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Water board member alleges Brown Act violation

Posted: February 17, 2016 10:13 p.m.
Updated: February 17, 2016 10:13 p.m.
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A Newhall County Water District board member has filed a complaint with the District Attorney’s Office against her colleagues, saying they held illegal closed-door talks regarding a proposed merger of two Santa Clarita Valley water districts.

Lynne Plambeck, longtime local environmental activist and Newhall County Water District board member, hand-delivered the complaint to her fellow board members Friday and also sent it to the District Attorney’s Office, she said Wednesday.

In the letter Plambeck says the board “took an action in closed session at our board meeting of Jan. 14 as to whether or not the district should proceed with consolidation with the Castaic Lake (Water Agency). No report of the action taken was made after the end of the closed session.”

Her letter cites a section of the Ralph M. Brown Act, passed in 1953, that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on being informed.”

“This concept must hold true for our own water district and the people that have elected us,” she wrote, “not only because it is the law but also because it is a moral and ethical obligation to our constituents to act in an open and transparent manner.”

“People are losing their democracy and they don’t even know it because it’s being done in closed session,” Plambeck said during a Signal Editorial Board meeting Wednesday.

She said the action taken by the water board Jan. 14 was a vote on the issue of consolidating with Castaic Lake Water Agency, and she was the only board member to oppose the merger.

The two districts, which have been at odds over several legal matters — primarily Castaic Lake’s takeover of the Valencia Water Co. — announced Jan. 21 they were “exploring the possibility of combining the two entities into a single water agency.” They said the announcement was preliminary and that the public would be invited to weigh in on the matter.

Since then, one public meeting was held Feb. 4 at which residents called for more information about the proposal.

Plambeck, who told more than 200 people at the Feb. 4 meeting that she is adamantly opposed to the water district merger, sent a copy of her complaint to the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

D.A. spokeswoman Jane Robison on Wednesday confirmed that the office received a Brown Act complaint directed at the Newhall County Water District and noted she could not reveal who filed the complaint.

The complaint was under review, she said.

Calls for comment to the Newhall County Water District general manager were not returned Wednesday.

Representatives of both water agencies have gone on record saying the merger would consolidate resources, eliminate costly litigation cases between the two and, as a result, bode well for ratepayers concerned about the prospect of rate increases.

Castaic Lake Water Agency board President Tom Campbell said Wednesday the ad hoc committee on the water merger will continue to meet.

“My understanding is that since the committee does not consist of a quorum of either CLWA or NCWD boards, it is not subject to the Brown Act,” he said Wednesday.

“We will also continue our public process with future workshops or joint board meetings to openly explore the potential consolidation further,” he said.

The districts have posted a joint website to inform the public about the proposal at OurSCVWater.com.

No future workshop dates have been posted on that website or the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s website.

jholt@signalscv.com
661-287-5527
on Twitter
@jamesarthurholt

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