OCPA-Melahat-gate. INTRO: The Treseder Letter & a Probolsky Tale.

I’m sorry I’m just catching up on this OC Power Authority cluster-f**k; The Voice of OC has been doing a great job so far covering it, but like a reluctant Mafioso I just seem to get “dragged in” to these things. Before I really look into this, I do have a few small details to contribute, and before that, if you care much, let me turn you on to the Voice’s oeuvre thus far:

Most recently, and the story that led to MY interest, was Noah Biesieda’s “Chaos Grips OC’s Green Power Agency, CEO Under Fire, Files Whistleblower Complaint . . .

And selected Voice pieces by Noah B., in order from the earliest, if you REALLY want to invest an hour:

TWO MORE: From this blog’s Greg Diamond last month: OC Power Authority Hit with $2 million fine.”

And the latest from Irvine Watchdog: Over A Year Of Requests Later OCPA Is Finally Agendized. [by Irvine Council.] Special Meeting June 14th. [tonight!]

But, Why Probolsky?

Most of the troubles of our fledgling, ill-fated Power Authority seem to be rooted in the person of its CEO Brian Probolsky, troubles detailed in all the Voice articles linked above, as well as the Treseder letter paraphrased below. Brian is not to be confused with his equally corpulent brother Adam, who runs a push-poll firm named, comically, Probolsky Research – Adam will get whomever pays him whatever results they want, while disseminating their propaganda; those clients are generally Republican politicians, parasitic agencies, and malodorous corporations like Poseidon Resources.

Brian on the other hand has been described as an OC “power broker,” and maybe it’s just a semantic confusion – someone should have told Melahat and Farrah that was a different kind of power. As we speak, the OCPA board is experiencing severe Probolsky remorse and appears to be fixing to fire the putz, even as he sues THEM on some farfetched pre-emptive “whistleblower” grounds.

But seriously, the question stands begging on the street corner: Why was this unlikely, money-grubbing, Republican creature, with no college degree and no discernible experience or interest in energy or the environment or even running a business, chosen BY DEMOCRATS to lead such an essential agency, which could have been so much better? (And hopefully still can.)

And here’s where I tell MY Probolsky story, from the one time I met Brian and talked with him. Around 2012-14, me, Gus Ayer and a few other friends were fighting hard against an OCTA/CalTrans scheme to put Toll Lanes on the 405 using $1.5 BILLION of our Measure M tax dollars. If you hadn’t heard: the idea was to use that tax money of ours, money we had voted to spend on highway improvements, to build FOUR NEW LANES along 13 miles from Seal Beach to South Coast Plaza – two going north and two going south. It was brilliantly engineered so that almost no property would be taken or impacted; something like a dozen bridges would have to be demolished and rebuilt; it woulda cost $1.5 billion and taken a few years, and woulda given us two new free lanes going each way. So far so great, right?

Except that wasn’t enough for our voracious overlords: After building those two new lanes going each way, they wanted to turn the FOUR INNER LANES – two going north, two going south – into expensive TOLL LANES. So, do you see? Us taxpayers get NOTHING for our $1.5 billion, and the years of construction hassle, unless we also want to also dole out a large toll. (We lost that fight – we managed to make it politically unpalatable for the elected leaders on the OCTA, so CalTrans took the project over and it is happening now in slow motion before your very eyes, if you live near the 405.)

At the time, Brian Probolsky, among and between dozens of similar gigs, was being paid to sell this shit sandwich to the public. And hence, once, he and I found ourselves sitting in a room together, discussing toll lanes. After a few seconds of tolerating my man-of-the-people gripes, he felt he had to tell his own amusing toll lanes story:

“I’ve been driving on toll lanes and toll roads every day for years, never paid for it and never got caught! At this point, if I ever DO have to pay a fine once or twice, it’ll be worth it!” And he guffawed a Probolsky guffaw. I resisted the urge to suggest that if the toll enforcers were relying on weight sensors, then his car probably DID register as having more than one person in it. Instead I sputtered, “But – but – our Measure M taxes…”

And still the question stands begging on the corner, ever more desperate:

Why Brian Probolsky?

Many folks including environmental watchdog and UCI professor Dr. Kathleen Treseder lay the blame for the Probolsky choice on DEMOCRAT (former) power broker Melahat Rafiei (above) and her protégé Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan. Melahat has been much in the news of late, as you may have noticed. In the 55-page FBI filing laying out the corruption case leading to Anaheim Mayor Sidhu’s resignation, AND the 102-page FBI filing leading to the conviction of Chamber CEO Todd Ament, Melahat is both omnipresent and referred to as “Cooperating Witness 1.” The Feds patiently explain that they’d been investigating Melahat for “theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds,” and other crimes; they also contend that she has “lacked candor at times” (i.e. lies, omits and hides things), and they only take her word when it’s “corroborated” by someone else… but they’ve given her a break so far because she agreed to wear a wire against her friends for years. (Melahat, still free, cheerfully claims to be innocent of all charges, that the FBI just got it wrong, and she only wore a wire out of a sense of patriotism! Aw, who ya gonna believe!)

But… shit, you probably already know all of this. What I have that you probably haven’t seen yet is the famed “Treseder letter,” and I have permission not to reprint it (Dr. Treseder is a little spooked over Probolsky “lawyering up”) but to PARAPHRASE it. And why do *I* have this letter, and this permission? Because I asked NICELY, unlike the Liberal OC’s Dan Chmielewski, who bristling with indignation that anyone would criticize his Melahat, came at Dr. Treseder like this:

Smooth, Dan! Smooth.

Now you have to start by knowing that the OC Power Authority was a great IDEA for a lot of reasons, and for therefore there were intelligent people who cared about making sure it happened right, and didn’t just turn into another typical OC scam-bureaucracy, where corruption mingles with incompetence to create that distinctive, intoxicating Orange County ferment that some thrive in… Sorry. What I mean to say is that Dr. Treseder is one of those educated watchdogs, keeping an eye on this new agency’s roll-out, and “collaborating with a local climate non-profit.”

Dr. Treseder (right) was also – IS also – running for Irvine Council this year, and early LAST year (that’s a lotta lead time!) she asked Melahat to be her consultant (not knowing, as most innocent OC citizens did not, of Melahat’s “unethical behavior.”) Melahat first wanted to get the approval of Farrah, they all met in May of 2021, Farrah (who is also on the OCPA board) liked Dr. Treseder and things moved forward.

But meanwhile the local climate nonprofit Treseder was working with developed concerns about CEO Probolsky – his questionable decisions on vendor contracts, founding documents, financing arrangements. Word on the street was that Melahat was giving “close guidance” to Mayor Farrah regarding the OCPA, so Treseder tried to speak to Melahat about the Probolsky issues. (Have I mentioned that the Treseder Letter is replete with links and screenshotted texts?)

This conversation did not go well. Treseder laid out her group’s concerns about Probolsky and wondered if Farrah could agendize an “employee evaluation.” Melahat said NO, claiming that Probolsky needs to stay CEO in order for Farrah to win re-election and Treseder to be elected. A strange and unexplained assertion. Melahat said anything Treseder and the nonprofit wanted done on OCPA, bring it to Melahat and she’ll “take care of it behind the scenes.” ALSO, instructed Melahat, “DON’T SHARE ANY INFO ABOUT OCPA PUBLICLY!” It’s NOT in the public’s best interest to have too much information, Melahat opined about us sheeple!

Things did not get better. Things got worse. A close (and unnamed) confidante of Probolsky began to confide in Treseder about Probolsky’s alarming actions. In June, Probolsky and OCPA General Council Ryan Baron brought forth a bold “JUST TRUST US” proposal authorizing them to negotiate and execute a “$50 million credit facility” without any oversight or transparency. Treseder spoke against this proposal, and Melahat texted her telling her to keep her mouth shut:

Noted.

And things got worse. In a meeting the next day Melahat really laid down the law to Treseder and an associate of hers. Brian Probolsky is NOT GOING ANYWHERE! You people will just have to WORK AROUND HIM! Don’t contact any OCPA Board Members, just go through ME, MELAHAT, instead. “The Board Members do what I tell them to do!” [Treseder opines that if this is true about some Board members, it is not true of Susan Sonne, of whom she thinks highly.] In response to a question, Melahat volunteered that Probolsky had offered to get Farrah onto the California Coastal Commission as long as Farrah made sure Brian stayed CEO. Treseder’s friend gasped, “This sounds like a cabal.” AND MELAHAT AGREED: “It IS a cabal, and Farrah is IN the Cabal.” Wow, that is really the word of the season, isn’t it?*

“It IS a cabal. And Farrah is IN the cabal.” – Melahat

Vern here, if I may briefly interject: Does this make sense? How could Probolsky pull strings in the Democratic Senate to get Farrah a CCC seat? It seems unlikely. The Senate President claims not to know him, and we know Farrah didn’t get the gig. Maybe Probolsky did think he had that power though, and maybe Melahat believed him (if she wasn’t just lying to Treseder.) The Probolsky brothers were both big Poseidon shills, as was our Democratic Governor, and a few months ago, as the Voice reported, Probolsky made some kinda secretive deal with the water pirates, so, really, maybe Probolsky did think he could get Farrah that plum job. [Update: See THIS comment for some explanation.]

I had HEARD that Farrah was trying to get on that vitally important Coastal Commission and I was relieved that she didn’t. I didn’t trust her, as a Melahat protégé, not to be a total Poseidon shill, like her other protégé Jordan Brandman, and with Farrah on the Commission, the desal pirates’ final faceplant last month might not have been so spectacularly UNANIMOUS! Plus… don’t these fucking people have their fingers in enough fucking pies? [Offhand, I know that Farrah was Irvine Mayor, OCPA board member, and Toll Roads Agency member – maybe even more!] Anyway, back to my Treseder paraphrase…

So, things kept getting worse, and worse. Treseder told Melahat that a close associate of Probolsky’s had told her, in confidence, that Brian was “corrupt.” Melahat REALLY wanted to know who that weak link was! But Treseder wouldn’t tell her. Melahat said she wouldn’t be Treseder’s consultant if she didn’t rat out her source. Treseder refused. Melahat offered to sign a non-disclosure agreement, if she could just KNOW WHO IT WAS. She e-mailed the NDA to Treseder, but Treseder had had quite enough Melahat and gave her her walking papers.

That was June 24 of last year, and Treseder had learned the nature of Melahat before a whole lot of OTHER OC Democrats, who had to wait 11 more months for the FBI to explain things to them. (Also, natch, Farrah immediately un-endorsed Treseder, and now talks like she’s a crazy ankle-biter.)

And Treseder never talked to Melahat again. And that’s the end of my paraphrase of the Treseder Letter. And I have a feeling the OCPA will be jettisoning that Probolsky guy like dead weight, and maybe they can actually move forward and do this community choice energy program the right way. Especially if they listen to folks like Dr. Treseder and her non-profit watchdog friends….

VERN OUT.

*We’ve been made aware of the anti-Semitic roots of the word “cabal,” and hope it doesn’t offend anyone, but it is an important factual matter that Melahat in Irvine, as well as Flint and Ament in Anaheim, use the term proudly to describe themselves.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer 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.