Thursday, August 2, 2012
The city of Pacific Grove and its mayor, Carmelita Garcia, have been getting cozy with the leader of a proposed water desalination project. And some are questioning how it might color P.G.’s role on the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, comprising the mayors of the six Peninsula cities.
Nader Agha, who calls his desal proposal “the People’s Project,” loaned Garcia’s campaign for state Assembly $40,000 last December through his Moss Landing Commercial Park LLC. When Garcia dropped her Assembly bid to run for county supervisor, the commercial park contributed $5,000 cash. Agha added another $100 and threw Garcia’s Election Night party, valued at $900. After losing that race, Garcia announced her bid for re-election as mayor.
The P.G. City Council is also nuzzling the mogul, who owns the landmark Holman Building on Lighthouse Avenue; Agha’s proposing to develop it into a hotel (see story, p. 8). On July 18, by a 5-2 vote with Garcia in the majority, the council approved a preliminary agreement to explore a public-private partnership with Agha on the People’s Project.
In its first five months, the fledgling water authority’s legal and administrative services were shared by the staffs of member cities. But in a July 5 memo, Monterey City Attorney Christine Davi urged the authority to retain independent counsel. One reason: to navigate potential conflicts of interest. “Conflicts could become more complicated should a member city partner with or back a water project,” she wrote.
The memo isn’t a legal opinion, Davi stresses, but rather a sampling of issues that would benefit from dedicated counsel. “P.G. partnering with the water project may add another element,” she says. “It’s something on the radar that should be looked at.”
The authority took her advice, adopting a 2012-13 budget of $245,000 that earmarks $80,000 for legal services. The P.G. council approved its $46,000 share to stay in the MPRWA for the year.
Garcia is being cautious. She sat out on June 28 when the authority’s technical advisory committee presented on its search for a consultant to help evaluate the three competing desal proposals.
“After the fact,” she says, “I was told there was no reason to recuse myself.”
As far as Agha’s campaign contributions go, Garcia says a Fair Political Practices Commission staffer advised her there’s no conflict until the People’s Project applies for its permits. (The FPPC has no related records on file.)
A formal P.G. partnership with Agha could create a bias, Garcia adds, but she would expect the city to drop out of the MPRWA in that case.