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Court Papers Filed Over Actions by Watermaster

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Gabriel Valley water district has filed two petitions in Los Angeles Superior Court challenging the legality of an election held by the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster and the agency’s legislative lobbying efforts.

In petitions filed last week, the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District asked the court to order the watermaster to revamp its election procedures and to suspend results of the Nov. 6 board election until the district has been allowed to review the ballots.

In addition, the Upper District complained that the watermaster, which oversees water-pumping rights in the region, exceeded its authority by allowing $100,000 to be spent for lobbying, including $36,000 to defeat state legislation to form a local cleanup agency to solve the severe ground-water contamination in the San Gabriel Valley.

Superior Court Judge Florence T. Pickard is scheduled to hear the petitions Dec. 19.

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The Upper District, which arranges for delivery of imported water to the region, is taking an increasingly active role in the cleanup issue and complains that the watermaster is not acting aggressively enough in the cleanup.

The legal action was taken, “only because of the unresponsiveness” of the watermaster, said Royall K. Brown, a member of the Upper District board and one of its representatives on the nine-member watermaster board.

“The days of ‘back-room’ politics are over,” Brown said. “The watermaster needs to recognize that we are all accountable to the public.”

The watermaster was created by the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1973, and its operations--including its board membership--are monitored by the court.

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Watermaster Chairman Linn E. Magoffin said the petitions are “totally unjustified.”

The Nov. 6 election to pick six of the nine watermaster members, he said, was proper. The six board members are selected from those known as “producers,” those who pump water from the San Gabriel Basin and provide it for delivery.

“We don’t think there is any reason at all to be questioning the election,” Magoffin said. “It’s not anyone’s business who votes for whom.”

But Brown and others say the watermaster’s secret ballot voting process should be open to public inspection. More than 120 water-rights holders in the San Gabriel Valley are eligible to vote, and their votes are weighted based on the percentage of the region’s water rights they control.

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Watermaster officials denied a request by the Upper District to see a breakdown of how the water-rights holders voted and how they may have assigned proxies.

Magoffin said that even he as the chairman doesn’t get to see the breakdown. Only staff members of the watermaster, he said, are allowed to count the ballots, and they won’t divulge anything except who won.

In the matter of the lobbying, Magoffin said the watermaster simply wanted its best interests represented in Sacramento and has done nothing to violate its own procedures or any requirements set out by the court.


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