After three members of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors denied holding illegal serial discussions about groundwater policies they would soon vote on, that same board majority voted Tuesday not to ask the district attorney to investigate an allegation they had broken state law.
Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill had called for a vote to ask the county District Attorney’s Office to review whether Supervisors John Peschong, Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton had violated the state open meeting law — called the Ralph M. Brown Act — after Paso Robles resident Laurie Gage sent the board a letter purportedly written by Creston resident Greg Grewal, that Gage said provided “circumstantial evidence” the three supervisors had discussed water policy outside of a public meeting.
The Brown Act prohibits a majority of members of a public body from communicating about government business in private.
After hearing from dozens of speakers on both sides of the issue, Arnold told the audience the allegation was “absolutely not true.”
Compton, too, denied that she had broken the law.
“I haven’t had one conversation with Greg Grewal about water. I did not have a meeting with him,” she said. Compton added that she would have supported an investigation until she saw “the vitriol written on two colleagues’ Facebook pages,” that she believed showed the issue was politically motivated.
Peschong said an investigation would cost $100,000 and “no serial meeting occurred.”
At issue was a letter from Grewal to Colorado resident Mike Cervi, who owns a 21,000-acre ranch in Shandon, discussing how the Board of Supervisors would vote on creating a groundwater management agency. Gage has declined to say how she obtained the letter, which she said she did not alter.
In one section, the letter reads, “After various conversations with the current BOS supervisors (confidentially) they are going to declare the county the (groundwater agency). … This action is to happen in the immediate future.”
Gage said Tuesday the letter showed Grewal had been a conduit among three supervisors because he knew how they would be voting. Grewal “can argue semantics about whether he wrote, authored or signed the letter,” she said, but he did not dispute the content.
“He stated (in the letter) definitively that policy would be changed,” she said. “This was born out.”
Gage asked for an investigation and said, “if there was no serial meeting, ask for an investigation. It will be short … and you will be vindicated.”
In an interview with The Tribune on Monday, Grewal called the letter fraudulent because two signatures had been removed, and it appeared as though his signature was on a copy of a copy of a letter. He did not dispute that the content was the same as the letter he sent to Cervi. He also said he hadn’t spoken to the three supervisors about water policy, but knew their stances from public statements.
On Tuesday, Grewal said anyone paying attention to board politics would have known the county’s groundwater policy would be changed. Peschong’s election in November created a new conservative majority with Arnold and Compton.
Hill said that when he was a part of a board majority, “we were very careful that we didn’t even have the appearance that we were colluding. I don’t see that with this majority. I see the opposite.” Some in the audience booed his remark.
In casting his vote, Gibson said, “If the will of the board is to not (have the allegation investigated), we’ll live with it. You all can live with how you all chose to comport yourself.”
A number of speakers said they opposed an investigation, calling the accusation a “leftist” strategy to undermine the board majority. Others questioned whether District Attorney Dan Dow would be impartial because he had previously endorsed Peschong and Arnold.
Correction: On earlier version of this story contained an error about who Dow endorsed.