Ex-Huntington Beach mayor alleges water board member has conflict

Ex-Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook says Stephen Sheldon shouldn't vote on proposed desalination plant

Former Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook has filed a complaint with the state's political watchdog, alleging that a water district board member has a conflict of interest and should not be allowed to vote on a proposed desalination plant on the city's oceanfront.

Cook said in the Nov. 18 complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission that Stephen Sheldon should be barred from voting on any decisions regarding Poseidon Water, which has been trying since 2006 to build a nearly $1-billion desalination facility.

Sheldon, an Orange County Water District board member, used to do work for Poseidon as a public relations consultant.

Cook said she believes Sheldon still does work for Poseidon, through the public relations firm said he hasn't worked with the company since March 2013.

"We want clarification on [Sheldon's] employment relationship and whether he has a conflict of interest with regard to Poseidon," Cook said.

"I respect Ms. Cook raising fair public policy issues, but this is an unsubstantiated smear," said Sheldon, who represents parts of Irvine and Newport Beach on the water district board.

"Her facts are conveniently incorrect," he added. "I'm confident the FPPC will find that I properly recused myself from participation and followed the law."

Roger Faubel, the owner of the public relations firm, said Sheldon worked with him as a subcontractor from July 2009 to March 2013, when his contract expired. Both said they haven't worked together since.

Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni wrote in an email that he agrees with Faubel and Sheldon that Cook's allegations are "factually incorrect."

Poseidon wants to sell desalinated water from the proposed plant to the Orange County Water District.

The project is in limbo as Poseidon and the California Coastal Commission conduct physical and economic studies to determine whether subsurface water intakes can be used for the facility.

The FPPC is expected to take a couple of weeks to decide whether it should investigate Cook's complaint.

"If it's not a technical violation, I believe he crosses the ethical line," Cook said. "It just doesn't smell right."

anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

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