to experiment with revising the maps.

Below are links to larger jpeg versions of the three maps.

Division Map Draft ADivision Map Draft BDivision Map Draft C

General Public Comments

Jeff Bowman spoke first, encouraging DWA to allow MSWD to be in control of its own groundwater. He said it is the right thing to do and would save ratepayers in both districts a lot of money.

Karl Baker thanked the board for coming to DHS. He said DHS has been left out for a long time.


Demographer's Presentation

Doug Johnson, from National Demographics, presented the three proposed maps. First there were two informational meetings. Now we're in the second stage, the two hearings on draft maps. The map adopted now will be used in the election in 2020. In 2021, the new census date from 2020 will be used to adjust the map. The 2022 election will use the adjusted map.

The divisions must have equal population (within a couple of percentage points). Federal laws require that neighborhoods made up primarily of people of a "protected class" (Latino, African-American, Asian-American or Native American) not be divided in any way to dilute their voting strength. But federal law also prohibits racial gerrymandering. Race can be a factor in mapping a division, but it cannot be the predominate factor.

The following are goals, but not legal requirements for division maps:

  • Respect communities of interest
  • Compact and contiguous with clearly recognizable borders
  • "Respect voters' choices" or "Continuity in office" (trying to avoid pairing existing board members within the same division)

The demographer displayed a map of the DWA area that showed the seven areas (and their respective 2010 populations) that have been named by the U.S. Census Bureau: Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Cathedral City (the cove mostly), Rancho Mirage (a tiny bit), Whitewater and Desert Edge.

The "pockets" of African-Americans and Asian-Americans throughout the district are not sufficient to really affect the mapping. Latinos and whites are the two big racial groups. It is possible to draw a Latino majority district in the Desert Hot Springs area. Below is a map showing Latino populations (based on the 2010 census) throughout the district.
DWA Latino Population Map

He showed us the same five district maps from other jurisdictions that were shared at the earlier hearing. You can see them in my write-up of that hearing.


Map A

The demographer described this map as similar to the approach used in Pasadena and Central Unified School District. On this map, divisions 1, 2 and 4 include substantial territories both north and south of the freeway. Division 5, OTOH, is compact and includes eastern Palm Springs as well as the areas of Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage that are part of DWA.

Map A Division 3

Division 3 sacrifices the goal of contiguity by including this little corner of Palm Springs with North Palm Springs, Dos Palmas and part of Desert Hot Springs that extends clear up to Pierson Boulevard. It seems to me, the interests of that little Palm Springs neighborhood would be much more similar to its immediate neighbors than to the residents of DHS or the desert areas south of DHS.

Map A also divides the City of Desert Hot Springs over three districts. Four, if you count the fact that Mission Lakes CC would be in division 1, paired with much of Palm Springs. The result would be that division 3 is the only one where a DHS resident would have a good shot at being elected, but a board member in division 3 might live in northern Palm Springs, North Palm Springs, or in an unincorporated and unnamed area.

Each proposed map includes a proposed election sequence as well. On Map A it's

  • 2020: Divisions 3 (vacant), 5 (Bloomer & Ewing)
  • 2022: Divisions 1 (Cioffi), 2 (Oygar), 4 (Stuart)


Map B

On this proposed map, divisions 1 and 3 include areas north and south of the freeway. Division 3 has problems here similar to those in Map A. Division 3 includes much of eastern DHS and (non-contiguously) a big chunk of northern Palm Springs, north of Alejo. Safe to say this division will elect no one from the DHS area.

The election sequence proposed with Map B is

  • 2020: Divisions 2 (Vacant), 5 (Ewing & Bloomer)
  • 2022: Divisions 1 (Cioffi), 3 (Oygar & Stuart), 4 (vacant)


Map C

The demographer compared this map to Compton and Glendale. This has two divisions that are entirely north of the freeway. Below you can see division 2 (in blue) surrounded by division 3 (green).

Map C Division 2

The proposed election sequence for this map is

  • 2020: Divisions 4 (Ewing) and 5 (Bloomer)
  • 2022: Divisions 1 (Oygar, Stuart & Cioffi), 2 (vacant) and 3 (vacant)

Choosing this map would mean that two of the current board members would definitely have to leave the board, unless they decided to move to one of the vacant divisions. Maps A and B would guarantee only one current board member would be forced off. So, while Map C seems to be the most fair to those of us who live north of the freeway, in at least this one respect it would be the most painful for the DWA board to implement.


Public Hearing

Russ Martin, Vice President of the MSWD board, spoke first. He wanted to know where the populations outside of the seven named census areas are counted. The answer is, of course, that everyone is counted where their residence is, but the Census Bureau hasn't come up with names to cover every square inch of America.

Karl Baker came next, saying he wished we could ask questions and get answers before sharing an opinion with the board. Director Cioffi asked if Mr. Martin's question could be answered first.

The demographer said that everybody is counted. He only highlighted the "census designated places." There was no real need for him to include that info initially, IMO, and he couldn't explain this simple concept very well, so why did he even do it? Mr. Martin said he didn't think his question had been answered.

Back to Karl Baker who asked how the proposed election sequences were devised. For example, the proposed sequence on Map C leaves Desert Hot Springs unrepresented on the board until after the 2022 elections. The demographer explained this as giving the choice to the voters as to whether they want that board member re-elected. This is respecting the choices of the voters whose choices have been respected since DWA was created. IMO, then, those of us who have been disrespected by the election process since the creation of the DWA would remain disrespected for another two years.

The demographer said he also tried to put majority-minority districts (i.e., Latino majority districts) on the Presidential election years to encourage voter turnout, because majority-minority districts tend to have lower voter turnouts. He says this, but on Map C, division 2 has a Latino majority, but he proposed delaying its elections until 2022, a non-Presidential election year, while divisions 4 and 5 in white, white Palm Springs would be aligned with the Presidential election.

Mr. Baker paraphrased the demographer's position as one in which he (the demographer) believes the California Voting Rights Act was intended to protect the positions of incumbents for as long as possible rather than to extend the power of voting to underrepresented minorities.

The demographer pointed out that the current five at-large board members remain at-large board members until they are either re-elected or leave the board, and that those at-large board members serve to represent the "unrepresented" divisions that the maps would create. By this logic, we should be delighted with the current arrangement because we are all represented by five at-large board members, giving us a wealth of democracy in that demographer's opinion. But if this is democracy now, what is the point of the California Voting Rights Act?

The next speaker was Sergio (couldn't catch the last name) from Cathedral City. He appreciated the fact that Cathedral City residents were kept in one division on Maps A and B. Actually, they're in one division on Map C, too. He preferred Map B, but he wanted division 4's election to be in 2020, not 2022. He noted also that on Map A, division 5 (which includes Cathedral City) would have its election in 2020.

Director Cioffi asked him to verify that he preferred Map A or B, so long as the division that included Cathedral City had its election in 2020. The Dream Homes neighborhood is part of Cathedral City.

Arden Wallum, General Manager of MSWD, spoke next. He suggested that since the two map hearings are "back to back" the process seemed less open, and possibly the board members had already made up their minds. MSWD has initiated the process to go to elections by division, although not under the threat of a lawsuit, the way DWA and the City of Palm Springs were. Mr. Wallum said "we" would object if Map A were chosen. He did not say who "we" are. Mr. Wallum does not live in the DWA area and as far as I can see, the Mission Springs Water District would have no voice at all in the question of elections by division in DWA, since MSWD is not a voter. He said Map B is better but still "we may object to" it. He considers Map C to be "much better." While it would guarantee only two seats from north of the freeway, that's all any of us really want. There is no desire to elect a majority of three from north of the freeway, although that remains theoretically possible with Map C.

When MSWD holds its public hearings on elections by division, let's see if the General Manager of DWA shows up to comment.

The next speaker was Dieter Crawford, a native of the Desert Highlands neighborhood in northern Palm Springs. He likes Map C. He was involved in Palm Springs' design of their maps. "In Map C, the deviation from the ideal population in district 2 and 3, the majority-minority districts, if you look at the non-Hispanic white population in district 4 and 5 they're almost a thousand people off from the other districts."

Each of the proposed maps includes (scroll down to the 4th page in each PDF) a table of statistics for each resulting division, but they only give different percentages of population for each ethnic group, not actual numbers, so I guess Mr. Crawford did some arithmetic, which I will now attempt to reproduce.

Map C

DivisionPop.N.H White %N.H. White Pop.
118,08254%9,764
218,41923%4,236
317,98748%8,634
417,37472%12,509
517,45556%9,775

The differences in non-Hispanic white population in each division is far more than "almost a thousand," so this is probably not the arithmetic Mr. Crawford did, and I don't know what he was referring to. In any case, what does the variation in non-Hispanic white voter populations matter here? Federal law only requires DWA to avoid diluting the voting power of protected classes of people, and non-Hispanic white people are not such a protected class.

Mr. Crawford had some issue with Palm Drive being used to define the western border of division 2 on Map C, but he didn't say what the problem was or what he thought would be better. He said that in division 1 the historic tennis club neighborhood stood out. He said residents of Desert Highlands had more in common with Whitewater, West Garnet and DHS than with residents in the historic tennis club. [On Map C Desert Highlands is in the same division as Whitewater and West Garnet]. He said he thought divisions 2 and 3 on Map C should get their elections in 2020. "I understand that is not in a Presidential year..." he said, but it is, in fact, a Presidential election year.

Karl Baker asked if he could speak again so he could give his opinion. President Stuart ran this by the attorney, who said he didn't see any problem with it. He said he has real issues with Map A. He said divisions that cross the freeway are not forming communities of interest. He said he agreed with almost everything Mr. Crawford said. Mr. Baker went on to say that on Map C, the unrepresented divisions should get their elections first. He said he thinks it is the responsibility of DWA to oversee the aquifers on both sides of the freeway. But that is totally different and separate from DWA's retail operations. He suggested that the retail operations of the agency be broken off into a separate agency with its own five-member board elected solely from the areas where DWA delivers water. He pointed out that in the entire state of California there are only two water districts that have both retail and wholesale jurisdiction within themselves; one is DWA, the other is the Coachella Valley Water District.

Grace Garner from Palm Springs spoke next. She wanted to know the next steps in the process.

President Stuart said the second map hearing would be the next day in Palm Springs. The next required meeting after that would be the one at which the board discusses the maps and selects one. The date for that meeting has not yet been determined.

Director Cioffi said that more hearings are permitted, if the board wishes to hold them. He said he thinks the board could use more public input than they have received.

Gary Gardner, DHS City Council member spoke next. He, too, prefers Map C. He agreed with Mr. Bowman, that a lot of money would be saved if DWA would allow MSWD to be its own groundwater management agency. He made a comparison with the Imperial Irrigation District where all the board members are elected from Imperial County, but the majority of the district's electricity customers are in Riverside County.

Jeff Bowman said he favors Map C because it solves the problem, the problem being giving an equal voice to those north of the freeway. He said Maps A ands B fail to achieve the goals of keeping communities of interest together, contiguous districts, using visibile barriers as boundaries and planned future growth. He agreed with Karl Baker that DWA should probably be broken into two boards for retail and wholesale.


Board Discussion

Director Ewing said that he thinks an important community of interest is ratepayers. He said he is going to be especially interested in attending to and looking at the maps.

I've tried to decode that message. DWA's only ratepayers are its retail customers, so initially I thought "ratepayers" to Mr. Ewing might be a code word for "Palm Springs residents." But, the only time the word "ratepayers" was used in this meeting was in comments asking the board to avoid wasting ratepayer money on legal battles, such as the one between MSWD and DWA over groundwater management. So maybe he meant he was disinclined to continue to pursue that lawsuit.

permalink | April 20, 2019 at 09:15 PM | Comments (1)

March 30, 2019

Ghost Palm in Desert Hot Springs

Part of Desert X.

Ghost Palm (5021)

Ghost Palm (5031)

Ghost Palm (5034)

Ghost Palm (5043)

Ghost Palm (5051)

Ghost Palm (5058)

Ghost Palm (5064)

More photos of Ghost Palm here.

permalink | March 30, 2019 at 07:06 PM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2019

Mission Springs Water District Board Meetings, February 14 & 19, 2019

This is my summary of the meetings of the Mission Springs Water District Board of Directors on February 14 and 19, 2019.

Public Input

Jeff Bowman spoke first.

President and board members, Jeff Bowman, Living Waters Spa. I apologize up front, I'm recovering from pneumonia.

Steve Grasha, last month I revealed that you were a liar and that your campaign was built on lies. That if the voters knew the liar that you are, they would never have voted for you. The pinnacle of your lie was when you called me a child molester both on Facebook and an email blast to the voters. But as I pointed out last month, your lies did not start with that. They started with your campaign statement "Technical Water Systems Engineer."

This month I want to unravel the truth about you being the chairman of the Riverside County Leadership Forum. Just like with your false claim of being a Technical Water Systems Engineer, your chairman of the Riverside County Leadership Forum is a lie, because the forum is just you. You made it up several years ago. Steve, a real leadership forum would be based somewhere. They'd have an office. They'd have a registered organization either as profit or not for profit with the authorities. They'd have regular meetings and an agenda. Yet you did make a Facebook page for your fake organization. However, dude, you've gotta make it current. The phone number you give fails. Your stated website domain name has lapsed and is for sale. But the real interesting thing to me is that the picture you have is that of the beautiful County of Riverside's county administration center. How more official can you get than that building as your main picture? This shows everybody your forum is real. All right? Yet, you don't hold meetings or anything there. You just make it look like you do with the picture. Then I discovered that you didn't even take the picture. You pulled it from a person's personal Flickr account. Steve, you could not even take your own picture for your own fake organization. You are a fraud. Yet, you use this official sounding, made-up organization to promote yourself. In many of your email blasts and Facebook posts you quoted the forum as supporting you, backing you, recommending you. Talk about having a self-aggrandizing, egotistical, maniac ego.

Last month I outed you on the Leadership County Forum. That must have touched a nerve, because on 1/20 you created a post where you go deeper into your previous libelous and delusional statements. I have handed out that post today because you deleted it less than a day later. If the voters knew the real Steve Grasha, they would not have voted for you. Thank you, Mr. President.

Riverside County Administrative Center
The photo in question, on Flickr
. Photographer: theDarkHalo.

Russell Betts spoke next. He wants the board to take some steps to open up their meetings. He mentioned the fact that they meet in the afternoon and that they don't make the audio recordings of the meetings readily available on the district website. He cited a Riverside County Grand Jury report "2012-2013 Grand Jury Report, Riverside County Water and Sanitation Districts, Compensation and Transparency Report" which makes this recommendation: "Water and sanitation district Boards of Directors shall conduct board meetings after 6 pm to ensure maximum participation by ratepayers, and generate maximum public attendance." Mr. Betts asked the board to make the audio recordings available on the website and to shift their meetings to 6 o'clock.

Karl Baker came up next. He said he was a little disappointed that complete budget information is not available on the district's website. He said that what is there is cursory. He urged them to be more thorough. He then talked about DWA's decision to go to district elections. The population of Desert Hot Springs should give it 1½ board members. Each district should have about 17,000 residents. He said he was having trouble generating enthusiasm for DWA's second hearing on district elections, which would be a the Lozano Community Center the following Tuesday. He thinks that DWA should divide itself into two boards, one for its retail operations in Palm Springs, the other for its more widespread wholesale operations. We should resist laying out the districts in such a way that each district includes some retail territory in Palm Springs.

Pamela Edmondson had some questions: Would her water bill come on time this month? Is there any way to get less hard water? They just put all new plumbing in their house, but even after a week, the water still smells like paint. A plumber said it was due to their trap. A staff person was directed to speak to her at the end of the meeting.


Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck Contract Renewal

MSWD has been using Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for lobbying services for almost two years, specifically to deal with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The contract is for $10,000 per month.

Approved 4-0-1 with Director Grasha abstaining. He did not say why he abstained.


TKE Contract Renewal

TKE provides engineering services to the district. The contract is not-to-exceed $250,000. The budgeted amount for them this fiscal year is $79,400, and they've actually used $38,600 of that. Approved 5-0.


Water & Sewer Standby Assessments

These are assessments levied on undeveloped properties that are not hooked up to water or sewer, but have a water or sewer line running in front of the property. The water standby assessment is $26.80 for parcels less than one acre. The sewer standby assessment is $10 for parcels less than one acre. The item before the board now is a resolution to direct the engineer to prepare the list of parcels subject to either standby assessment.

Both resolutions in one fell swoop, approved 5-0.


Strategic Plan

You would think a document called "Strategic Plan" would be something that could be found on the district's website (MSWD.ORG), wouldn't you. Go ahead. Try it. The few hits I got all turned up 404. But I did manage to find it, buried in the agenda packet for the June 2017 board meetings. Unfortunately, MSWD scans its agenda packet with the OCR setting turned OFF, so the resulting PDFs are only pictures of the pages. The text within the agenda packets is not searchable. MSWD is just about the last place still doing it this way. The only way to find something in an agenda packet is to open it and read it with your eyes. I extracted the strategic plan and saved it as a PDF on my Google drive, so you could access it much more easily here: the 2017 MSWD Strategic Plan.

Maybe the problem is explained in the third item listed under "Purpose of the Strategic Plan." "3. Communicate this information to employees, board members, partner agencies and key stakeholders affected by the District." Did you notice which group is missing from that sentence? Customers or ratepayers, unless they are subsumed under the category of "key stakeholders."

Finance Director Matt McCue presented the report. The priority codes (A, B or C) refer to time frames. A = two years or less, B = two to five years, C = beyond five years.

The five goals are

  1. Water Supply - three of the A-priority projects are now either complete or in process. The other three A-priority are contingent upon the outcome of the SGMA (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) process or the litigation with DWA.
  2. Infrastructure - of the eight A-priority projects, five are in process or complete. The ones that are not underway are planning related. One of those is "Develop a Technology Plan that incorporates all aspects of the District's internal and external technology, including field operational technology."
  3. Financial Management - there are eight A-priority projects. Six of them are complete or in process. The other two have been discussed and are "on the horizon."
  4. Public and Political Outreach - all seven projects are A-priority. Five are complete or in process. The two that are not started are board-related. Those two are:
    • "Develop a Board Handbook or Guidelines. Components to consider include: role, relationship and responsibility of the Board of Directors and staff, standards of performance and expectations of public office."
    • "Develop a strategy to position the Board of Directors as regional water leaders including elevating their public and professional profiles within the region. The Board of Directors is a resource for the District and the water industry."
  5. Organizational Development - all six projects are A-priority and all are complete or in process.

Mr. McCue mentioned a report on the Strategic Plan that had been distributed to the Directors via Dropbox. I don't know if it was different from what I found in the June 2017 agenda packet.

Director Wright asked if the Strategic Plan is on the website. "It's in the packet. It's got to be accessible to the public, right?" "Correct," was Mr. McCue's technically correct answer. But it was not in this month's packet. It was distributed to the Directors only via Dropbox. And damn me if I could find it on the district's website by any means other than tediously reading document after document. Director Sewell asked which of the Infrastructure projects had not been started. One is described above. The other one is "Conduct an evaluation of alternative energy opportunities including cost and feasibility for each alternative."

President Duncan asked if Mr. McCue had a checklist of which specific projects had been completed or started. Mr. McCue said he had them in his notes and could provide that to the directors on Tuesday. I wish I had been able to share that with you.


New Wastewater Treatment Plant

The Notice of Preparation for the EIR is going out to the public on Friday the 15th of February. There will be a scoping review March 6. The scoping review will take place at MSWD headquarters, 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm.


I-10/Indian Sewer Financing District

The district is trying to secure a date when it can make a presentation to the Palm Springs City Council on this matter. The same presentation will be given to the Desert Hot Springs City Council, probably in March.


Consent Agenda

Three items: approval of the minutes for January 2019, the register of demands and board compensation. Approved 5-0.


Financial Report

Residential consumption of water is running a little higher than expected. Operating expenses are running about half a million under budget because there have been fewer emergency repairs than anticipated. In addition, the district has about half a million in investment income from CalTrust where the district has more than $30 million invested. CalTrust is not permitted to invest in the stock market. Most of its investments are U.S. Treasury-related.


Counsel Comments

It had been mentioned that the DWA Board would be holding a public hearing on district elections on Tuesday evening at the Lozano Community Center, which generated a little not-agendized discussion of the subject, again. Attorney Pinkney reminded them, again, that it was not agendized, but that if they wanted to discuss it, they only needed to indicate that they want it agendized at the next meeting. As he was saying this, President Duncan made a quick informal poll of the board and got four affirmative nods. Director Grasha's attention was elsewhere. When President Duncan told the attorney that at least four Directors wanted it agendized, Mr. Grasha objected, insisting that it should be a formal roll call vote so that the record would indicate the support was 5-0. Mr. Duncan said there would be no roll call vote. Mr. Grasha, completely failing to understand that he had just voiced his affirmative opinion as loudly (louder, actually) as any other director, continued to insist, but Mr. Duncan wisely ignored him. Consider it a unanimous request, four directors plus one child.


Director Comments

President Duncan had a comment:

Intentionally disseminating or dispersing false information is unethical. In virtually all cultures around the world it is considered lying. The Mission Springs Water District Board of Directors has not voted to establish districts. At last week's study session, we directed staff to add the possibility of districting to a future agenda for discussion or possibly for future action, should we decide to pursue it further. Before we can district, first it must be brought to the Board of Directors for consideration as an agenda item. Secondly, if it is decided to go forward with districting, we must either decide on our own boundaries or hire a demographer, a demographer's firm, to establish district boundaries. Thirdly, we must hold I believe it's up to about five total public hearings on the topic and take public input before we can district. Then and only then can it be brought to the board for a vote. Along with transparency, we must be accurate and honest in our dealings with the public at all times.

permalink | February 25, 2019 at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2019

Desert Water Agency Hearing On District Elections - February 19, 2019

This is a report on the public hearing held by the Desert Water Agency on the subject of "Transition to Elections by Division," i.e., district elections. The meeting was in the Lozano Community Center in Tedesco Park on Tuesday, February 19, 2019, and marks the first time in the history of its existence (well, actually first time in the memory of Nancy Wright, which is probably just as good) that the Desert Water Agency board has visited Desert Hot Springs. All five DWA directors were present.

In the audience, directors from Mission Springs Water District were present, along with Yvonne Parks and Karl Baker who ran for the DWA board in 2018 and lost. No Desert Hot Springs City Council members were present, but this hearing was at 5:30 on Tuesday and the city council meeting was scheduled to begin at 6 o'clock, so they all had a good excuse to be elsewhere.


Intro

You can download the PDF version of the Powerpoint presentation here.

General Manager Krause spoke first, providing some background on aquifers and water districts in the Coachella Valley. Below is a map of Desert Water Agency. You can see they haven't updated it to show the current boundaries of DHS. Desert Water Agency covers almost all of Palm Springs and extends into Cathedral City (about 6,000 people there) and even a tiny segment of Rancho Mirage where 19 people live.

DWA District Boundary

The map below shows Mission Springs Water District. There are small areas of MSWD that lie outside DWA, and there are areas within MSWD that are not actually part of MSWD, but might be covered by DWA. But to oversimplify a little, you can think of MSWD as lying within DWA.

MSWD Boundary Map

In the 2010 census, the population residing in DWA was 89,317. Divide that by five (there are five directors) and each district, if impossibly perfect, would contain 17,863.4 people. Naturally, after each census, the districts would have to be re-apportioned, just as every population-based district in the U.S. does.

DWA Population Map

Below is the map showing the percentage of the population identified as Latino. On the map was this note: "Asian-Americans and African-Americans are not concentrated in large numbers anywhere in the [district]."

DWA Latino Population Map


The Legal Stuff

Next, Desert Water Agency's Attorney Riddell spoke. The DWA was founded in 1961 by an act of the legislature called "Desert Water Agency Law." This particular law seems not to have been entered into the conveniently searchable online database that one would usually use to delve into California statutes. But I did find a Google Books version that you can read.

Attorney Riddell explained the California Voting Rights Act, including recent amendments that created this system that is pushing many agencies and cities to go to district elections. I covered this briefly in my report on the January MSWD meeting. The essential difference is that Desert Water Agency has received notification from an attorney representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, which is why the DWA is actively involved in the process of switching to district elections.

The process first requires two public hearings (this meeting was the second of those), then draft map options are prepared (by a demographer hired for the purpose), then two public hearings on the maps (this is where the real fighting will be), and then a final public hearing where the DWA board will adopt a map of districts.


Yet More Info

Outreach & Conservation Manager Metzger spoke next. The demographer will be the same one used by the cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City and the Desert Healthcare District.

Ms. Metzger estimated the adoption of the final map would come near the end of summer. [If I were inclined to be paranoid, I'd say they were going to try to slip it by while I'm at Burning Man, but I don't think I actually figure that highly in the local political scene.]

She showed us district maps of some jurisdictions that meet legal and constitutional requirements. The City of Compton and Glendale Unified School District based their districts solely on population.

Compton and Glendale Unified District Maps

Pasadena drew their districts so that every one touched Colorado Boulevard, thereby giving every council member some responsibility for the downtown area. Central Unified School District drew their districts so that every high school district was in the districts of two board members, so that all parents would have two board members they could go to if they had concerns.

Pasadena and Central Unified District Maps

DWA is sharing district election information on their website at DWA.org/divisions, including the maps I've posted here. In the future, that will be where they post the proposed district maps. You can send comments to divisions@DWA.org or contact any DWA Director.


Public Input

This was regular public comments where you could comment on anything DWA-related (or not related, for that matter). The Public Hearing would follow, where comments were to pertain solely to district elections. This simple concept was explained by DWA Board President Joe Stuart in such a way that it left experienced politicians like Karl Baker and Nancy Wright wondering what exactly he had just said. What it boiled down to was that you could get two separate 3-minute comment periods, if you wanted.

Karl Baker spoke first. He said he was long-winded so he would take advantage of both comment opportunities, if he understood President Stuart correctly. He said that drawing the districts did not have to be solely on racial lines, but that communities of interest could be considered as well [as was shown in Pasadena]. He said potential growth should be considered. The Desert Hot Springs area has great potential for growth, while Palm Springs and other cities south of the 10 freeway are pretty well built up. Mr. Baker estimated that the 2020 census might show the population north of the 10 equal in size to the population south of it (within the Desert Water Agency, of course). He encouraged the DWA board to draw the lines so that the area north of the 10 would get two districts, the other three being south of the 10.

Nancy Wright spoke next. She said she agreed with a lot of what Mr. Baker said. She said that based on the volume of wastewater being treated at MSWD's Horton wastewater treatment plant and based on the number of connections and amount of water being sold, MSWD has a sense that the population north of the 10 has grown tremendously since 2010. She also wondered if DWA had tried to reach out to the unincorporated areas around Desert Hot Springs to inform them of this districting process. She wanted also to confirm that after draft maps are drawn, people will be able to comment on them at public hearings.

Ms. Wright thanked the DWA board for being present, saying that it's the first time she is aware that they have been on this side of the 10 in the past 30 years.

A resident of Desert Hot Springs (I couldn't catch her name) spoke next. She expressed her opinion that there should be two districts north of the 10.


Public Hearing

Now the public hearing was open. Yvonne Parks spoke first. She said she had been looking at DWA's Latino population map. She saw that east of Desert Hot Springs there were large areas of purple, indicating a Latino population lower than 25%. Moving west, she saw more pink areas indicating a Latino population of 75% to 100%. Around those were more areas of yellow (65% to 75% Latino) and green (50% to 65% Latino). So her suggestion was to create two districts, one easterly that would include Desert Edge, the other district more westerly with a higher Latino population.

Karl Baker returned to the podium. He suggested Palm Drive be the line between Ms. Parks' suggested east and west districts, but north of Pierson he suggested the line should "take a jog over east" to include an area "that's different than the Hacienda Heights portion of our city." He then spoke of a coming development out along highway 62 that will include 8,500 homes. He said 2,200 of those homes are "active." Then he spoke of the future development at the east end of Pierson which will be about 1,200 homes. There is also an approved condo development that will have about 300 units at Palm Drive and Camino Campañero, he said.

[But the chances of any of these homes being completed, sold and occupied before the 2020 census is very slim, IMO. Those people will have to wait until the redistricting based on the 2030 census.]

Mr. Baker also spoke about the substantial industrial development going on in Desert Hot Springs that would require water. [But would not include any residences, so no population, so it's not very relevant to districting, IMO.]

Nancy Wright came to the podium to say that MSWD's urban water master plan, sewer master plan and the district's water infrastructure master plan would be good references to anticipate areas of expected growth.

President Stuart closed the public hearing and reminded people to follow their website (DWA.org) and social media (Facebook at www.facebook.com/dwawater/) for more information about this districting process.

permalink | February 19, 2019 at 10:14 PM | Comments (5)

February 12, 2019

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

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


Public Comments

Jeff Bowman came to the podium.

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Mr. President.

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

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

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


California Voting Rights Act

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

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

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

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

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


Spicer Consulting Group

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

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

Assessment District 18

Approved 4-0.


San Gorgonio Pass Subbasin Rules of Conduct

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

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

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


Mid-year Budget Adjustments

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

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

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


Federal Advocacy Services

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

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


Coachillin' Reimbursement Agreement

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

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

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

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

Approved 4-0.


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

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

Approved 4-0.


Committee Appointments

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

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


Affiliations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approved 4-0.


New Wastewater Treatment Facility

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


Solar Plant

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


I-10/Indian Sewers

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


Register of Demands

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

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

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

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


Director Reports

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

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

President Duncan asked "Thoughts or reports?"

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


Director Comments

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

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

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

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

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

permalink | February 12, 2019 at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2019

Desert Hot Springs Planning Commission - January 8, 2019

Selection of Chair and Vice-Chair

Larry Buchanan and Scott De La Torre nominated themselves to serve another year in their respective positions, Chair and Vice-Chair. Approved 4-0.


Development Permit For Five Contemporary Mediterranean Homes In Rolling Hills Estates

Recent history of proposed development by Elyon Development on these five lots:

  • At the November 2018 meeting of the Planning Commission Elyon Development presented their proposal for five mid-century modern homes for these lots. The city planning staff had given erroneous information to Elyon Development earlier, telling them that since there were only five homes, they wouldn't have to bring their proposal before the Planning Commission at all. Later, they were told that they DID have to go before the Planning Commission because it was more than four homes. At the Planning Commission meeting there was strong opposition from the current owners and residents of the incomplete Rolling Hills Estates and for that reason the Planning Commission rejected the proposal.
  • Elyon Development appealed to the City Council and their appeal was heard at the December 12, 2018, City Council meeting. At this hearing the error by city staff was given a different explanation. Now the city said the proposed development of five lots had to come before the Planning Commission because contemporary Mediterranean home designs were included in the original approvals of the tract in 2006 and these proposed mid-century homes conflicted with that. Again there was opposition from the neighbors, but now some of them admitted they opposed the Elyon proposal because the developer had not made much of an effort to contact those neighbors in advance to tell them of his plans. They said they didn't really object to the designs. Others, however, continued to insist that smaller, mid-century modern homes would pull down the value of their contemporary Mediterraneans. The developer provided testimony that his homes would be of a higher quality than the existing homes and that new homes identical to his design were selling for higher prices in Palm Springs. My gut sense is that real estate developers have a better knowledge of the market than others who are not real estate developers, but we're not going to test that here because the City Council voted to uphold the decision of the Planning Commission. They did, however, acknowledge that the error by city staff (the unnamed person they blamed was new and no longer works for the city) had cost the developer unnecessary fees and time, so they directed the City Manager to try to set that right by offsetting Elyon Development's expenses on their other projects in the city.
  • Meanwhile, at the December 11, 2018, Planning Commission, Watermarke Homes presented a proposal to build contemporary Mediterranean homes on 16 other empty lots in Rolling Hills Estates. The approval for that sailed through the Planning Commission slicker than snot.
  • Which brings us to tonight, January 8, where Elyon Development presented its proposal for five contemporary Mediterranean homes on its lots.

No one from the public had any comments on this proposal. With no discussion, the motion was made to approve. The vote to approve was 4-0.


One-Year Extension For DHS Therapeutics

This is a marijuana cultivation site proposal that would be located on Cabot Road about a block south of Two Bunch Palms. The City Council approved four CUPs for the site in February 2017.

One member of the public commented. He began by asking the Commission if any of them smoked marijuana or if any of their kids or wives [sic] smoked marijuana. Chair Buchanan interrupted him to try to explain how public comments work, but the man interrupted Chair Buchanan and said he was asking the questions. Mr. Buchanan continued to explain that none of the Commissioners could respond directly to his questions to which the man responded "Okay, I'm sure none of you smoke marijuana. Not your kids, not grandkids." He wanted to know why they would let it be grown here. Was it intended for some other "junky town," he suggested.

Mr. Buchanan explained the rules of public comments again.

The extension was approved 4-0.


Amendment To CUP For Blue Mango

This concerns a 1.15-acre parcel at 65265 San Jacinto Lane. Previously approved for marijuana cultivation, the developer wants to add manufacturing, extraction, packaging and distribution to its permitted uses.

Approved 4-0.


Vintage Trailer Resort At Aqua Soleil

Aqua Soleil is proposing to replace that rather sad RV facility on its property with a new, upscale vintage trailer resort to be called Air Heart Vintage Trailer Resort. If you've been wondering what it's like to spend a weekend in an Airstream, here's your chance. They propose to ultimately have 32 trailers there. These will function and be taxed the same as hotel rooms. At the same time, incidentally, this provides an opportunity to lock in Aqua Soleil's share of the expense of a future traffic light at Park Lane and Palm Drive.

Diane Powell, Vice President of the homeowners' association at Skys Haven, which is located across Palm Drive from the Aqua Soleil. She was concerned that the traffic created by visitors hauling trailers in and out of this development would be excessive.

It was explained to her by staff that the vintage trailers would be permanently located there, and not creating any traffic issues. In fact, there will be slightly less traffic, since the existing RV park does have trailers coming and going.

Approved 4-0.


CUP For A Health Center In The Vons Shopping Center

The location is 14238 Palm Drive in the Vons shopping center. I believe it's the storefront that used to house Liberty Tax Service. Have you noticed the lack of the Statue of Liberty promotion on Palm Drive there this year?

The applicant calls its business People's Community Clinic and they will provide "FDA approved contraceptive methods and supplies, family planning counseling and education, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, HIV screening, cervical cancer screening, male and female permanent contraception, and limited infertility services." City staff said that they had received one email comment asking if the clinic would provide abortion services. Staff said that the applicant had not said if they would or not. People's Clinic's website suggests they offer complete health services, not just what was listed in the city staff report.

The applicant said they had offices in Hemet, Los Angeles and West Covina. They are a non-profit. He said they would not perform abortions. Hours will be 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Approved 3-0-1. Vice Chair De La Torre abstained, but did not say why.


Amending Housing Ordinances To Conform To State Legislation

Subjects addressed in these amendments include:

  • Identifying a zones where emergency shelters are allowed as a permitted use without a conditional use or other discretionary permit ("by-right zone").
  • Transitional and supportive housing to be considered a residential use subject only to those restrictions that apply to other residential dwellings of the same type in the same zone.
  • Defines "family" as "a group of individuals living together in a dwelling unit as a single housekeeping unit under a common housekeeping management plan based on an internally structured relationship providing organization and stability."
  • To permit "Accessory Dwelling Units" in all residential zones. An ADU must have permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation. If there's no kitchen, then it's a "Guest House." ADUs within existing structures must be allowed in all single-family residential zones. If an ADU requires an addition or new structure, then development standards (such as parking, height, lot coverage, lot size and maximum unit size) may be applied.
  • "When a developer agrees to construct the requisite percentage of affordable housing units or child care facilities, the city must grant a density bonus [and] other specified incentive or concessions to the developer." Incentives or concessions are (1) reduction in site development standards or modification of zoning code or architectural design requirements, such as a reduction in setback or minimum square footage requirements; or (2) approval of mixed use zoning; or (3) other regulatory incentives or concessions which actually result in identifiable and actual cost reductions.
  • The city cannot block manufactured homes (that meet the building code) from being erected on residential lots [imagine how that would go over in Rolling Hills Estates].

Attorney Mizrahi explained that this will all come back before the Planning Commission again in 6 to 8 months as part of the General Plan update.

Chair Buchanan moved for approval. Vice Chair De La Torre seconded "provided that we add the additional parking space" by which he meant, I believe, that the city could still require an additional off-street paved parking space when an ADU is constructed...subject to state law. Approved 4-0.

These revisions now go to the City Council for their final approval.

permalink | January 13, 2019 at 09:24 PM | Comments (0)