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Government corruption is a staple of the news, with politicians such as San Francisco Democrat Leland Yee, a consort of gangsters such as Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, recently landing in prison. Chris Reed of Calwatchdog has charted corruption in the California city of Bell, which “was being run like a criminal enterprise.” In the city of Carson, the corruption included a brand of government agency not often in the news.
Al Robles served simultaneously as mayor of Carson and board member of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, which ponied up money to pay Robles’ legal bills. The Central Basin Municipal Water District is facing allegations of a $2.75 million slush fund created to pay politically connected consultants such as former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, D-Montebello. Further, as Reed notes, “Central Basin board member Art Chacon was allowed to collect car allowance and mileage reimbursements from the district from 2006 to 2014, an eight-year span in which he didn’t have a driver’s license.” In 2014, “the district settled sexual harassment allegations made by a female contractor against district Director Robert Apodaca for $670,000.”
As Cross-Currents in California Water observes, water districts can be top-heavy hotbeds of cronyism. As the Goleta Water District (GWD) on the central coast shows, outlandish salaries and benefits do not guarantee sound management. Since water is not evenly distributed, the GWD has purchased water from other districts and even private landowners such as television producer Dick Wolf, whose Slippery Rock Ranch sits atop a reservoir of 200,000 acre-feet. When negotiations broke down, GWD took the ranch to court to block its sales to local municipalities and claimed that the ranch’s groundwater basin was connected to the district’s. As a spokesman for the ranch put it, “How did water that they had been negotiating to buy suddenly become theirs?”
As the Santa Barbara News Press noted, the district’s legal bills are up more than 300,000 for the lawsuit alone, and overall budget costs are $1.3 million, “considerably higher than the other three South Coast water agencies.” And of course “ratepayers are picking up the tab.”