Water board tables Dante Acosta’s confirmation after hearing residents’ concernsRyan Painter December 19, 2018 0 COMMENTS
Residents packed the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency’s board meeting to capacity on Tuesday evening in anticipation of a confirmation vote on former Assemblyman Dante Acosta’s nomination to join the body — a motion which the board instead opted to table until early January.
After considering public comment from local residents, many of whom either extolled their support for Acosta or criticized his lack of experience, the board decided to delay the vote on Acosta’s confirmation to the nonpartisan seat of Director from the Los Angeles County Waterworks District 36 to Jan.7.
Legally, the board has until Jan. 15 to fill the vacancy. The seat is currently held by Dean Efstathiou, a civil engineer whose term expires on Jan.1 as enumerated in SB 634, the legislation which created the SCVWA.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger nominated Acosta last week to fill this upcoming vacancy, the only seat on the board filled by appointment instead of election.
“When I received a call from Kathryn Barger, she simply asked me if I’d be willing to serve on this board and what was my interest level on serving on this board,” Acosta said in an address to the board. “She knew because we had been talking for several years about water policy in Santa Clarita Valley. We need a balanced approach to improving our water reliability and I’ll continue to work and find proactive solutions.”
Barger’s decision was met with opposition from local activists, many of whom attended with the Democratic Alliance for Action of Santa Clarita. The organization used social media to encourage local Democrats to attend the meeting, arguing that Acosta’s nomination was an act of political cronyism rather than as a result of merit.
“It’s apparent to me that it’s a political appointment,” local resident Katherine Flynn said during public comment. “There are smart Republicans in this valley, and maybe we should find one if we are to appoint a Republican.”
Activist Patti Sulpizio echoed Flynn’s concerns among a laundry list of contentions, positing that Acosta’s voting record in the State Assembly, his lack of a university degree and his opening of a reelection committee for a 2020 state assembly run should preclude him from the position.
“Water is too important and too precious to hand the seat to one who voted against AB 1668,” Sulpizio said. AB 1668 aimed to reduce urban water usage by 20 percent and to gradually decrease the gallons allotted per day to residential water use. Acosta opposed its passage during his term
The activists’ notion that a nominee’s confirmation should be contingent upon holding a college degree does not fall in compliance with the board’s bylaws. According to SB 634, the only prerequisite to earn appointment to the position is to be a registered voter in Los Angeles County or Ventura County, according to the board’s in-house counsel. If confirmed, Acosta would be one of multiple board members without a degree.
Acosta saw the nomination much differently from residents like Flynn and Sulpizio.
“This is a nonpartisan position, just like when I was on the city council and that’s the way I served,” he said. “I will serve here with honor and distinction.”
However, both activists and the board did take issue with Acosta’s decision last week to open a reelection committee.
“If elected, he will vacate this term after two years just as he did his Santa Clarita City Council term,” Sulpizio said. “Mr. Acosta should not get this prestigious ballot identifier for his next election.”
Acosta has not yet filed an intent to run form, and explained that his decision to reopen the committee was made pursuant to campaign finance laws. Still, many board members attributed their hesitance to fully support Acosta’s nomination to his active reelection committee and to the fear that he would leave the post early.
Others opposed Acosta on more nefarious grounds.
“I think it’s a travesty to appoint a man who has allegedly committed sexual misconduct to a male-dominated board,” Stacy Fortner said in a statement that some board members — such as BJ Atkins — deemed unjustified.
Fortner referenced allegations that emerged during Acosta’s 2016 campaign for Assembly that he had sexually harassed a former staffer. He categorically denied the accusations and released a series of text-message conversations with the woman that he deemed exculpatory.
“Every one of these allegations has been proven demonstrably false,” Acosta said. “It’s despicable that I have to bring it up and defend myself, and just because someone puts it out there on social media or sends an email that automatically someone’s guilty.”
Despite these accusations, some attendees spoke in support of Acosta.
“I want to say that Dante has done a lot for this community,” Richard Egan said. “He will give commitment and passion in this position the same that his son did for this country.”
Egan expressed his belief that Acosta was chosen for his record of community service and his experience working with the state bureaucracy.
“It’s a good position, I believe, for him to be in,” Egan said. “People are crying cronyism, but the people who are complaining want to pick their friends.”
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Southland Regional Association of Realtors and the Valley Industry Association of Santa Clarita all sent official representatives who endorsed Acosta’s nomination.
The board continued to conduct nearly an hour of discussion before proffering two motions for a vote, which would table further discussion on Acosta and push his confirmation vote to January.
For Acosta, there may not be a seat for him when he comes back before the board in January. As part of its motion to table the vote on Acosta, the board also opted to explore its options to either request that the Board of Supervisors vote to immediately eliminate the seat or to bring District 36 into the water agency’s purview — effectively eliminating the position for which Acosta has vied.
District 36 is currently referred to as a “purveyor,” which serves retail water customers in the Val Verde area. District 36’s supply of water is a combination of pumped groundwater and wholesale purchased water from SCVWA. When SB 634 was passed last year, the valley’s two main water agencies — the Castaic Lake Water Agency and the Newhall County Water Board — were combined into one residual agency, the SCVWA.
The Valencia Water Company was a smaller utility firm, in which the CLWA owned a controlling interest. As such, it was subsumed into the new SCVWA, leaving District 36 as the last remaining of these purveyors.
When the new board of directors was named in January, one seat was allotted for the district Unlike the others, the holder of this seat was to be appointed, rather than elected, for a one-year term. After that single year, the bill’s provisions increase the appointee’s term to four years, from 2019 to 2023, at which time the seat will expire and be eliminated from the board. The bill mandates that the 15-person board be whittled down to 9 within the next four years.
Should the SCVWA annex District 36, the seat could be abolished immediately. Although the board plans to consult with Barger about possible annexation and indicated its interest in eliminating the position, the board’s counsel doubted that negotiations could be conducted so expeditiously.
Ryan Painter covers government and politics for The Proclaimer. He has worked at the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, the Daily Trojan and as a campaign staffer during 2018 midterm elections. A 2016 West Ranch graduate, Ryan studies Political Science and International Relations at USC. Find him on Twitter @ryan_pintor.