Allegations fly at board majority after Gibson, Hill lose groundwater vote

March 22, 2017

With control over the Paso Robles groundwater basin at stake, the minority on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, as well as its supporters, are levying allegations that the board majority violated the Brown Act. As a result, the board is now scheduled to redo a vote on groundwater policy and to hold a separate discussion on possibly recommending a criminal investigation into the board majority.

Thus far, the county’s top attorney has said it appears that the conservative board majority did not violate the Brown Act in its handling of the groundwater management issue. Yet, while the board discussed the controversy on Tuesday, County Counsel Rita Neal warned Supervisor Bruce Gibson that he was teetering on the edge of prompting the board to violate the Brown Act.

Ever since North County voters rejected a planned water district last year, Gibson and Supervisor Adam Hill have been pushing for the state to take over management of the Paso Robles groundwater basin. However, the current board majority opposes that idea and supports local control.

A 2014 California law requires counties or local districts to manage groundwater basins that are in overdraft or turn over the responsibility over to the state. The state law sets a June 30 deadline to create groundwater sustainability agencies to manage basins in overdraft.

On March 7, the board of supervisors voted 3-2 to assume responsibility for managing groundwater basins in the county, rather than turning over the duty to the state.

In the aftermath of the hearing, supporters of Gibson and Hill criticized the vote and some of their supporters accused the board majority of violating the Brown Act. Supporters of Gibson and Hill, including the San Luis Obispo Tribune, argued the vote took place during a “receive and file” item on the board agenda, and thus, the public was not given an opportunity to weigh in on the decision.

However, County Counsel Rita Neal said the board complied with the Brown Act in its March 7 vote on groundwater management policy.

Nonetheless, at Tuesday’s meeting, about 10 public speakers criticized the March 7 vote and accused the board of violating the Brown Act. The speakers, by in large, belong to the SLO Progressives, a group that has been rallying behind Gibson and Hill in recent months.

Following the public comment period, the board voted unanimously to redo the vote on groundwater management.

In a separate but related manner, the board discussed an allegation by a supporter of a state run water district that supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong violated the Brown Act by holding a serial meeting.

Paso Robles resident Laurie Gage forwarded a letter from Creston resident Greg Grewal that Gage said showed circumstantial evidence Arnold, Compton and Peschong privately agreed to adopt a new county policy on groundwater management.

In the letter, Grewal, who is Arnold’s appointee to the county Water Resources Advisory Committee, stated he had various confidential conversations with supervisors, and he knew the board would decide to maintain local control of groundwater management.

Both Compton and Peschong, however, told CalCoastNews they never met with Grewal to discuss the issue. Peschong also said during last year’s campaign, he participated in a total of 13 debates, and in every debate he stated he was against state management of local groundwater.

“It was not a secret,” Peschong said. “I have been saying for a year that I do not want California to take over our water districts.”

Nonetheless, Gibson and Hill said the serial meeting allegation warranted an investigation by the county district attorney’s office.

Gibson made a motion to forward the issue to the district attorney’s office. But, Neal then said voting to send the issue to the district attorney without the item being agendized could itself violate the Brown Act.

After receiving the county counsel’s warning, Gibson made a new motion to place a discussion on the alleged serial meeting on a future board agenda. The board then voted unanimously in favor of Gibson’s motion.

As a result of the two votes on the alleged Brown Act violations, on April 4, the board will both revote on the groundwater management policy and renew its discussion on the the purported serial meeting.

The Ralph M. Brown Act is a stringent California open-meetings law that requires legislative bodies to conduct their business in public view.

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Everyone is missing the larger issue. The Supervisors voted to spend over a million bucks per year to pay for SGMA compliance by Paso Robles and other County basins. They did this without asking the public for comment nor was it on their agenda. How do you think those people in Lynn Compton’s district feel about her voting to spend their tax dollars for Paso Robles Basin expenses without asking them? I’d be hopping mad. I own property in Atascadero and pay for my water off a meter. I also pay County taxes. Debbie Arnold, who is my Supervisor, has no right to force me to spend my County tax dollars on the Paso Basin. For that matter, why should anyone in Hill’s or Gibson’s District want to pay for what goes on in Paso? This is not a liberal or conservative issue has this poorly written article attempts to draw. Regardless of who you support on this Board, they have proven to be dysfunctional on major issues like water. Why in the world would anyone want them to decide about groundwater? Well, the Steinbeck lawsuit must be the answer you say. NOT! Regardless their judge has said they must comply with the damn SGMA law too.

Considering you were a principal on the Yes On AB2453 campaign and had NO problem then accepting county taxpayer funding estimated to be in excess of $1 million dollars in support of your abortive attempt to turn over control of the Paso Robles Basin to Resnick et al (see National Geographic Water and Power: a California Heist), your sudden fiscal conservative conversion smacks of pure hypocrisy.

Whether you live in the county or within city limits, the basin provides us the water we need to live. Giving up control of the water we need to live to an outside unaccountable interest, public or private, would be insanity. Nat-Geo has shown us where that leads to.

The County spent the money to create the water district, and no funds were received by any of the district’s private proponents, but you knew that. You do have a point that folks from Los Osos, for example, were opposed to the County funding the creation of the AB2453 district as they said they derived no benefit. I can’t disagree with them, but the County had the option to recover these costs from the AB2453 district if it chose to do so. That too was a one time charge. What the Supervisors recently attempted to do is different. Now they want those outside the Paso Basin to pay, FOREVER, the costs of managing a Basin from which they (think Los Osos residents) will get no water or direct benefit. Again, those outside the Paso Basin should not be happy. Counties like ours are sneaky and will want to recover these funds. I don’t want to see my taxes go up as I already pay for water management through my water bill from the AMWC.

As to control, the County has it now and wants to keep it forever. Some landowners in the Paso Basin believe they are better suited to managing their own groundwater. They voluntarily came together and agreed to form their own districts but had to agree to pay for their cost as a condition of their formation. If you want your water managed by the clown show that is the Board of Supervisors or cast your fate to a judge up North, you are free to do so.

Sorry Jack, your sudden fiscal conversion still doesn’t convince me. So now the BOS is a clown show? It seems to me I remember you high fiving your fellow PRAAGS members when the last “clown show” voted in favor of funding the AB2453 LAFCO application. You liked that show and it seems your fiscal caution goes out the window when you are the beneficiary. And speaking of Brown act violation we still don’t know how you PRAAGS and ProWaterEquity members wound up in Meecham’s office dictating water water policy for all the Paso Robles Basin? Did you solicit him privately? Where are the publicly posted minutes and notes from those meeting? Did Meecham discuss those meeting in private with any other board members? By the way, how many of you PRAAGS and ProWaterEquity members had serial meetings with individual members of the BOS discussing AB2453 and the LAFCO application?

It may surprise you, but unlike you and Ms Gage, I do believe that any resident or group -yes even PRAAGS has the right to meet with any and all BOS members (and I am sure you did) in any order to discuss their concerns. That’s the job of the BOS. As imperfect as it may be the BOS is the only elected body that represents and is accountable to ALL of the county residents, city and rural dweller alike. And if the “clowns” aren’t listening, and you don’t like what they are doing to you, it doesn’t take an expensive long lawsuit to address the grievance. You just remove them and elect someone who does listen. We did just that last November.

Ah, using the old logical fallacy of tu quoque or as children say when they have done something wrong,”they did it too.” No offense, but it reminded me of a quote from a mentor of mine who said never debate with a fool as you wind up having to carry both sides of the conversation. Respectfully, that point has been reached. I wish you well in convincing others whatever it is you think your attempting to do. Good chance for rain tonight. Hope we get a lot.

It’s TU quoque – YOU do it too. Fair enough, if you now have really seen the light about wasting of taxpayer dollars on special interests, I acknowledge your new found enlightenment and respectively concede – but did you have to conclude with an ad hominem attack? Tu quoque on you too!

On the point of funding SGMA, I actually agree with you. Where we apparently disagree is how and where the county should be spending the the AB3030 district taxes collected. According to the law it is the responsibly of the commercial extractors, one of which is the county -so they are not exempt under the law. Only de minimis users are expressly exempted from metering or taxing.

When is the Board of Supes going to fire County Counsel Rita Neal. She is a joke and has no idea what she is doing. Ask any attorney, her reputation sucks and she is known for continually making mistakes that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. How she ever got appointed is a mystery?

In the letter, Grewal, who is Arnold’s appointee to the county Water Resources Advisory Committee, stated he had various confidential conversations with supervisors, and he knew the board would decide to maintain local control of groundwater management.

-Hmm…I can’t imagine why people think there was a Brown Act Violation. Could it be that this guy wrote a letter stating there was one and that he was part of it?

Before you paint an unpaid volunteer the wrong color, you need to know that highly paid staff meet with each supervisor, on occasions, especially when they need support for more funding or new taxes implemented. As for the public, they get to attend the public Board meeting if they can adjust their work schedule. If it were my call, all who serve their government on process committees would be highly paid too. This would eliminate the BS committee meeting that cloud local government and facilitate their slide of hand.

Jorge- My criticism was not of his work as an unpaid volunteer: I applaud folks who take their time for the benefit of the community. Nor do I disagree with your disdain for overpaid bureaucrats (although I am not sure I would add more folks to the payroll by paying committee members.) My criticism was of a guy who sits on a committee sending a letter that says- The Supervisors and I confidentially met and devised a plan. I am saying this ain’t too bright and if I was Lynn, Debbie or John I would distance myself so fast from this knucklehead it would make your head spin. The obvious take here is that either this guy is claiming more knowledge than he has or there was a serial meeting. Since the Supervisors say no meeting, he must be full of…prunes.