By John Earl
Residents for Responsible Desalination (R4RD) has written a letter to the Orange County Water District (OCWD) Board of Directors and staff asking them to postpone approval of a renegotiated term sheet with Poseidon Water LLC (a.k.a. Poseidon Resources) for development of a $1 billion ocean desalination plant, pending the results of an “investigation” of allegedly illegal meetings used by at least five board members to renegotiate terms with the company.
The letter, hand-delivered by R4RD president Merle Moshiri to the OCWD board on Monday, states that:
“This letter is to inform the Orange County Water District (OCWD) Board of Directors that an investigation is in progress to determine if the Board’s convening of an Ad Hoc Committee to meet with Poseidon Water LLC to renegotiate the previously approved May 2015 Term Sheet, occurred in violation of the 1953 Ralph M. Brown Act (as amended), whereas that Committee was given no specific question or time frame in which to conclude their discussion and subsequently report to the Board.”
The letter says that, if the ad hoc committee is in violation of the Brown Act, the term sheet renegotiation “itself could be considered Null & Void” and that “OCWD has previously established a pattern of misusing ad hoc committees in place of standing committees.”
The meetings of the so-called Desal Funding Ad hoc Committee were first exposed by the Surf City Voice before a June 6 board meeting scheduled to consider approval of the revised term sheet.
The board voted unanimously to postpone the term sheet vote until July 18 (Wednesday evening at 5:30) after public speakers and some board members called for more time to consider matters withheld from the public by the committee for years.
Under California law, local elected bodies can form committees to study and make recommendations about specific issues.
Standing committees are ongoing and open to the public, by law.
Ad hoc is a Latin term that means “for this purpose only.” Unlike standing committees, ad hoc committees do not have a “continuing subject matter jurisdiction.” They must disband after a set time and report to the full board, but they can hold closed meetings.
The SCV investigation found that the Desalination Funding Ad hoc Committee acted as a standing (but closed) committee over a 2½ year period. After reviewing thousands of emails obtained under the California Public Records Act, the SCV came to the following conclusions:
- The Desalination Funding Ad hoc Committee functioned as a standing committee but without public meetings as required for standing committees; thus, it violated the Brown Act.
- The goal of the Desalination Funding Ad hoc Committee is to negotiate a contract with Poseidon and complete the $1 billion project regardless of the alternatives.
- The majority of the OCWD BOD, five of whom sit on the Desalination Funding Ad hoc Committee, had no intention to seriously study alternatives to the Poseidon project, despite falsely telling a state permitting agency in October 2017 that it had already done so.
- The Desalination Funding Ad hoc Committee and OCWD staff treat Poseidon Resources as an inseparable partner and exclude other project stakeholders with expert knowledge of ocean desalination, including producer representatives and prominent critics.
- Poseidon Resources VP Scott Maloni (often with other Poseidon CEOs) participates so often in committee meetings that he is almost a de facto member. Maloni works closely with OCWD at all levels to promote the Poseidon project, even editing letters written by staff on behalf of the BOD to state permitting agencies.
The Special Prosecutions Unit of the District Attorney’s office is currently reviewing the matter, according to a July 6 email from that office to R4RD.