Water board confirms Dante Acosta’s appointmentRyan Painter January 8, 2019 2 Comments
Former Assemblyman Dante Acosta joined the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency Board of Directors after the board voted to confirm his nomination during its first meeting of 2019, filling a week-old vacancy and putting an end to the robust public debate that has surrounded the appointment.
The board voted 8-3 on Monday night to confirm Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s nomination of Acosta to become the director representing County Waterworks District 36, the only position on the 15-member board filled by appointment instead of election. The vote was originally scheduled for the board’s Dec. 18 meeting, at which time it was tabled for further discussion.
Directors Gary Martin, Jerry Gladbach, Thomas Campbell, B.J. Atkins, Robert DiPrimio, R.J. Kelly, Maria Gutzeit and William Cooper voted to confirm Acosta, while Directors Lynne Pambleck, Ed Colley and Kathy Colley dissented. Director Daniel Mortensen recused himself from the vote, citing a conflict of interest.
“I am very enthusiastic about joining this board,” Acosta said. “You have my steadfast commitment to this board, to this issue and to water quality, safely, reliability and cost … for this valley.”
Barger’s decision to nominate Acosta for the position — who was defeated in his bid for reelection to the State Assembly by Democratic challenger Christy Smith — induced a series of passionate responses from residents on both sides of the aisle. Monday’s meeting featured public comment from 30 speakers, which the board repeatedly noted was unusual given that a typical meeting sees only four to five audience members.
In order to expeditiously accommodate the large volume of speakers, Cooper opted to roll back the allotted time per comment from three to two minutes. This did not deter Santa Clarita Valley residents and local leaders from expounding their concerns.
“Dante Acosta was on the city council of Santa Clarita and had thousands of voters elect him to the city council because they felt him the right person for the job,” Santa Clarita City Councilman Bill Miranda said, who emphasized that he represented only his personal views. “What is the reason we’re not going to appoint Dante Acosta tonight? If we have to show cause, I want to hear the cause, because I certainly haven’t heard it so far.”
Others, like Valencia resident Stacy Fortner, were less laudatory in their depictions of Acosta and questioned Barger’s motives in appointing him.
“I sent an email to the Board of Supervisors this morning asking if this was a political favor for a friend or if this was a soft landing, if this was a retrenching of the party and trying to keep Dante in the public eye in front of name recognition and running in 2020,” she said.
Fortner posited that Dean Efstathiou, who held Acosta’s seat until Jan. 1 of this year, should have been nominated to continue in his capacity until 2023, at which time the Waterworks District 36 seat will be dissolved. She stated that Acosta opening a new campaign committee meant he could potentially vacate the seat before completing his term and therefore should be disqualified from being appointed — an argument Acosta called “specious.”
A representative from Barger’s office explained that Barger remained resolute in her decision despite the board’s reticence to confirm Acosta on Dec. 18 and that partisan politics bore no weight in her decision.
“Her appointment was considered, appropriately noticed and approved unanimously by the full board of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors,” Barger spokeswoman Stephanie English said. “She does respect all the input of her constituents and recognizes that this was not a partisan issue, nor are water resources a partisan issue.”
After 45 minutes of public comment, the board publicly deliberated before taking the matter to a vote.
Plambeck inquired into an alleged meeting between Atkins, Cooper and Martin at the house of Sen. Scott Wilk during the lead up to the vote — a claim that was propagated by local Democratic activists on social media — and whether it influenced the night’s proceedings.
“I wanted to know if it is true that (Cooper) and Gary Martin and Mr. Atkins met at the home of Scott Wilk and that (former congressman) Steve Knight was present, to discuss how to get Dante onto this board and to develop talking points and speakers’ lists,” she asked.
Atkins and Cooper denied the contention and instead said that “nearly 60 people were in attendance” at a “social gathering” at Wilk’s house. The only one of the night’s 30 speakers whom Cooper permitted to exceed the two-minute time limit during public comment was a representative from Wilk’s office, which Cooper allowed out of his “deference for the senator.”
Plambeck appeared to be mostly alone in her circumspection of Acosta. Much of the board commended him for his work in the State Assembly and admitted that they were willing to overlook his lack of direct water experience in favor of what they considered his to be expertise in public affairs.
“I think that a background in water is important,” Gladbach said. “But I also think there are other aspects that are important too, and for a while we’ve had a lot of people on with a water background, and we should, but have gone out and gotten people from a financial aspect, from an environmental standpoint, so I think we have enough people with the big water background. We don’t need another major expert.”
Gutzeit concurred with Gladbach’s sentiment.
“Mr. Acosta has legislative and process experience that I think is actually rare to see someone coming out of the water board (with),” Gutzeit said. “He has compelling legislative and process experience.”
Atkins likewise saw Acosta’s experience in the Assembly as an asset.
“You could make the statement that we have too many people with a water expertise, we need someone on the board with expertise in public policy,” said Atkins. “Well, I don’t know if you could find someone with a better public policy background than Dante Acosta.”
Acosta was sworn into office immediately following the vote and participated in full capacity for the remainder of the meeting.
“I will continue to serve this community to the best of my abilities,” Acosta said.
Ryan Painter covers local government 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.