To Hold Lobbyist Brett Barbre Accountable, I’m Running for Municipal Water District Board Seat 1

Greg Diamond & Brett Barbre Over MWDOC Seat 1 Map

Brett Barbre — seen here at right trying to illegally shoehorn Troy Edgar into the City Clerk’s race after filing had ended — needs to bear in mind that people may be watching and recording what he’s doing on the Municipal Water Board.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Too many self-serving Orange County incumbents get a free ride to reelection.  This is the third time in two years that I’ve run against an ethically unacceptable candidate who would otherwise run unopposed.  The more votes I get, the more these guys have to think twice before they feed at the public trough.

And when I win, their trouble will get worse, because I’M NOT ON THEIR SIDE, I’M ON YOUR SIDE.

I’m running on eight issues:

(1) I want a moratorium on fracking — NOW!  My opponent doesn’t even respect legitimate science!

(2) I oppose the huge, environmentally damaging Poseidon Desalination ratepayer ripoff.  My opponent loves it!

(3) My opponent’s drought-fighting plans would serve mostly to make some companies rich.  My plan — fixing our leaky water infrastructure — won’t make anyone rich, but it will save LOTS of water!

(4) We need better appointments to the gigantic Metropolitan Water Board — ones NOT like my lobbyist opponent!

(5) The Municipal Water District (“MWDOC Board”) needs Board Members with a strong and deep commitment to government transparency — NOT my opponent’s lip service!

(6) Having someone on the MWDOC Board like my opponent who lobbies on water policy issues for a living — and who owes his wealthy clients loyalty and profits personally from their satisfaction — IS COMPLETELY INSANE!

(7) Having someone on the MWDOC Board who takes tens of thousands of dollars in pointless “make-work” projects from an incumbent politician — like my opponent did a few years ago — IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!

(8) Having someone on the MWDOC Board who works hand-in-glove with his “slate-mate” Dave Ellis, who tried to take over the OC Fairgrounds for himself and his friendsIS BEGGING FOR TROUBLE!

Now, for those of you who are interested, I’ll wade into these issues in greater depth.

You can find more information on my Facebook page,  https://www.facebook.com/DiamondForWaterBoard, or on my website, http://DiamondForCleanWaterPolicy.com/.  I don’t think that I’m actually required to include it here, but just in case: my campaign committee is DIAMOND FOR MUNICIPAL WATER BOARD 2014, FPPC ID #1369583.

[Note, 10/16, 1:00 p.m.: I originally posted this mid-afternoon last Friday, just before a holiday weekend.  As our pipeline of stories has reduced to a normal level this week, I’m reposting at a time when more people are reading.]

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I’m Running for Office Again — Because Someone Has to Stand Up to These Guys

I believe in the power of deterrence.  Our public servants should be AFRAID to take unfair advantage of the public!  One way to scare them is to defeat them in elections; another way is to subject them to public humiliation over their wrongdoing.  I may or may not succeed in do the former this fall to incumbent Water Board member and water project lobbyist Brett Barbre — but I’m DEFINITELY going to be able to do the latter.

I hadn’t expected to be on the ballot again this year after I received a majority of those votes that people will freely admit, a few years from now, to having cast in the OC District Attorney’s race against Tony Rackauckas.  But then I saw that, if I didn’t step forward, the incumbent lobbyist would be running unopposed for Seat 1 on the Board of Directors of Orange County’s Municipal Water District this year.

I’m tired of people like lobbyist Brett Barbre doing awful things in office and then getting a free ride to reelection.  We members of the public don’t have to take this lying down!  So if Barbre wants his hand stamped to return to the halls of power, he can expect some bruises.  I look forward to a day when every double-dealing incumbent in Orange County has a challenger willing to give them grief for their refusal to honor the greater public good — so I am “being the change I want to see in the world.”

If you want to see that change as well, you can vote for me (if you vote in Yorba Linda, Placentia, Brea, La Habra, Buena Park, or La Palma) — or you can donate to my campaign, even if you aren’t.  Donation information is at the bottom of this post.

You haven’t heard much about my being in this race before now, mostly because I’ve been swamped with five court hearings (four of them with CATER) and have been writing about other races.  But with early voting starting this week, it’s time to focus.  So here are eight issues that motivate my campaign.  About half of them are substantive and the other half are ethical.

Substantive Issues: Fracking/Contamination, Poseidon, Drought, and Metro Water District Membership

1. Fracking, Earthquakes, and Contaminated Drinking Water

Unlike other environmentalists, I’m willing to keep an open mind about fracking as an alternative to more digging coal.  That’s why I’m not currently calling for a total ban on fracking, but for the kind of moratorium that was recently considered by the state legislature — and defeated by big energy company interests.  Color me as highly skeptical about fracking, but not yet convinced — which I think is the proper position for a public official.  The arguments that I hear about fracking right now are unconvincing — and one-sided presentations of carefully controlled information such as what occurred at the recent Fullerton Fracking Forum set off all of my alarm bells.  If you really have a good argument, you don’t have to cheat.

Some of my concerns about fracking involve the science surrounding it, such as legitimate government studies finding apparent correlations between fracturing subsurface rock and an increase in earthquakes.  Like most of those in Seat 1, I live at the foot of the Puente Hills — and was about three miles or less away from the epicenters in the earthquake swarm from this past spring.  So, yes, I’d like to know if that is one of the hidden costs of fracking — and I want someone on the MWDOC Board who cares about the issue.  Apparently, that would have to be either me or my friend Ron Varasteh, who is running against Execrable Dave Ellis down in the Newport/Irvine area.  (Ideally, it will be both.)

A potentially even larger problem involves the prospect of fracking poisoning aquifers that provide drinking water, which in this case could affect most of the western 2/3 of Orange County.  While some scientific and government studies have determined that water feared to be tainted by fracking chemicals is safe, that’s hard to determine when we don’t even know what chemicals are being used in the process, which would guide us in knowing what contaminants to look for.  (And some of those safety studies, unsurprisingly, turn out to be flawed.)

My concern is that if fracking does turn out to be causing earthquakes and/or contaminating water, there will be no way that the agencies responsible for these decisions would be able to cover more than a small sliver of the damages done to the public — if they even had to pay damages at all.  (They’re supposed to be “controlled by citizens” by the threat of being voted out of office, remember.  And the private interests hiring — or even including — people like Barbre and Ellis aren’t going to become legally liable for decisions that they shepherded through the legal process.  The legal theory of harm to the public here seems to be: “too bad, sucks to be you.”

Barbre doesn’t seem to have an active website up (mine is still “under construction”), but his thoughts about regulation against water contamination were made pretty clear in an interview on Rick Rieff’s show that was addressed in this OC Weekly article from July about state regulation of hexavalent chromium  (Chromium 6), the poison addressed in the film Erin Brockovich.  (Note that there are corrections to the article, but they don’t affect Barbre’s dismissiveness of the science behind the stat’s new regulations.)

 “They may have a little science here, a little science there, but the complete studies, I don’t think, have been completed.”

— Brett Barbre, a Municipal Water District of Orange County board member and Orange County representative to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, disagreeing with new state regulations to minimize cancer-causing chromium 6 in our drinking water, to PBS SoCaL’s David Nazar.

Starting July 1, the new maximum containment level (MCL) for chromium 6 became 10 parts per billion in California. This new regs come at a time when South Orange County’s Santa Margarita Water District is expected to produce water from the Mojave Desert that far exceeds that MCL. Which brings us back to Barbre’s observation, just before the 4:30 mark in this video:

Needless to say, Brockovich does not agree with Barbre’s take on the science not being in, as she tells Nazar. “For all those naysayers, you’re calling a whole lot of experts around the world stupid. You’re calling the state of California stupid. Because they’ve, what, set an MCL for a chemical based on no data? No information? That’s laughable.

With his “a little science here …” comment, Barbre is playing games with your family’s health.  He suggests that if it were a real problem, the federal EPA would be taking care of it — even though he knows very well that it’s lobbyists like him that make that impossible! California is far ahead of the federal government in these issues — but he rejects California’s leadership.

Rieff editorializes with a “we all favor public health and safety, but” argument that this sort of regulation is what drives businesses out of California — “kills businesses,” he says without irony about something that may well literally “kill workers.”  The effect of this is to say that if people get cancer as a result, they’ll just have to bear that loss.  But, alas, the burden doesn’t fall equally on us.  While Rieff says he’s “arguing dollars and cents,” the question is whose dollars and sense — because poor regulation can cost some people a lot more.  Some can afford special water filters to remove carcinogens and some can’t; the former are also more likely to be able to afford the best medical treatments for their cancer — and the latter aren’t.  I’ll be a voice on the MWDOC for the proposition that tap water should be safe.  If this costs a few jobs, so does losing workers needlessly to cancer.

A big part of Barbre’s argument is literally to use colorful metaphors — “a single blade of grass on a football field,” for example — to explain to the public how small a number “1 part per billion” is.  This is stinking deceptive lobbyist-speak.  It doesn’t matter how physically small one part per billion is; what matters is whether than one part per billion can give you cancer or otherwise cause harm.  A virus like HIV or Ebola may be really really small too — but I doubt that Barbre would allow himself to be injected with it.  This is the sort of argument people make when they think that their audience is either stupid or inattentive; I won’t treat voters and other residents that disdainfully.

It’s hard not to wonder whether Barbre (or some associate of his) has a client that may lose money due to these regulations.  Check out the whole story at the link — and watch the interview.

2. Poseidon and Desalination

Barbre is one of OC’s top proponents of desalination.  His bio page on the MWDOC site states in part:

He is leading the federal lobbying efforts to build a desalination plant in Dana Point and has been active in pursuing the approval and development of de-sal plants in Huntington Beach and throughout southern California.

So we know how he feels about the Poseidon desalination proposal — and if he’s making money off of lobbying for this and related projects (even if it’s “trading favors” with other people who directly benefit), there’s NO WAY that he should be voting on anything related to the topic.  (As I’ll note below — he shouldn’t even be on the Water Board at all if he has an interest in scuttling projects that don’t make clients money in favor of ones that do.)

Here’s how I feel about it:

– I think that desalination may have its place, but that I am leery of trusting the word of people standing to profit off of it.  The Poseidon project is supported by research conducted at those serving interested parties.

– I think that Orange County, which has other good options to recoup the relatively small amount of potable water that desal would likely generate,  is not the place for it.

– I think that if we adopted the technology, it should come from a vendor with a good track record of actual accomplishment, that uses state of the art and environmentally friendly technology.  Poseidon fails on both grounds.  They are excellent political players, thanks to their relationships with people like Brett Barbre, but political skill won’t give us drinkable water.

– I think that the business proposal used would have to be a good deal for ratepayers — and this one is horriblefor ratepayers.  That’s one reason that they having to sell it so secretively and so hard.  The proposed “Take or Pay” contracts shift the risk of this investment onto the consumers, committing local water agencies to buy expensive water, $1800 or more per acre-foot, that in all but the most dire situations we don’t need.  (And in those situations, it might be not much more than “a drop in the bucket.”  We have to buy all that Poseidon produces, but Poseidon doesn’t have to produce all that we might want to buy!)

Lots has been written on this blog and on John Earl’s blog (whose latest, on OCWD’s Steve Sheldon’s shilling for Poseidon, appears here), among other venues, about the weakness and perversity of the Poseidon proposal.  You can get lots of information on the topic (the link is to a PDF flyer) from No Deal With Poseidon (the site long advertised here that features”Soaky,” the grinning water drop with two large fistfuls of cash); Food and Water Watch on Poseidon Desal (featuring the great Huntington Beach scientist Debbie Cook — whom I’d listen to while serving on the Board); the Surfrider Foundation’s Report; and more.

If it’s a terrible deal for ratepayers and a terrible deal for the environment, I don’t really care how good of a deal it is for investors.  On the MWDOC Board, I won’t be representing investors.

3. Fighting the Drought

Southern California is in the third straight year of drought — which, like it or not, is a foreseeable consequence of the heating of the atmosphere.  Lobbyist Brett Barbre may come forward with plans to cope with the drought — and it is almost inevitable that those plans will make some private company very rich, while probably providing questionable results and doubtful accountability.  That won’t be my approach.

We need to focus more on conservation.  Local ordinances preventing conversion to native plants instead of lawns have to be mowed over.  Some golf courses, where they do compete with other critical water uses, may go brown.  (Can you imagine if we are in a serious emergency, not moving golf courses down the priority list?  That would be a sign that we’re not serious at all!)  But there’s one additional thing that we can do to prevent water from literally falling through the cracks: fixing our leaking infrastructure.  Less than a year ago, the Center for Neighborhood Technology came out with a study — which you can find through http://tinyurl.com/fixleaks — that pointed out that our water infrastructure in crumbling to the point where the U.S. loses unbelievable amounts of good drinking water through leaks.  They note: “Establishing universal auditing and standards across water utilities is a critical, and low-cost, first step” to water conservation.  If you haven’t heard about this as a way to make it through the drought, that may be because no one stands to make immense profits out of such activities.  When I’m on the Board, though, they will not be overlooked!

4. Metropolitan Water District Appointments

MWDOC’s appointments to the highly influential Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Governors include Larry McKenney (replacing the late Jack Foley and incumbent Larry Dick.  But among the others are lobbyist Barbre, and the compromised and unqualified Linda Ackerman, wife of fading-but-still-influential political schemer and lobbyist Dick Ackerman — a corrupt ally of both Barbre and Execrable Dave Ellis.  I will not vote for a lobbyist (or someone controlled by a lobbyist) to be on the Metropolitan Water District Board — and I certainly won’t vote for someone as unqualified and enmeshed with dirty politics as Linda Ackerman.  Our water policy is far too important to leave it to amateurs and self-serving politicos.

Ethical Issues: Transparency, No Lobbyists on Board, Scamming the Public, and Integrity

5. Government Transparency

Water Boards in and around Orange County have been notorious for trying to evade public accountability by blocking transparency.  Ensuring that public agencies are transparent is part of what I do in my law practice.  I’m going to take those same values with me to the Water Board.  So long as the Municipal Water Board remains within the letter and spirit of the governing law, they’re fine; I may disagree with its decisions but I will respect its process.  The moment when it goes beyond what I know to be lawful, I am going to come down on my colleagues like a load of bricks — from the inside.

Simply having me on the Water Board will ensure transparency because they will not want to test me.  The result will be decisions that the public can depend upon — because I’ll be right in their midst fighting for YOUR right to know what’s driving their decisions.

6. A Lobbyist on the Board

Here’s how Brett Barbre markets himself, on the MWDOC website itself, as a water policy lobbyist:

Barbre is the Principal of Barbre & Associates, a public affairs company specializing in lobbying, campaigns strategies, media and public relations. He has represented clients at the local, state and federal levels and has successfully worked and directed campaigns from local water board to United States Senate races, and everything in between.  He has successfully lobbied for clients and has successfully obtained multi-million dollar contracts for numerous clients.

Throughout his nearly 30 year tenure in Orange County public affairs, Barbre has been extensively quoted in most major newspapers in California including the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register. He has appeared in such prominent business publications as Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, The Bond Buyer and the Dow Jones News Wire, and has also appeared on countless local and national public policy radio and television programs.

Some people think that Brett Barbre knows a lot about water policy.  I’m not convinced.  As a lobbyist; what Barbre knows is how to make a case for his client.  And the arguments that he has made publicly show that when he makes a case on water policy, it’s often by trying to confuse matters and appeal to public prejudice.  What seems to motivate him, as with any good client, is loyalty to his clients.

But loyalty to his clients is not the same as loyalty to us, the public.

I’m an attorney by profession — and I know the difference between being an attorney and being a judge.  On the Water Board, it will be my responsibility to act like a judge.  Like a good judge, I will weigh various proposals as impartially as I can, use my analytic skills as effectively as I can to probe for deficiencies in arguments — and always be on the lookout for defects in character that would lead me to question someone’s truth.  I have to be that way, because SO MUCH MONEY rides on what a Water Board decides.  That’s why I call for a moratorium on fracking rather than a ban — because it is still plausible to me that proponents of fracking may be able to make a case that it is safe for Orange County.  (I don’t expect it, but I’m open to it.)  I’ve made up my mind on the Poseidon contracts only after substantial study — and recognizing that if the project was really that good for OC they wouldn’t have to tie us into paying huge expenses for the water they produce for years in advance.  I hope always to be fair on the Water Board and am committed to being willing to be moved by evidence.

Barbre doesn’t seriously lay claim to impartiality.  He CAN’T — because he’s HIRED by companies that WANT things — that want to PROFIT — from the Water Board’s decisions.  Barbre’s being on the Water Board at all is a travesty; I suspect that people only put up with it because they either aren’t aware of it or haven’t thought through the implications.  Barbre’s position is that, on the Water Board, IT’S PERFECTLY OK for him to be like an attorney rather than like a judge — for him to be an ADVOCATE for his client’s economic interests.

NEVER!  That should NEVER be allowed.  And that’s why I have had to run against him, so YOU can say NO to THAT!

7. (Lack of) Integrity – Barbre Received a $49,000 “Make-Work” Contract to Do Pretty Much Nothing

When lobbyist Brett Barbre was working as a top strategist on the campaign of a former County Clerk, he was given a make-work contract for $49,000 to do research on an Orange County Sports Hall of Fame.  (That amount was just low enough not to require approval of the Board of Supervisors.)  There’s no indication that Barbre ever did any of this work — although he did apparently cash the $49,000 check, and he even donated some of it back to the County Clerk’s campaign fund.  That has been the way that things get done in OC a lot of the time, for a long time — with a wink and a nod.

Well, I’m not winking at this sort of thing — and I am SURELY not nodding at it.  My professional work involves fighting government corruption and saving taxpayers money, and that Barbre would even CONSIDER taking money under such circumstances disqualifies him from office so far as I’m concerned.  If you want to be represented by someone with such low integrity that they will agree to take taxpayer money for nothing, then you can vote for my opponent the lobbyist.  If you want someone who is going to pitch a fit if he sees it happening and move heaven and earth to stop it, you can vote for me!

8. Scamming the Public: Can Barbre Hold Back Dave Ellis — or Would He Even TRY?

There is one other race for Water Board in this election, in which I am supporting my friend Ron Varasteh against candidates including former Orange County Fairgrounds Chair Dave Ellis.  Dave Ellis is the guy who spearheaded the effort of the members of the OC Fair Board a few years ago to sell the OC Fairgrounds TO THEMSELVES — something that eventually led even normally apolitical people in OC and normally inattentive people statewide to squash that self-serving action.   I don’t trust Dave Ellis — and if I am on the Municipal Water Board with him, I will watch him (and anyone else like him) like a hawk and do my best the throttle their self-serving plans to rip off the public before they can get one foot in the door.

Will Brett Barbre match my condemnation of what Dave Ellis and his cronies tried to do?  I doubt it.  If he does so, will he mean it?  I doubt it even more.  I have a record of holding people accountable; he has a record of excusing wrongdoing.  One of my favorite quotes from lobbyist Brett Barbre came during the 1990 Huntington Beach oil spill, when he spat on environmentalists this way:

“Every time there is an oil spill it is hyped up considerably by those who oppose offshore oil drilling.  But you ask people: ‘How did you get here, did you come by car? How do you cook your food at home?'”

Very clever, this making people feel ashamed to ask oil companies to pay the consequences for their own wrongdoing because they themselves use more oil then they should.  But, of course, it completely missed the point — that people will be most likely to sacrifice if they think that others will have to sacrifice as well.  Barbre’s philosophy of dealing with an oil spill — make people feel bad about criticizing bad actions! — will apply roughly just as well to a drought.  Well, I have no hesitation to call on people’s better nature when we have to stand together collectively to fight a problem like a drought.  You will never hear anything like that coming from me.

You know that some people consider themselves to be predators while you are the prey.  This election is your chance to get back at the people who abuse your trust.  I will treat you — and us all — with respect.

Again, you can find more information on my Facebook page,  https://www.facebook.com/DiamondForWaterBoard, or on my website, http://DiamondForCleanWaterPolicy.com/.  I don’t think that I’m actually required to include it here, but just in case: my campaign committee is DIAMOND FOR MUNICIPAL WATER BOARD 2014, FPPC ID #1369583.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)