Rice Farmer Robert Frobose has served the Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) with documents including, “a formal Brown Act Violation letter of complaint and supporting documentation.” The Brown Act guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in public meetings.
Frobose and many other farmers protested earlier this year when OID cut water allotments for senior members of the district even while delivering surface water to Tier II member Trinitas Partners. At the time, Frobose claimed OID had plenty of water and was cutting allotments to save water for a sale later in the year.
Even OID General Manager Steve Knell has admitted publicly that OID’s September 29 water sale was conducted in secret. Now, Frobose is alleging that,
“The contract dated September 29, 2015 by Oakdale Irrigation District was never authorized by the Oakdale Irrigation District Directors or ratified by them as well. Nor was it ever agendized, giving the opportunity for the public to have comment and input as to the sale of Oakdale Irrigation District’s water.”
Earlier this year, farmer Louis Brichetto quashed a proposed OID water sale by pointing out OID had failed to observe protocols established by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) prior to the sale. If Frobose succeeds in his suit, the current sale could be invalidated as well. One part of Frobose’s opening statement reads as follows:
“As you are aware, the Brown Act creates specific agenda obligations for notifying the public with a ‘brief description’ of each item to be discussed or acted upon, and also creates a legal remedy for illegally taken actions—namely, the judicial invalidation of them upon proper findings of fact and conclusions of law.”
The statement continues with a demand that OID, “immediately withdraw from any commitment made for the sale of the 11,500 acre/feet of water entered into by contract dated September 29, 2015.”
Another water sale loss could be a crippling blow for OID management and legal staff. Because the district provides surface water to farmers at below the cost of delivery, it depends on water sales to balance the books. Absent water sales, OID runs deficits in the millions of dollars.
Two OID Directors, Frank Clark and Al Bairos, are up for election in November. Clark has said repeatedly during his campaign that OID General Manager Steve Knell is the best water manager in the west. However, if OID has once again stumbled on one of the most fundamental elements of conducting public business, Knell’s actions will be hard to defend, as will those of OID general counsel Tim O’Laughlin.
Neither Knell nor O’Laughlin followed through on CEQA requirements for the proposed sale earlier this year. Now, with no question they’ve violated the spirit of the Brown Act, it appears they may have overlooked the letter of the law as well.
Ultimately, the OID Board of Directors must assume responsibility in such cases. Thus far, they appear to be missing in action.