Secret Poseidon Desal meeting stymied by Brown Act complaint.

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by John Earl, Surf City Voice

General Manager Nixes Secret Desal Talks with Poseidon After Brown Act Complaints

Water District GM Kevin Hunt

Confronted by complaints of illegality, the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) dropped a scheduled closed session section of a meeting of its board of directors scheduled for today (May 15) at 11 a.m.

General Manager Kevin Hunt had scheduled the closed session in order to meet with officials of Poseidon Resources Inc., the company that proposes to build the as yet unfinanced and unpermitted $750 million ocean desalination plant that would convert about 100 million gallons of ocean water into 50 million gallons of drinking water every day.

The public meeting will go ahead minus the Poseidon item, but instead of holding session at MWDOC’s regular location in Fountain Valley, the seven board members will meet at the offices of the agency’s new legal team, Best, Best & Krieger (BKK).

Lunch will be served, according to the agenda.

The topic of discussion for the now deleted closed session item, according to the original agenda, was “price and terms of payment” for the water that Poseidon would produce.

California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, requires that all legislative meetings be open to the public, with certain exceptions like negotiations for the sale or lease of real property. Water rights are treated as real property and Hunt, under advice from BKK, assumes that Poseidon holds water rights for the drinking water it will presumably produce, according to Hunt, a view that is disputed.

Debbie Cook

The problem, according to former Huntington Beach mayor, Debbie Cook, who opposes the desalination plant, is that “Not only are water contracts (emphasis added) not real property—transferred by virtue of a deed—but Poseidon has no title to property with any associated water rights that can be transferred.”

In that case, Cook told the Voice by e-mail, “To meet in closed session under the ‘Real Property’ exemption to the Brown Act is patently illegal. Shame on Best, Best, and Krieger for their complicity in this obstruction of open government and public participation.”

When contacted by the Voice Sunday night, Hunt acknowledged that Poseidon did not have a property deed to transfer but said that the company would have rights for water that it produces and delivers.

“I’m not trying to set a precedent here,” Hunt said, claiming that Poseidon is going through the same process for another desalination plant it wants to build in Carlsbad, in San Diego County.

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About Surf City Voice

John Earl is the editor of the Surf City Voice. Frequent contributor Debbie Cook, a former Huntington Beach Mayor, is board president of the Post Carbon Institute.