Cambria Community Services District directors who attended a private meeting Sept. 2 where district business was discussed likely didn’t violate state law, but they came “really, really close,” according to Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
Cambrians for Water (C4H20), a newly formed group that supports the Cambria Community Services District and its emergency water-supply project, sponsored the meeting and reportedly controlled who could attend.
The meeting featured a slightly truncated version of the presentation given by Mari Garza-Bird, CDM Smith’s project manager for the district, at an Aug. 27 meeting of regulatory agencies in Santa Cruz, which CSD president Jim Bahringer and vice president Gail Robinette attended.
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Director Mike Thompson was in the room briefly before the C4H2O meeting began, in part to see some friends who were attending and borrow some pots and pans from the American Legion Post for a meal he was preparing, he said. Thompson then left, he said, because he knew that Bahringer and Robinette were there.
Bahringer and some others who were at the meeting confirmed Thompson’s early departure.
“I didn’t want any suggestion of a Brown Act violation,” Thompson told The Cambrian.
Ewert said that although there are occasions of “a social or ceremonial nature” that can be attended by a majority or more of a Brown Act-governed board, the C4H20 meeting didn’t appear to be one of them.
As a private group that doesn’t hold public meetings, C4H2O isn’t bound by Brown Act rules. However, the CSD board members are. Having a majority of the members of an agency board such as the CCSD at a nonpublic or unnoticed meeting where agency business is being discussed is a violation.
So if Thompson departed promptly to avoid the reality or the perception of a Brown Act violation, “I think he acted appropriately,” Ewert said.
“I think otherwise it would have been a potential Brown Act violation, especially if they began to discuss items that would fall under the jurisdiction of the CSD. I don’t think you have a violation (but) I think they came really, really close.”
Some residents who have criticized the Cambria Community Services District’s emergency water-supply project — including Mary Webb, Tina Dickason and Richard Hawley, a candidate seeking to unseat Bahringer or Thompson — were told they couldn’t attend the C4H2O meeting Sept. 2.
Former CSD director Lou Blanck went to the meeting briefly but was asked to leave.
They and some others have strongly criticized the district’s project, its cost, its effect on the environment and the nearly $9 million loan the district took out to pay for the plant.
In an email sent Monday to The Cambrian, Webb raised the issue of a possible Brown Act violation.
During declared water-shortage emergencies, the plant would draw, filter and treat a blend of potable water, seawater and treated wastewater from beneath the CSD’s property on San Simeon Creek Road. The water is then to be put back into the ground to flow through the aquifer to district wells and the creek.
State water regulators require a two-month delay between reinjection and arrival at the wells. A crucial test to trace how long that flow will take has “two or three more weeks” to go, Garza-Bird told The Cambrian on Sept. 9.
She said the test “is right on track.” Those performing the test “stopped a week or so ago injecting the tracer element,” which is boric salt, she said.
According to District Engineer Bob Gresens, those tracking the flow have begun to detect some boric salt at a monitoring well midway between the two points.
Meanwhile, construction on the plant is proceeding under a county emergency permit, as the district continues to negotiate with regulatory agencies on any changes that might be required to convert the temporary facility to a permanent one to be used during future emergency water shortages.