Surfin’ Sheldon, Little Lost Dina, Righteous Flory, what you’ve been missing at OCWD…


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Newish OC Water District member (and Fullerton councilwoman) Jan Flory uttered the line that stuck in everybody’s head, at one packed December meeting:  “If we are taking on all the risk and responsibility for this desal plant, then what do we need Poseidon for?”

It’s like Flory fell from some other planet, a planet where people are logical and honest, into the midst of this insular little gaggle who had been so used to unquestioningly pushing along the interests of their corporate sponsors with no dissent from the dais and VERY little public attention.

In fact, the first half-hour of each meeting is starting to turn into the Jan Flory Show, where she will pull one item after another out of the agenda for later discussion, saying things like, “I just don’t understand how this is in the interests of the taxpayers or ratepayers.”  She often gets backup from  reasonable softspoken member Phil Anthony [right] but the rest of the Board generally seems incommoded.  We’ll look at those 7-8 other members in a bit, and handicap each of them for if they’re likely to be a public servant or a corporate shill tonight, but FIRST…

Back to Flory’s Question:

As the lady asked, Why DO we need Poseidon, if we taxpayer/ratepayers are going to be taking on all the risks and responsibilities for their proposed plant? What was she referring to?  And who IS this damn Poseidon?

Poseidon Inc. is a privately-held Connecticut hedge-fund gang with a junk-bond rating, who twelve years ago saw an easy mark in Huntington Beach’s obsolete AES power plant, the area’s occasional droughts, and the OC’s covetous, pliable politicians.  No, we did NOT decide we needed desalination, put the question up to a popular vote or at least a vote by an open non-secretive board, and then ask companies with successful desal records to bid on the project.  That would have been the correct way to do it.

At tonight’s meeting [5:30, Ward south of Ellis in Fountain Valley] OCWD is going to be considering whether to take out bonds to build this billion-dollar thing using OCWD’s perfect AAA credit rating – that’s OUR credit rating, brothers and sisters – because Poseidon’s credit is at a junk-bond BBB rating after their notorious failure in Tampa, and if THEY had to take out the loan it would add even MORE to the price of their desalinated water, which is already going to be at least twice the price of the water we get now.

Let me be clear:  Poseidon is going to ask our OCWD (most of whom do NOT say no to Poseidon) to secure an 18% equity place (important fact! That means real money – 18% of a billion is $180,000,000, dude) while putting up the bonds for the remainder.  In essence, we would be financing the ENTIRE thing.  And if the OCWD has an equity place we are completely responsible for the risk.  And also responsible if anything goes wrong with the plant.  That’s what Jan Flory was talking about.

And another part of this great (for Poseidon) deal is that you and I would be stuck paying for this expensive, unnecessary desal water for another thirty years, whether we need it or not (known as a take-or-pay contract.)  I am still unclear if OCWD can go forward with this scam without the consent of the county’s water producers or pumpers;  I do know that the very wise folks at Irvine Ranch Water District are threatening a lawsuit if this moves forward.

Huntington Beach councilman and grouchy maverick Republican Dave Sullivan [left], a fierce Poseidon critic from the beginning, was one of the best speakers at that morning meeting.  After the full three minutes of railing at the company’s failures and incompetence, and urging the Board to at least wait a few years to see how Poseidon’s Carlsbad plant turns out (not so much mechanically as fiscally for San Diego County) he continued, “I’m sorry to insult the company and call them incompetent, they ARE actually very good at one thing:  pouring money into politicians’ campaigns.”  And he continued with the observation that the three Poseidon-backed candidates (who were also union-backed and developer-backed) came in the top three in Huntington Beach’s last council race.

Boom!  Snap!  It’s true, that has been Poseidon’s main expense and thrust these twelve years they’ve been in town – pouring money directly and through front groups into the campaigns of councilmen, water board candidates, state legislators and even Congressmen, as well as pouring money into attacking any politician who opposes them.  How hard must it be for a Republican critical of Poseidon to get institutional support from his or her local party when the OC GOP chairman Scott Baugh [right with Gipper] is a Poseidon lobbyist?  Nice touch, that!

But Poseidon has got its hands wrapped around the Democrats’ balls just as tightly, through their promise of 2000 temporary jobs to the desperate and short-sighted Teamsters and Building Trades Unions.  Very few Democrats have the cojones to say no to THOSE big players, and a couple of the ones who did just got thrown off the HB Council.

But back to the personalities on the OCWD Board…

Sheldon, Dewane – the Board’s most intractable Poseidon lovers.

Back in the fall, chock-full of my characteristic hubris, I promised Flory, “I’m gonna get you some new allies in November” – and I recruited some!  But what do *I* know about helping people win elections?  The two most hardcore Poseidon backers – the generally ill-tempered Board Chairman and Costa Mesa GOP insider Shawn Dewane, and the florid plump developer and preacher‘s son Steve Sheldon (whose eligibility to vote on Poseidon matters after having made so much money from them is currently being debated by the FPPC) – handily beat their challengers, with indifferent voters either skipping that boring water line, or voting for the familiar name or whoever was on their GOP slate mailer.

Dina Nguyen – cross your fingers.

Only one new member got on this election, and that was only because a lady who’d been on the board over 35 years FINALLY decided to retire.  But where WAS new member Dina Nguyen, on this crucial early-morning Dec 10 meeting?  I can answer that, because I went out for a smoke to avoid the usual invocation and backslaps, and noticed a dainty, lost-looking Asian woman wandering across the parking lot.  “Hey!  Is that you, Dina?”  I knew her because she’d come to some of my piano concerts.  She wasn’t sure where she was supposed to go for her first meeting so I helped her.   Shame, the other ladies who had run for OCWD HAD attended many meetings in the past, but at least it made me feel important.  Said I, “I hope you are at least keeping a healthy skepticism regarding Poseidon.”  And said Dina, “Oh I am for sure.”  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Later, before they split to closed session, I went up to the dais as I often do and thanked Flory for her excellent contributions, and asked her to somehow try to take Dina under her wing.  They are both attorneys.   Jan said, “She does seem nice, and eager to learn.”  I described to Jan, that even if she is a brand new member of a 2-or-3 minority, she has the truth and logic on her side, and as I witnessed firsthand at the OC Fair Board around 2011, just a couple of new, confident, powerful, articulate members (combined with public attention and pressure) can gradually right the ship – as when Nick Berardino’s and Stan Tkaczyk’s  arguments began to sway the weak-minded members who had previously been led around by the nose by the malevolent Dave Ellis.

Between those two extremes are four or five “ciphers” whom I haven’t been able to tell where they stand … but my colleague John Earl, who’s been watching them a lot longer than I, is pessimistic about any of them ever going against Poseidon when push comes to shove.  But we’ll see – good arguments AND public pressure can be effective, especially for ambitious politicians!  Former Orange Councilman and Shawn Nelson squire Denis Bilodeau [right] always seemed pretty sketchy to me, but I should probably listen to him more.  After I talked to Jan that evening, Denis was chasing me around asking me something about the Measure J recount.  Another time he was trying to convince me that his plans for an electrical plant in Anaheim’s Ball Basin were better than what Pringle wanted to do there.  You know what, in retrospect I think he was right on that!  And perhaps, as sketchy as he may be, he may not be Poseidon-sketchy.  (But John Earl thinks he is.)

Then there’s Santa Ana councilman Vince Sarmiento!  Former Anaheim councilman Harry Sidhu!  International man of mystery Roger Yoh!  They all ask the occasional interesting and critical question, but John Earl thinks they will all buckle down and do whatever the Connecticut hedge fund water pirates demand.  We’ll see, I don’t want to count anyone out yet!   Although, perhaps I have the least hope in former HB mayor Cathy Green [left].  I am insulting nobody on the board today, but somehow my mind turns to what I call…

The Gail Eastman Syndrome.

Ah, Gail. Not an OCWD member, but a recently-defeated Anaheim councilwoman and an object lesson.

You’ll see folks of unmistakeably below-average intelligence who work their way into political office through their “people skills” and tenacity, and they become “easy marks” for the covetous insiders – your Poseidon, your Pringles – who fill their heads with convenient “facts” and re-assure them that now they know MUCH more than the unwashed masses they are supposed to be serving.  And these politicians are not shy about communicating that sentiment to the rest of us – they just KNOW BETTER than us, we are just UNINFORMED.  And the fact that these politicians owe their feeling of superiority to their new, rich, big-talking friends only seems to cement their loyalty even further.  Just saying, just saying.

Bring Tea for the Tillerman…

Michael Hoskinson [left] is an interesting cat I met this year on the mostly-rightwing Huntington Beach Community Forum – a self-described tea partier who, like much of his ilk, is very disturbed with some “Agenda 21” that he feels is being forced on the rest of us by some new world order – but ALSO honest and intelligent, particularly about economic/fiscal issues – and also a brand-new HB Planning Commissioner.

I urged him to come to the Dec. 10 OCWD meeting on Poseidon, so that he could hear the numbers for himself and see if it is really a good deal for the people of this city and county or if, as I believe, it is the rankest crony capitalism this side of anywhere.  Well, Michael came in as a Poseidon supporter, listened closely, did the math … and left with his faith greatly shaken.  “You’re right, Vern, these are just Happy Face Numbers the CEC (Poseidon’s economic shills) are giving us.  I hate it when they do that.”

It is particularly important to me that Michael’s faith remains shaken, as he is the Planning Commissioner appointed by new councilman Erik Peterson [right] who obviously thinks highly of Michael’s opinions.  Erik has (had) also been a Poseidon supporter, and the reasoning he gave me before the election was just wrong.  The last election gave HB a 4-3 pro-Poseidon majority.  The top three candidates were paid for by Poseidon.  #4, Honest Erik, was not.  If Erik comes to see the light we will once again have an anti-Poseidon council;  and it’s highly likely Poseidon will have to come back to that council again for final approval.  So you see how important this is?

They should pay attention to their colleague Dave Sullivan, whom I know they revere.  Dave shows that you don’t have to be a liberal whacko or “ENVIRO-THUG” (as Chris Epting says) to see that this whole thing is a HORRIBLE idea for everyone except some Connecticut hedge-fund water pirates named Poseidon.

Harper’s Folly

Then there’s breathless Poseidon lover Matthew Harper, whom we just kicked upstairs to the assembly where he could do less harm (actually he seemed less bad than his opponent Keith Curry to tell the truth.)  He began a thread on Boxing Day, on that same HBCF forum, which eventually got over 700 comments – it really turned out pretty great and worth reading all the way through – for all the strong arguments against the deal, the embarrassingly weak ones FOR it “What, do you hate fresh water?”  and the spectacle of honest serious conservatives changing their minds as they learned more. 

Matthew began the thread with what he obviously thought was a devastating question:  “What proposed Huntington Beach desalination project does the self-described “Residents for Responsible Desalination” [a group opposing Poseidon] support?”  And then although his question was answered numerous times by numerous people, Matthew (apparently not much of a listener) continued to repeat the question OVER AND OVER AND OVER like a lab rat banging a lever for a cocaine fix.

The obvious “duh” answer to the way he phrased the question is of course “None” as there ARE no proposed Huntington Beach desalination projects besides Poseidon, which sucks.  But I thought the answers three of us gave were worth reprinting here…

  • First, my friend Bruce Wareh answered:   “The fair answer is, ‘The next desal project that is self-sustainable without tax/water payer subsidies, and that does not suck all the sea-life into it, that is not proposed by a donee of a multi-failed company like Poseidon, and that has not paid 10s of $1000s off to HB CC members over the last 10 years or so’ is the one they support!”
  • My attempt, after specifying that neither Bruce or I are IN the R4RD group although we sympathize with them:  “If the people and water agencies of this county decided we really needed, and could afford desal, we should decide that first and then put it out to a bidding process, not quickly whore ourselves to the first Connecticut hedge fund group that finds us and our ghetto-rigged electrical plant and for-sale politicians to be an EASY MARK.”
  • And eventually Merle Moshiri of the group R4RD, who has better things to do than hang out arguing on Facebook forums, came on and wrote:  “I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. Bruce Wareh gave a definitive definition/explanation of what sort of desal plant R4RD would support. Poseidon doesn’t fit the bill. Neither does 60 yr old technology as proposed for HB. Neither does a plant that costs $1Billion, with a life expectancy of 35 yrs……….maybe. That uses tax exempt bonds to pay for a boondoggle that has no customers (that’s how good this idea really is) except for politicians it has bought and paid for. Certainly not the groundwater pumpers that have threatened to sue under Prop. 216. I offer no apologies for the R4RD name and certainly not its pursuit for the last 13 years. It has been and continues to be a David vs Goliath task. We are up for it. Ask Poseidon.”

Lots of other good stuff on that thread, if you still want to hear EVEN MORE ABOUT POSEIDON, or are looking for material for your speech tonight!

Sheldon the Surfer!

Finally (at the Dec. 10 meeting) we heard the florid plump developer and preacher‘s son Steve Sheldon (whose eligibility to vote on Poseidon matters after having made so much money from them is currently being debated by the FPPC) – is a SURFER, a surfer who took great issue with one speaker’s scenario of eventually demolishing the horrifying AES plant on PCH (rather than keep it another 30+ years as a Poseidon boondoggle) because, sayeth Sheldon, “That plant is an essential part of surfing culture!”  This provoked an uncontrollable guffaw from the usually solemn Surfrider representative.

I ran into Sheldon afterward in the parking lot, and said, “Hey, that was interesting, that power plant is part of surfing culture?”  “Of course Vern, we always say like ‘Meet you at the smokestacks dude.'”   This in turn led somehow to a big altercation with another actual surfer nearby … but we won’t go into any details now because everyone has apologized.

Essential! Can’t surf without it!

Then some of us thought it would be fun to go to Johnny’s Saloon to tell the popular Kresimir what-all had happened and how he just had to get the word out about how Poseidon sucks and so on.  Good to see Johnny’s “Thank a Veteran” sign is still up, I knew it would be…

BE THERE!  TONIGHT (Wednesday) at 5:30

18700 Ward Street, Fountain Valley, CA

They want to SWINDLE us!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.