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The Dirty Politics of Dirty Water

“The quality of the water is not an issue, but painting a perception that the water is bad is the intent and if the water is presented as being bad, then the money will be there.”

Oct 28, 2013

If you follow water news (like we do), you might be aware of an investigation involving a small water district in L.A. County and former Assemblyman Tom Calderon. It shows us how politicians can use an emotionally 'hot' topic like dirty water to 'clean up' financially. What's kind of staggering about all this is that it involves a relatively small water district that none of us have ever heard of, yet the money involved is pretty big.

Former Assemblyman Tom Calderon was being paid $11,000 a month in consulting fees (more than $750,000 over six years) by Central Basin Municipal Water District (CBMWD) in 2010. Calderon and CBMWD officials met with three Maywood Mutual Water District (MMWD) officials with the intent of coercing them into taking on unwanted projects that would land Calderon and CBMWD $25-million in consulting fees. There is an audio recording of the meeting and on it a MMWD G.M. says they are being asked to "fix problems we don't have." They were told that if they didn't accept the projects their district (MMWD) could be disolved 'with the stroke of a pen' and rolled into CBMWD. One of the G.M's says "and this is your solution to better quality water?" Calderon answers him, “it (the water quality) doesn’t matter, the (goal of the project) does not matter.”

From the article below: The recording goes on and details how Calderon tells the group that “the quality of the water is not an issue, but painting a perception that the water is bad is the intent and if the water is presented as being bad, then the money will be there.”


So, they have to make the water problem look worse than it is to get more money than they need so a former assemblyman and some water bureaucrats can get a $25-million consulting fee.

Comforting.

 

By Brian Hews and Randy Economy, Los Cerritos News, 10/25/13


“Here’s the deal, we need to be proactive, if we are not, if we do not put a plan together that we can all support, the Mutuals (Maywood Water) can be dissolved with a stroke of the pen, it can be done.”
-Tom Calderon, July 2010 meeting with Maywood Water District Officials.


(Maywood, CA) Hews Media Group – Community News has obtained an audiotape that details how the Office of California State Assembly Speaker John Perez collaborated with former Assemblyman Tom Calderon and officials with the Central Basin Municipal Water District in an attempt to coerce three Maywood Mutual Water Districts (MMWD) into taking on unwanted projects that if they did not accept, the districts, as Calderon said, would be “dissolved with a stroke of a pen.”


The “stroke of a pen” meaning legislation that would be championed by Speaker Perez and passed in Sacramento to “dissolve the water companies.” The entities would then be taken over by CBMWD.


Even more disturbing, the projects would have landed Calderon, and his allies, as well as the CBMWD a lucrative $25 million dollar consulting contract to “fix problems” that one MMWC General Manager insisted twice in the audio recording “we don’t have, or we were already working with the WRD to fix.”


Further, HMG-CN has determined that several figures currently under probe by the FBI in a complex political “pay to play scheme” at the CBMWD also played active roles in pushing for the legislation that targeted the tiny MMWD.


HMG-CN has also been told by sources that investigators with the FBI have been given a copy of the audio tape.


It was back on June 7, 2010 when Calderon is heard on the audio recording saying he was “summoned” by Speaker Perez and the Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to call the meeting that included Enrique Gasca, one of Perez’s top staff lieutenants, CBMWD General Manager Art Agiular, Sergio Palos, General Manager of MMWD #1, Gustavo Villa, GM of MMWD #2, and Bob Ruhlf, who is the GM in District #3.


Villaraigosa and Perez are cousins and are considered to be close political allies.


Two parties who attended the meeting recorded the conversations. HMG-CN was provided a copy of the recording two weeks ago. HMG-CN was also told by sources that the Los Angeles Times was given a copy of the same audio recording but ‘refused’ to print the contents of the meeting.


At the time, records show that Calderon was being paid $11,000 per month by CBMWD for ‘public affairs’ earning, as reported by HMG-CN, more than $750,000 in consulting fees with the besieged agency during a six year period.


Aguilar begins the meeting with an explanation of why they were “summoned” by Perez and Villaraigosa and then says to the MMWD GM’s, “anything can happen if the money is there.”


One of the MMWD GM’s later asked who Calderon was, with Calderon answering, “I was a State Assemblyman, my other brothers were Assemblymen too, so (laughing) we got the politics covered.”


Almost three minutes into the meeting, Enrique Gasca enters the room and is introduced as Speaker Perez’ Director by Calderon.


Calderon goes on to say, “if we can’t make this (the project) happen we are all in a lot of trouble, in terms of things you want from Sacramento and his (Speaker Perez) ability to retaliate or encourage things… I have never seen a Speaker who does not get what he wants.”


He goes on to say, “here’s the deal, we need to be proactive, if we are not, if we do not put a plan together we can all support, the MMWD’s can be dissolved with (Calderon snapping his fingers) a ‘stroke of the pen’, it can be done.”


One of the GM’s angrily says, “and this is your solution to better quality water?”


Calderon answers him, “it (the water quality) doesn’t matter, the (goal of the project) does not matter.”


The bill that Calderon was talking about was Assembly Bill 240, first carried by Perez after he became Speaker nearly three years ago and revived this year almost verbatim by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon. Perez touted the bill as his “first legislative bill after his election.”


The bill was being pushed by Calderon too, and only targeted the MMWD.


Rendon carried the bill through the halls of Sacramento during his first ten months in office and touted the bill as being able to “address the water quality problems in the 63rd Assembly District.”


The bill, Rendon said in a press statement issued by his office this past week, now requires “mutual water companies like those that deliver water to Maywood’s residents to comply with the Brown Act and the Public Records Act—two icons of public agency law.”


Rendon and Perez have been close personal friends and allies for several years.


High-ranking officials in Sacramento tell HMG-CN that Rendon now has the “personal backing and support” of Perez to be the next Speaker of the California State Assembly. Perez is termed out of office in 2014 and is in the process of running for state wide office.


Perez and Tom Calderon have also been strong allies for more than twenty years back before Calderon was elected to the State Assembly in the 1990’s and when Perez was working for a local labor and working as a political activist in Los Angeles County.


The recording goes on and details how Calderon tells the group that “the quality of the water is not an issue, but painting a perception that the water is bad is the intent and if the water is presented as being bad, then the money will be there.”


He goes on to say, “if we can do that, then that will make him (Speaker Perez) feel comfortable enough to go ahead and move forward (to disburse the $25 million). He (Perez) will want to have an independent agency receive the disbursement-Calderon indicates that CBMWD as the agency-and would be the appropriate entity to control the process.”


Calderon also said that the data will have to be “proved-up by CBMWD and our (Calderon’s) engineers to justify getting money.”


Twenty minutes into the meeting one of the MMWD GM’s asks “what do you want us to do?” Calderon’s response was, “as long as it is agreeable to us (Calderon, Aguilar), I don’t think the Speaker (Perez) is going to care how it is done, as long as it is getting there.”


Aguilar then prompts the GM’s for a “needs list” and tells them that, “it is in the best interests of you and your owners to cooperate with us and Speaker Perez.”


In what was probably indicative of the entire meeting, one GM says to Aguilar, “so you want me to give you a list of things that I need to replace to solve a problem I don’t have.”


Aguilar’s response was a loud laugh followed by “yeah.”


The meeting ended with all parties agreeing to submit the “plans” to Aguilar in one month, in as “non-technical format as possible, I am not dealing with technical people,” said Aguilar.


“With Rendon, Tom (Calderon) followed through on his threats,” one of the Maywood water executives who did not want to be specifically named due to possible retaliation and “safety concerns for his family” told the newspaper in a phone interview during the past month.


Rendon championed the bill this past year and touted its passage as “AB 240 makes $1 million available from the state to help fund efforts to provide clean water to the residents of Maywood.”


“The residents of Maywood have had to drink, cook and bathe in dirty water for too long. AB 240 gives local residents the ability to monitor the companies that deliver their water and brings $1 million into the district to make sure our residents get cleaner water,” Rendon stated.


One lawmaker in Sacramento, who did not want to be named publicly, told the newspaper that the bill “flew under the radar.”


“No one really paid much attention to it, since it was narrowly crafted,” the lawmaker continued.


“As far as I was concerned, it was a District bill that was important to Anthony. Now, I wish I would have known more about the background, since the Calderon criminal investigation is on everyone’s mind in Sacramento,” the same elected state legislator quipped.


Just hours before this article was published, Tom Calderon told the Sacramento Bee that he would not be a candidate for his brother Ron Calderon’s state senate seat.

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