Sam Metz, Palm Springs Desert Sun
Published 6:30 p.m. PT May 16, 2019 | Updated 2:59 a.m. PT May 18, 2019
Assemblymember Chad Mayes’ controversial bill to add Riverside County representatives to the Imperial Irrigation District’s Board of Directors hit a roadblock on Thursday when the Assembly Appropriations Committee put it on hold until 2020.
The bill, A.B. 854, failed to advance to the Assembly floor but also avoided being relegated to committee’s dreaded “suspense file,” which would have effectively defeated it. The Appropriations Committee will next consider the bill in 2020.
After Thursday’s hearing, Mayes said the fight over voting rights and representation for IID ratepayers residing in Riverside County was far from over. Mayes said he planned to meet with the IID Board of Directors in El Centro Friday morning to discuss his concerns about Riverside County representation on IID’s board.
“This bill’s not dead. We’re continuing to work on it. It’s incredibly important for all the local stakeholders to get together,” Mayes said. “We have to figure this out.”
IID and Coachella Valley residents have fought about representation for almost a century, since the irrigation district and the Coachella Valley Water District reached an agreement to expand IID’s jurisdiction to sell electricity in the Coachella Valley. Local officials from the Coachella Valley have lobbied for additional seats on IID’s board since at least seats 2007. Mayes said he remained committed to ensuring Coachella Valley ratepayers won representation on the IID board.
“IID has the ability to change utility rates, determine investment in communities or cut service altogether,” he said. “This power over 92,000 disenfranchised voters must be balanced with representation.”
Mayes’ bill proposes adding six seats to IID’s five-member board to give the 92,000 Riverside County customers who account for 60% of IID’s electricity sales proportional representation. The bill generated swift backlash from both IID’s board and Imperial Valley activists, who called it a Riverside County power grab and said it threatened their water rights.
After preliminary discussions with Mayes, IID board President Erik Ortega sent the assemblyman a strongly worded letter rejecting future conversations.
The tactic backfired when the Assembly Local Government Committee advanced the bill with a 6-2 vote on April 24 after some committee members said they voted in favor of it largely due to their disapproval of the letter.
A week later, Ortega said, if the bill advanced further, IID would consider withdrawing services from the Coachella Valley.
IID lobbyist Antonio Ortega said the district was pleased with Thursday’s outcome and committed to sitting down to talk with Mayes, Coachella Valley Water District and ratepayers about representation.
“Regardless of the outcome of today, the purpose was to continue to have this dialogue at the local level,” he said. “It’s easier to have a discussion without having the threat of A.B. 854 hanging over our heads.”
Even though IID threatened to divest from the Coachella Valley if the bill advanced, Ortega said the district felt under threat by A.B. 854. He said the bill threatened the delicate relationship between IID and the Coachella Valley Water District, IID’s current governance structure and potentially the district’s water rights.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Ortega said, citing Newton’s Third Law. “Divestment isn’t a threat, it’s an option.”
Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, condemned IID’s political brinksmanship after it proposes divesting from the Coachella Valley, but on Thursday, he echoed the district’s talking points and said fights about representation on IID’s board would be best solved locally.
The powerful Democratic lawmaker represents both the eastern Coachella Valley and the Imperial Valley in the Assembly and has said he opposes the bill but thinks questions about Riverside County representation merit a discussion.
“The willingness of parties to come to the table demonstrates good faith efforts on all sides to resolve this matter locally without the need for legislation. Putting A.B. 854 on hold will allow for these negotiations to move forward,” he said.
On March 5, 2019, the Imperial County Building & Construction Trades sent a letter to Assemblymember Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) asking him to reconsider AB 854, legislation he introduced that has several issues.
This is the letter in opposition of AB 854. If you agree that this piece of legislation is bad for the Imperial Valley contact Assemblymember Mayes, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and Senator Ben Hueso.
Below is a statement form the Imperial Irrigation District regarding legislation authored by Assemblymember Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley). Immediately after the statement is the five-page letter from IID General Counsel to the Assemblymember.
IID statement regarding Assemblyman Mayes’ legislation
Imperial Irrigation District and the IID Board of Directors have proudly served and represented its valued customers in Imperial and Coachella valleys with some of the lowest energy rates in California.
Ten local residents from the IID service area in the Coachella Valley serve on IID’s Energy Consumers Advisory Committee, which meets monthly and advises the IID Board of Directors on energy matters.
The legislation introduced last week by Assemblyman Mayes is a serious matter for the IID and can only be seen as a direct attack on the authority of the IID Board and the water and energy rights it holds in trust and to which it is duty-bound to protect.
The district is concerned about the far-reaching impacts of this bill as well as the potential legal matters, which would surely ensue.
The IID Board is expected to discuss the matter during a special meeting Friday, March 1, and will be meeting with Assemblyman Mayes next week to discuss in greater detail.
As part of the long-standing compromise agreement with the Coachella Valley Water District to serve energy to the area, IID pays CVWD 8 percent of its energy net proceeds ($45 million to date), an additional benefit to the Coachella Valley.
Riverside County Slammed by Judge Granting a Preliminary Injunction Requested by the Imperial Irrigation District…..In granting the injunction, the Judge found that the county’s ordinance conflicts with state law and, if enacted, would cause irreparable harm to the district, said Frank Oswalt, IID general counsel.
IID Also Believes Riverside Violated Brown Act
IID scores initial win in legal battle with Riverside County
By IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS STAFF
Nov. 7, 2018
LOS ANGELES — A County Superior Court judge here on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction preventing the county of Riverside from implementing an ordinance that, if enacted, would bypass the authority of the Imperial Irrigation District to set electric rates for its customers, according to an IID press release.
In granting the injunction, Judge Mary Strobel found that the county’s ordinance conflicts with state law and, if enacted, would cause irreparable harm to the district, Frank Oswalt, IID general counsel, reported.
Although no final rulings were made, Oswalt said the court determined that there was a likely probability that IID would prevail if the matter were fully contested, according to IID. Further, should the ordinance be enacted, the IID board and staff would be irreparably harmed by the prescribed criminal penalties in the ordinance, and the district harmed by the millions of dollars in unrecoverable costs to implement it, according to the district release.
In June, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved Ordinance No. 943, which would have required IID to scrap its publicly vetted and board-adopted solar tariff, net-energy billing and create a new solar tariff that closely resembles that of a privately owned utility, Southern California Edison.
All this came at the request of a private business owner whose business is located in Riverside County and stands to directly benefit financially from the impacts of this ordinance, according to the IID. The district is referring to Renova Energy owner Vincent Battaglia.
“The notion that Riverside County would usurp IID’s ratemaking authority and adopt an ordinance that violates state law is inherently unreasonable and unprecedented,” said James Hanks, IID board president. “Today’s action by the court is a win for the district and its ratepayers.”
In making her ruling, Judge Strobel also noted several potential areas in which the county’s ordinance may conflict with the Public Utilities Act.
Among those areas are:
“First and most critically, section 2827 (of the Public Utilities Act) provides that a [public owned utility], such as the petitioner (IID), is not required to offer NEM (net-energy metering) programs beyond its 5 percent participation cap provided for under that statute,” the judge wrote. “The ordinance directly conflicts with this general law because it imposes NEM requirement on [IID] ‘as expansive’ as NEM 2.0, which does not have this participation cap.”
Second, the same section defines the ratemaking authority of a publicly owned utility as the board of that utility. “That board has the authority to determine when … the utility is not obligated to provide NEM to additional customer-generators. … The ordinance, in contrast, grants [Riverside County] the authority to regulate [IID’s] rates for NEM credits, and it purports to regulate [IID’s] NEM activities as if it were an [investor-owned utility] under the ratemaking authority of the [California Public Utilities Commission],” the judge wrote in her decision.
Riverside County officials did not comment when contacted by the Imperial Valley Press.
Recently, IID alleged Riverside County was in violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, when Riverside officials “lined up votes” outside of the public’s purview on Ordinance 943.
What’s more, due to the alleged Brown Act violations, the district sent a letter from one of its attorneys demanding that the ordinance in question be rescinded or that Riverside County face additional legal challenges from the district. From the date of the letter, Oct. 12, the IID has given Riverside County 30 days to respond or be subject to legal action.
From the Imperial Valley Press:
IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance
LA QUINTA — The Imperial Irrigation District is alleging Riverside County was in violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, when Riverside officials “lined up votes” outside of the public’s purview on an ordinance the district is now suing over.
What’s more, due to the alleged Brown Act violations, the district sent a letter from one of its attorneys demanding that the ordinance in question be rescinded or that Riverside County face additional legal challenges from the district.
The allegations were made public Tuesday at the district’s monthly meeting in La Quinta during a presentation by attorneys for Aguirre and Severson LLP, an outside law firm hired by the district to make a California public records request on its behalf.
The district is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Riverside County over the approval of Ordinance 943, a law passed by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in June compelling the IID to provide additional incentives to electrical customers who have installed solar panels on their properties.
IID officials are opposed to the ordinance, saying that at stake is the district’s authority to set its own rates and that the district is already in compliance with California state law.
“IID’s business model allows the district to offer its customers some of the lowest residential electric rates in California — rates that are as much as 50 percent lower than that of neighboring investor-owned utilities. The ordinance, should it be implemented, jeopardizes these rates and sets a bad public policy that has the potential to impact other public power providers across the state,” IID communications specialist Robert Schettler said in a statement.
The ordinance passed by Riverside County — which is not in effect, but in a court-ordered stay while the suit makes its way through legal proceedings — establishes new regulations and procedures for irrigation districts like IID that are operating net-energy metering programs. Net-energy metering is a program designed to benefit customers who generate their own electricity, usually via rooftop solar panels.
The Brown Act violation allegations are believed to be contained in a series of correspondence Aguirre and Severson requested between Riverside County officials and staff and principals in Renova Energy, a private solar installation company based in Palm Desert that appears to have pushed for the ordinance according to a series of emails.
“Because of the rather troubling aspects of the way this thing was passed, we asked outside counsel to make a public records request,” IID General Counsel Frank Oswalt said.
Oswalt said Riverside County responded to the records request Oct. 2 and within a series of email correspondence attorneys believed they found two emails, or examples, in which the Brown Act was violated.
The Brown Act states, Oswalt said, that a legislative body such as the Riverside County Board of Supervisors “shall not outside a meeting, use a series of communications to discuss, deliberate or take action” on a subject within its jurisdiction.
In a letter to the Riverside County board from IID Deputy County Counsel Joanna Smith Hoff:
“Email correspondence produced by [Riverside] County reveal extensive, non-public solicitation and collection of votes by Supervisor V. Manuel Perez at the insistence of [Renova Energy owner Vincent] Battaglia. For example, by email dated May 5, 2018, Supervisor Perez urged Thomas S. Freeman, a senior Perez staff member:
‘Tom, let’s count the votes. Use this information and the fact that Renova will indemnify. If votes still not there, we will need Vince (Battagalia) to knock on those doors to get us there.’”
Smith Hoff’s letter goes on to cite a second email where Perez lobbies Riverside County Deputy Chief Executive Officer Brian Nestande on May 1:
“Hey Brian, what are we waiting on now? Let’s move this forward. Let’s count the votes. V. Manuel Perez”
Smith Hoff writes: “It is clear from the above emails that Supervisor Perez worked through intermediaries to develop concurrence on Ordinance 943 out of public view and prior to any public consideration of the matter by the board.”
Further, IID alleges in Smith Hoff’s letter that the email correspondence also shows “a secretly negotiated indemnity agreement between Mr. Battaglia and his companies (Renova and ERA) on the one hand, and the county of Riverside on the other, that preceded any public board consideration or action in connection with the adoption of Ordinance 943.”
“We see this letter,” Smith Hoff writes, “as providing you [Riverside] an opportunity to rectify an illegal action avoiding the need for further litigation.” From the date of the letter, Oct. 12, the IID has given Riverside County 30 days to respond or be subject to legal action.
Riverside County officials deny any wrongdoing.
“The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has and will continue to adhere to the requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The allegations by the Imperial Irrigation District have no merit. Board members did not engage in any serial meetings in advance of the ordinance’s introduction and adoption. The recent disclosure of emails in response to IID’s public records request does not change the fact that there were no serial meetings,” Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.
Aguirre and Severson partner Maria Severson took the IID Board of Directors and those assembled at Tuesday’s meeting through a history of the “behind-the-scenes” development of the ordinance by way of a chain of emails outlining negotiations between Battaglia, Perez and others. There was a specific call to arms against the IID from Battaglia, according to the emails. Battaglia makes references to going to “war” with IID and in another instance calling the IID Board of Directors “rogue, corrupt and environmentally tone-deaf” through the development of the ordinance and the alleged negotiation of the indemnity agreement.
IID is “wasting rate payer money challenging a law they know they have no right to challenge,” Battaglia said Wednesday. “We addressed this Brown Act business. They are throwing anything at the wall to try to make it stick.”
Battaglia said the IID is trying to “paint it as if this greedy solar guy is trying to bring net-metering back. … It’s a just a game they are playing now trying to smear me. … It’s a cartel down there. I understand that mentality; I’m just not going to put up with that.”
He added that any dealings he had with Riverside County officials was above board and legal.
No action was taken on the Brown Act issue by the IID board, as the issue was placed on the meeting agenda as an information-only item. None of the board members nor IID General Manager Kevin Kelley commented on the issue; Oswalt advised, “In fact, it would probably be inappropriate for the board to comment on it.”
Meanwhile, IID filed suit against Riverside over the ordinance back on July 13 in Riverside County Superior Court. The ordinance in question has not gone into effect, as the IID won a stay pending further consideration of the merits of the case. The parties are next due in court Nov. 6 in Los Angeles, seen as a neutral site by the court.
GRC Annual Meeting & Expo
14-17 October, 2018
Reno, Nevada, USA
Sacramento, California – Thursday, in the midst of fevered policy discussions surrounding the fate of California’s clean energy future, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia successfully advanced AB 893, his proposal supporting geothermal, out of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The geothermal procurement mandated in this measure is of immense significance to the Riverside and Imperial County communities in Garcia’s district.
“Areas surrounding the Salton Sea are uniquely ripe for renewable energy development, geothermal being chief among them,” stated Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. “Despite the increased reliability of geothermal, these
resources have been greatly neglected in energy conversations. I introduced AB 893, to make sure that this tremendous regional opportunity is no longer overlooked and can be integrated into California’s overall energy efforts. In addition to helping diversify our renewable energy portfolio, the inclusion of geothermal would unlock many economic as well as public health co-benefits for underserved areas like ours.”
Read the complete article here: Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s Geothermal Energy Proposal Prevails in Senate Appropriations
Earlier this week the Editorial Board at the Los Angeles Times wrote the following:
Link California’s clean energy to the rest of the west? Sounds great, but it’s risky
By THE TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD
JUL 02, 2018
The state of California is considering forming a regional electrical grid to jointly manage power transmission in multiple western states, and the potential benefits are enormous: It would provide a gigantic new market for California utilities to sell the overabundance of solar power they generate
during the day, as well as giving them access to an equally generous array of hydroelectric- and wind-generated electricity from other states to power the lights when the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.
Electricity rates would plunge, supporters say, given that the fuel for clean power is free and infinitely self-renewing. Coal plants and natural gas couldn’t compete over the long run and would shut down because, really, who wants to pay extra for dirty air? And eventually the big western skies would be as clear and carbon-free as they were before the first wagon rattled along the Oregon Trail. Best of all, despite the persistent efforts of the climate change deniers running the federal government, the U.S. would be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Take that, Mr. President!
That’s the pretty picture painted by the people (one of whom is Gov. Jerry Brown) pushing the California Legislature to vote this summer to dissolve the California Independent System Operator, the entity that runs the state’s electrical grid, and replace it with a new regional organization that would buy and distribute electricity among any western states and utilities that want to participate.
But like any big payout, it requires taking a gamble. And right now ratepayer advocates, consumer groups, municipal utilities and some environmental groups say the risks are too great. (Other environmental groups are supporting the big grid proposal because of the potential to spur more states to make the transition to renewables.)
The proposal’s biggest risk is that California would have to hand over control of its power grid to an as-yet unknown entity, sacrificing the safeguards put into place two decades ago after another such gamble — on deregulation — triggered an electricity crisis that plunged the power grid into chaos.
Right now, Cal-ISO is a nonprofit public benefit corporation with board members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. And in addition to adhering to state open-meeting laws and procedural rules, it must operate in the best interests of Californians — not of, say, Utahns, who have already expressed hostility toward California’s climate change policies and their effects on coal revenues. The bill says that the new board must also follow the state’s rules or else California will take its power grid and go home. That’s easier said than done once the state has already signed over management of its infrastructure to a board answerable not to Californians, but to President Trump’s appointees on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Proponents are also worried about a not-inconceivable scenario in which California would be forced to subsidize coal-power plants within the regional market to help Trump achieve one of his campaign promises.
The Legislature should not pass this plan, at least not right now and not in its current form. Under the proposal, the Legislature would give its blessing to the development of a governing board to oversee the regional market without knowing its composition or structure. (The bill specifies that there would be a western states committee with three members from each state to provide unspecified “guidance” to the governing board.) Final details would be worked out later and approved by the California Energy Commission. It’s troubling that the measure provides no mechanism for the Legislature to pull out if the plan evolves into something that may not be in the state’s best interests.
There’s no ticking clock here. California isn’t in danger of falling behind in its green power goals. In fact, it is well on track to have half its power come from renewable sources by 2030, as mandated by state law. Nor is there reason to think renewable power won’t catch on if there’s no regional market. Solar- and wind-generated electricity is getting cheaper every year. Someday — possibly very soon — an interconnected multi-state regional electric grid may be the safest and most sensible way to go for the next phase of clean power. But the risks are simply greater than the need at the moment.
EL CENTRO, Calif. – Over $200 million dollars from Proposition 68 and state funds are being invested in the Salton Sea. State officials at a press conference said they’re working to prevent a regional environmental disaster.
West Shores Vice-Mayor Mark Gertz said it’s about time because the area is becoming a major health hazard.
“Because the lives of the residents and the flora and fauna of the Salton Sea basin are life-depending upon that. The local high school in Salton Sea has four times the state level of asthma. School children in mecca are getting nosebleeds and asthma much higher than the state levels,” Gertz said.
Senator Ben Hueso, 40th Senate Disctrict, said he understand the problem.
“It’s not just a Riverside or Imperial Problem, it’s a statewide problem that people should be very concerned about not addressing,” Hueso said.
State Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia explained the allocation of the funds.
“It’s broken down into a 170 million dollars that will go directly to the Salton Sea management program for this first phase of this 10-year plan. It is 30 million dollars that will go directly to the Salton Sea authority to begin these efforts immediately. And then ten million of those will go towards the 20 million-dollar cost of cleaning up the new river,” Garcia said.
Gertz appreciates the amount but said that it’s not enough to solve a problem that has a price tag in the billions.
“This will not fund all of the ten-year plan. To not address the sea at large is going to incur long-term disastrous results,” Gertz said.
You can read the complete story and watch a video here.