Dear Governor Brown:
I understand you are facing California’s budget crisis head on and I agree with your priority setting for the state: digging us out of the budget crisis is priority one through 100. However, on behalf of all of those that care about clean water in the Los Angeles region, we need your help. Making appointments to boards that don’t necessarily share your views on environmental protection is a high priority. Each month that goes by without your appointments could lead to a series of bad decisions.
For example, the Los Angeles Regional Water Board met on Thursday and one of its first orders of business was the approval of a new board chair. Typically, this is a pro-forma decision. The vice chair gets appointed to the chair leadership. Unfortunately, a Coastal Commission hearing broke out at the Simi Valley meeting with politics getting in the way of traditional policy. Every year for the last 10 years, the vice chair has become the chair. Until Thursday.
The highly respected, long-time board member Fran Diamond nominated Madelyn Glickfeld for the chair position because she had served as chair under Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz for the last two years. Madelyn is a former Assistant Secretary of Resources under Governor Davis and a Coastal Commissioner for nearly a decade. Also, she’s currently the Assistant Director for outreach and strategic initiatives for the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and she has taught at UCLA on water quality and coastal resource management issues in previous years. Clearly, Madelyn is highly qualified for the chair position, yet she was passed over in a highly political maneuver.
Instead, another board member, Steve Blois, a Ventura businessman with decades of construction experience, was nominated for the chair position by Maria Mehranian, the managing partner of the Cordoba Corp. Board member Blois accepted the nomination, which led to a very tense and contentious vote for chair.
In a scene reminiscent of the classic 1999 political satire “Election,” Glickfeld and Blois were forced to give speeches that were nearly as awkward as those given by Tracy Flick and the Metzler siblings. After the speeches, the Board split 3-3 with Diamond, Glickfeld and Stringer backing Glickfeld. Then there was another vote after an even more awkward discussion by Lutz and Mehranian about the merits of board member Blois and the unstated supposed shortcomings of Vice Chair Glickfeld.
By board members stating that Blois had technical expertise and experience, consensus building ability, and an aversion to micro-management, the implication was that Glickfeld didn’t possess those same skills: a ludicrous assertion in light of her three decades of water and coastal resources technical and policy experience, and her years as a consultant with numerous facilitation clients.
The discussion was ugly, political and atypical for the Regional Water Board. I should know. I’ve been to over 100 board meetings since 1986.
As you might gather, the board discussion didn’t solve anything. Another vote was taken – deadlocked at 3-3. I’m glad the vote was in public because who knows if teacher Jim McAllister would have miscounted the ballots privately.
The day was saved by the grace of Glickfeld. In order to break the deadlock, she graciously agreed to step aside and nominate Fran Diamond as interim chair. Diamond was approved on a 6-0 vote, but only after the very person who had been subjected to needless, public humiliation decided to be bigger than the unprofessional public debate that tarnished the board’s reputation. Glickfeld’s action demonstrated that no one person is bigger than the mission of the board – protecting water quality for aquatic life and the millions of people that live, work and recreate in the region.
Governor Brown, I urge you to put your stamp on the L.A. Regional Board as soon as you can. You have a long history of pragmatic, creative and effective environmental protection, and our region needs you to provide experienced people with leadership skills and an environmental ethic to the Regional Board. California needs a Brown State Water Board and Brown Regional Boards because while California’s water crisis may be No. 101 on your list of priorities for the state, it should still be at the very top of your to-do list.