Three Valleys drama reaches crescendo
Bowcock may recuse himself from Cadiz matters, legal action now appears less likely
by Mick Rhodes | email@example.com
Three Valleys Municipal Water District Division III board member Brian Bowcock says he was unaware of an October 18 $1,000 personal donation to his campaign from the CEO and president of Cadiz before it was brought to his attention by one of his opponents at the board’s November 2 meeting.
And though he contends there is nothing illegal about accepting the money from Cadiz’s Scott Slater — a friend for more than three decades — he will nonetheless likely recuse himself from Cadiz matters going forward.
“If it is a real conflict of interest, then I probably will not be voting,” Bowcock said. “But right now, because of the heat that everybody seems to be going through, I probably will not be voting.”
The personal donation, details of which are viewable at the county’s website lavote.gov, came from Slater’s company, Aqua Dulce Lodge and Travel, located in Santa Barbara, where he lives, and not the Cadiz corporation.
Some members of the public who commented during TVMWD’s November 2 board meeting — including Jeff Hanlon, who is running against Bowcock for the Division III seat on the TVMWD Board — called the donation a conflict of interest and said he should recuse himself from all future matters pertaining to Cadiz. Bowcock said the first time he learned of the donation was when Hanlon mentioned it during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Though unapologetic about keeping the money, Bowcock said he understood how the donation might raise eyebrows for some. He equated the donation to one received by Jeff Hanlon, one of his two opponents, along with Javier Aguilar, in the November 8 election.
“Yeah, it looks bad. In my opinion it’s no different than Jeff Hanlon taking money from the Sierra Club. And I know he’s been getting money from the Sierra Club and he’s been getting support from the Democratic club. So I look at that as being no different.”
Indeed, the California Sierra Club endorsed Hanlon and made a $550 donation to his campaign.
Bowcock and Slater have been friends and worked alongside each other for more than three decades. In fact, Slater donated a small amount to Bowcock’s first campaign for TVMWD Board.
Slater told the COURIER the $1,000 to Bowcock was the only donation he made to the trio of TVMWD Division III candidates.
“I’ve known Brian [Bowcock] in a professional capacity for about 30-plus years,” Slater said. “I got to know him when he was a public works director for the City of La Verne.”
Slater and Bowcock worked together in the past to hammer out a sustainability plan for the “six basins,” now known as The Six Basins Adjudication, which manages groundwater basins and involves Claremont, Pomona, La Verne, Golden State Water Co., and TVMWD.
“So, that’s how I got to know Brian,” Slater said. “And I’m very supportive of water people assuming positions on water boards that know something about what they’re doing.”
The relationship between Three Valleys and Cadiz has come under intense scrutiny over the past several months in the lead up to the November 8 election that pits incumbent Bowcock, a 19-year member of TVWMD Board, against political newcomers Aguilar and Hanlon.
Slater was asked if he worried about the optics of his donation to Bowcock’s reelection campaign given the current public temperature surrounding Cadiz’s affiliation with Three Valleys.
“No, I don’t have any concern,” Slater said. “Again, I’m supportive of water people running water agencies, and to the best of my knowledge there’s no decision pending before Three Valleys about Cadiz.”
Cadiz, a privately held Los Angeles water company, has been working for decades on a plan to extract water from an aquifer beneath California’s Mojave Desert.
Proponents say the plan is a sound choice for municipal districts such as TVMWD, who are charged with seeking out all available resources of badly needed water.
Opponents contend the plan to extract 16 billion gallons of water from the aquifer would damage fragile desert ecosystems and have devastating impacts on local indigenous tribes.
Amid mounting pressure from opponents to ditch its longtime involvement with Cadiz, on September 21 the Three Valleys Board voted to “terminate TVMWD’s involvement with the Bonanza Springs Study,” which was initiated by Cadiz as an adjunct to its broader plan to extract water from the Mojave aquifer, “subject to final negotiation of language by the General Manager and Legal Counsel,” according to minutes from the meeting.
Bowcock, in a September 30 COURIER story, cautioned the move would likely have legal ramifications for TVMWD.
“If the board said, ‘Okay we’re getting out of it and that’s it we’re out of it,’ what do you think that company’s going to do that’s been working on the report?” Bowcock asked in the September 30 story. “They’re going to sue us. And rightfully so.”
On November 2, Slater downplayed Bowcock’s assertions.
“What they were doing was trying to collect additional geophysical data on water quality,” he said of the Bonanza Springs study TVMWD pulled out of on September 21. “And I don’t think there was much study to it. It was just data. And that data gathering will be continued by [another public agency] because scientific curiosity remains. And I know that Cadiz is supportive of continuing data collection.”
Asked if Cadiz had plans to pursue legal action against Three Valleys, Slater instead talked again about how the study would be taken up by another public agency. Asked again if Cadiz would sue TVMWD, he was cautious.
“Not to my knowledge,” Slater said.
On November 3, Bowcock pulled back from his earlier assertion that legal action was all but assured, saying things have cooled off since September, with lawyers on both sides since working on a framework for Three Valleys to extract itself from the deal.
“As I said, it would have been imminent that we would have ended up in a lawsuit, but I think now we’re hopefully coming to terms and we’ll move on,” Bowcock said. “I’m hoping that everybody calms down a little bit and everybody just moves on.”
That answer would have likely helped to clarify things at Three Valleys’ November 2 board meeting, which saw several speakers expressing frustration at what had heretofore been described as imminent legal action.
“What is Cadiz’s anticipated lawsuit with Three Valleys Municipal Water District going to cost Three Valleys constituents, taxpayers like myself?” asked Claremont resident Pamela Casey Nagler during public comment. “I think it’s well past time for the board to put Cadiz on the agenda and tell the public about the status of the Cadiz study with [Bonanaza Springs study contractor] Aquilogic, the monies received, monies due, the board’s status with the study. And if we are facing litigation from this private organization, we want to know what it means to terminate the agreement. It’s time for the board to educate the public so that we know the facts.”
Claremonter Sorrel Stielstra echoed Casey Nagler’s comments.
“You can’t move forward as a well-functioning board if you pretend this failure of governance never happened,” Stielstra said. “You need to acknowledge what went so badly wrong so you never repeat it. The communities of Claremont and La Verne are now paying attention.”