North County water plans sidetracked by bad counsel?

May 3, 2009


Paso Robles officials may have been receiving less than stellar legal advice throughout the city’s lengthy process to secure a future water supply, a former mayor and new county supervisor suggested last week. Frank Mecham’s comments come on the heels of the city council’s forced decision to place the question of paying for water before city voters.

“If you ask legal counsel every single time, are we okay with this, and every single time they answer yes, then maybe you need to look at legal counsel as maybe having been wrong,” said Mecham. Asked in a subsequent conversation to elaborate, Mecham wondered, “What would we do if what we were being told wasn’t right? What are your options at that point? Do you go back two years? How far back?”

Mecham has been a consistent supporter of developing additional water supplies for the North County. During a discussion about water reclamation with a CalCoastNews reporter, he said, “Going after Nacimiento water was absolutely the right thing to do. But when it comes to the process….”

That “process” has been the subject of controversy in Paso Robles, and now a legal challenge mounted by Concerned Citizens of Paso Robles (CCPR) is gaining momentum. CCPR alleges that provisions of the state constitution’s Proposition 218 were violated by city officials during maneuvers to plan and finance a water supply and conveyance system. City officials, on the other hand, cite legal opinions to bolster their actions.

“The constitution of the state is pretty important, and it has to be met,” said Paul E. Heidenreich of the Orange County law firm of Huskinson, Brown, Heidenreich & Carlin. Heidenreich represents Paso Robles residents John E. Borst, Brooke G. Mayo, William Taylor, and Teresa St. Clair.

“City council members are taking advice from a range of sources, and those sources are very limited,” said Heidenreich. “Then they’re all patting each other on the back, but no one is asking, what if? No one is playing devil’s advocate.”

Heidenreich, whose firm has a reputation for successful constitutional litigation, has filed a lawsuit challenging Paso’s water and sewer fee increased in 2002. He said the objective is “to stop illegal taxes and fees, and to obtain restitution of illegally collected moneys.”

He said the problem of faulty legal counsel can be traced to “a relatively small group of attorneys who provide advice to associations like the League of California Cities. Then that group disseminates the information to its members. The advice given regarding revenue-raising is often right on the edge of reality. And when they provide this advice, they never say this is cutting edge, that it’s kind of a new concept.

“The result is that many cities are getting similar, but bad, advice,” Heidenreich said, adding that he has long “questioned the accuracy of legal advice the city has received.”

“The analysis [of the water fee and its constitutional implications] as presented to the city surprised me. I wondered why they [council members and other city officials] were interpreting it that way,” he said.

Paso Robles City Attorney Iris Ping Yang, of the Sacramento law firm of McDonough Holland & Allen, did not return requests for comment, nor did Jon Seitz of San Luis Obispo, who frequently covers meetings for Yang.

John Borst, spokesman for CCPR, said he believes the water debate has been good for the community:

“I think we as citizens need to elect persons to office who will actually represent and govern us democratically. For any elected official who would simply or exclusively choose to represent the opinion of an attorney as an expression of the ‘will of the people,’ such is an authoritarian Trojan Horse and an abuse of public office.”

Borst added, “Elected officials who subvert the constitution in an attempt to construct a public works project are not upholding their oath of office. [CCPR] must be an advocate for democracy to help advance and/or ensure the blessings of liberty made possible by constitutional institutions.”

Heidenreich said that the citizens’ group has been the target of some criticism.

“My hope would be that at some point they will sit down and talk it through, and not just attack,” he said of those who have been critical of CCPR. “Attacks are not helpful to the process. I’m just concerned that the constitution be satisfied. And that citizens’ rights in the process be met.”

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Member Opinions:

By: JorgeEstrada on 5/12/09 [Delete]

Now let’s be nice and let the illness, oink, pass. Rumor has it that there was a need to, oink, recooperate. Welcome back when you can.

By: sharibaby on 5/11/09 [Delete]

One story a week won’t cut it. Road Runner seems to have given up. I guess that volunteer payment for a business model does not work.

It was nice while it lasted.

By: Truthbeknown on 5/9/09 [Delete]

Yep, that’s what happens when posts are deleted and people are reprimanded for voicing their opinions. Never had a problem with the Tribune site.

By: Black_Copter_Pilot on 5/8/09 [Delete]

I offically proclaim this site as “The

Dead Zone.”

By: Fedup on 5/6/09 [Delete]

To Inquiry:

Who cares what they said or didn’t say. They are all a bunch of self serving lying crooks anyway.

By: insider on 5/6/09 [Delete]

If this action is successful the people need to throw the bums out that thought this was all too complex for the people to be involved with. That includes any council members and staff involved in this mess.

By: Inquiry on 5/6/09 [Delete]

O.K. Mecham was not accurately quoted. I haven’t been either so I avoid being interviewed. Articles here are very biased and frequently inaccurate. The City’s water advice is not from Shipsey & Seitz, it is from McDonough, Holland & Allen’s Sacramento office.

Water rate issues are different from water issues. The State, and our region, is in process of amending and reviewing three major plans right now, two others have been recently completed which will mandate major changes to landscape, irrigation and possibly water allocations.

Blogs do not do the issues justice. I find it interesting that CCPR is always at every city meeting to do with money regarding water but never at any of the meetings to do with the water supply, treatment or discharge at any level of government.

Want to really get into this? Go to and click on “Do Your Own Water Research”. LOTS of source material!

By: JorgeEstrada on 5/6/09 [Delete]

It is said that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over. As I gauge the activity, everyone must be sitting in their corners and having a toast. This may be a good thing because the cost of fighting can make water more expense than whiskey.

The dormant question is, in my opinion, how much will each district pay for their allocation of the entire Salinas water shed? My basis for this question is that Nacimiento water is of the same system SLO appropriates from the Salinas as well as Templeton, Atacadero, and Santa Margarita.

Also, we can’t forget Monterey County and their concern about salt water intrusion, a result of less fresh water than needed to purge their wells.

By: RatPatrol1967 on 5/6/09 [Delete]

curlyp hit the nail on the head. Shipsey and Seitz are criminals at best. Do you really think it is a coincidence that Shipsey and Seitz are involved with every Prop 218 issue in the county? Time to put these bozos up against a wall!

By: outsider on 5/5/09 [Delete]

once again it comes back to greed..

By: starvingmexican on 5/5/09 [Delete]

When I went and picked up some family members and their friends I noticed there was lots of water on the Rio Grande Amigo.

By: curlyp on 5/4/09 [Delete]

Are the Attorneys who are giving this advice the same ones who will reap many billable hours defending the city for following their council?

By: insider on 5/4/09 [Delete]

Where is Fred Strong? He usually has a lot to say.

By: Paso_Guy on 5/4/09 [Delete]

I don’t have an opinion on Mecham, but I do know that the CCPR folks do not like to return phone calls…I’m 0 for 4 on that.

By: Jan on 5/4/09 [Delete]

Mecham talks out of both sides of his mouth. Having seen him in action on the Board, I don’t trust him. He comes off as playing to the crowd, wanting to be popular, but not making sound decisions.