Candidates Hope to ‘Change’ Central Basin

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

The Central Basin Municipal Water District is a public agency, with an elected board that sets policy and oversee its operations, the main purpose of which is to wholesale imported water to cities, mutual water companies, investor-owned utilities and private companies in southeast Los Angeles County.

In recent years, the agency has been plagued by accusations of wrongdoing involving how it awards contracts and lax oversight of staff, with some going so-far as to call its board members and staff everything from inept to corrupt.

Now, two local city officials are among the candidates vying for a seat on the Central Basin board in November, purportedly in hope of turning the scandal-ridden agency around.

Candidates running to represent Division 1 on the board of directors include Bell Gardens Mayor Pedro Aceituno, Pico Rivera Mayor Pro Tem Bob Archuleta, Luis Marquez of Downey, and Xochitl Sandoval and Yvette Silva, both residents of Bell Gardens. James Roybal, who currently serves as the Board’s vice president has opted not to run again.

Joshua Acevedo of Bell Gardens will also be on the ballot, but has told EGP he is suspending his campaign to instead concentrate on running in 2017 for a seat on the Bell Gardens City Council.

The race will be one of several on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.

Division 1 of the Central Basin covers the cities of Bell Gardens, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera, West Whittier-Los Nietos and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Directors are elected to serve four-year terms.

Archuleta told EGP he wants to help Central Basin improve its image and recover from a history of financial mismanagement and questionable contracts.

Pico Rivera Mayor Pro Tem Bob Archuleta is one of the candidates vying for a seat on the Central Basin Water District Board of Directors. (Courtesy of Bob Archuleta)

Pico Rivera Mayor Pro Tem Bob Archuleta is one of the candidates vying for a seat on the Central Basin Water District Board of Directors. (Courtesy of Bob Archuleta)

“For years, the general public has asked for change,” he said. “I believe I am uniquely qualified to clean up and reform this agency.”

Archuleta was elected to the Pico Rivera City Council in 2007 and currently serves as a presidential appointee to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

He says during his stint on the city council crime has gone down and retailers and developments are now flocking to do business in Pico Rivera. Conditions at the city’s parks and on city streets have improved since he took office, Archuleta told EGP.

Now he says he’s confident he can help turn things around at the Central Basin, where he blames failed leadership for widespread mismanagement issues identified in an audit by the State Controller. The audit slammed the agency for questionable decisions, including the loss of the agency’s liability insurance, failure to use competitive bidding in awarding contracts and for allowing overly generous benefits and gifts for board members.

“I will not tolerate corruption at this agency, I will provide clean and affordable water,” he assured. “I will stop corruption, government waste, and fight to reduce current water rates.”

Xochitl Sandoval of Bell Gardensis one of the candidates vying for a seat on the Central Basin Water District Board of Directors. (Courtesy of Xochilt Sandoval)

Xochitl Sandoval of Bell Gardensis one of the candidates vying for a seat on the Central Basin Water District Board of Directors. (Courtesy of Xochilt Sandoval)

Sandoval too sees the water agency as rife with problems. An assistant gaming supervisor at The Bicycle Casino, Sandoval told EGP she feels she can make a difference at the agency because she is not a “career politician.”

“I do not owe any political favors to anyone,” she emphasized. “I will bring an end to the pay-to-play practices and also stop awarding contracts based on nepotism.”

Sandoval has some municipal government experience, having served as a Bell Gardens traffic and safety commissioner.

“It’s time for average citizens to get involved and get the corrupt politicians and greedy special interests groups out of our water board,” she told EGP.

First elected in 1999, Aceituno is the longest sitting member on the Bell Gardens City Council.

Aceituno did not respond to EGP’s phone call and emails seeking an interview for this article, but according to his candidate filing with the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office he identifies himself as a “water advocate.” In 2007 a Central Basin press release cited his work on a conservation grant to integrate water-saving measures at public parks and facilities, making it the first city in the region to embrace a citywide conservation program.

Central Basin also credited the then-mayor for his efforts in creating the plan that incorporated innovative conservation measures, which included installation of synthetic turf at soccer fields, wireless valve controller system for irrigation and the installation of waterless urinals and high-efficiency toilets at public facilities.

But Aceituno is also on a city council, which, despite ongoing deficits and much needed costly infrastructure improvements, has repeatedly opted to not increase water rates, which have remained unchanged for 20 years.

EGP also repeatedly tried to reach Luis Marquez and Yvette Silva for comment, but emails and calls were not returned.

Meanwhile, Archuleta is out lining up endorsements and contributions to his campaign. He has received the endorsements of several local officials, including Bell Gardens Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez.

He believes his experience and record in Pico Rivera has prepared him for working on large budgets, long-term planning, both which resulted in citywide improvements, developments and funding for a multi-million dollar underpass.

“I want to bring that change to Central Basin,” he said.

Several local municipalities, including Commerce and Montebello, have long criticized the Central Basin, taking issue with rate hikes, the latest of which was approved last month,

Currently, the Central Basin board includes Robert Apodaca, Art Chacon, Leticia Vasquez, Phillip Hawkins and Roybal.

Over the years, there have been numerous published reports of dysfunction on the board, citing incidents of board members getting into shouting matches during meetings. At one point, the FBI served search warrants at the agency’s offices in connection with their corruption investigation into former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, who’s consulting practice did work for the Central Basin and served on the board of a contractor hired to do work for the water agency.

If elected, Sandoval vows to end excessive perks and travel allowance and to get the board back to doing the business of delivering clean and inexpensive water to communities.

For his part, Archuleta says he plans “to be transparent and invite all to participate, and to “get confidence [in the agency] back up.”

Archuleta, however, is no stranger to government investigations. In 2010 he was investigated by the District Attorney’s office for not reporting political gifts when he repeatedly reused a special elected official movie pass at a Pico Rivera theater. The case was eventually closed and no charges were filed, but Archuleta reimbursed the theater and returned the pass.

He also self-reported the investigation to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which later issued a fine. The issue did not impact his reelection campaign in 2011 or in 2015, when he received the highest number of votes. His term expires Nov. 2019.

Under state law, an elected official may not hold two different public offices simultaneously if the offices have “overlapping and conflicting public duties.” Citing a previous opinion, the Office of Attorney General Kamala Harris informed EGP serving on the city council and on the board of a water district would be deemed incompatible offices.

Archuleta assured EGP he intends to adhere to the law and relinquish his seat on the Pico Rivera city council if elected. The same rule would apply to Aceituno.

 

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September 8, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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