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County prosecutors are trying to stop Carson's mayor from also serving on a water board

County prosecutors are trying to stop Carson's mayor from also serving on a water board
Carson Mayor Albert Robles also serves on the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County prosecutors are attempting to remove Carson Mayor Albert Robles from serving as a director on a regional water board, claiming in a lawsuit that holding both offices at the same time is a conflict of interest and violates California law.

It is the latest legal issue to confront Robles, recently part of a failed high-profile bid to land an NFL stadium in Carson. He is facing a separate inquiry from county prosecutors into his city of residence, which followed a Los Angeles Times report that raised questions about whether Robles lives in Carson or in the Adams-Normandie neighborhood of Los Angeles; Robles says his legal residence is in Carson.

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The lawsuit filed this week did not address the residency issue. In the suit, filed Monday and served to Robles on Tuesday, prosecutors asserted that one person cannot be mayor or a city councilman in Carson and be on the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. The district is responsible for replenishing groundwater in basins that supply water to the residents of Carson and nearly 4 million other people in southern L.A. County.

"The positions … are incompatible," Deputy Dist. Atty. Marian Thompson wrote in court papers. The water district and the city "have overlapping territory, duties and responsibilities, and a clash of duties is likely to arise in the exercise of both offices simultaneously."

Lawyers for the California attorney general's office said there is good reason for a court to decide whether Robles' two elected jobs are "legally incompatible," they wrote in an opinion requested by county prosecutors.

For instance, say the water district wanted to raise the tax on pumping groundwater. What would the elected official do? Sue in court to keep water bills low for Carson residents? Or back the water district's effort to fund replenishment of the groundwater basins?

There also could be a conflict in the Carson City Council's oversight of water and land use that could threaten the supply or quality of the groundwater. Would the official back a lawsuit against Carson to keep toxins away from groundwater? Or would he back the city's interest in fostering economic activity?

"These are examples of conflicting duties and loyalties that could arise," state lawyers wrote.

The attorney general's office cited a section of the state government code that says public officials "shall not simultaneously hold two public offices that are incompatible."

In a telephone interview, Robles disagreed with the county's and state's arguments, saying, "There is no law that prevents me from holding both offices.

"If the Legislature has a problem with it, then they should pass a law tomorrow that says you cannot hold both offices," said Robles, who has been on the water district board since 1992 and was first elected to the Carson City Council in 2013. He was selected by his colleagues to fill the mayor's seat on the council shortly after it became vacant in 2015.

Robles said there is no conflict in being both Carson mayor and on the water district board. For example, he said, Carson has no contracts with the water district, the city does not buy water from the district and the city has no groundwater rights to the district's basins. Robles said two private water companies receive water from the district and sell it to Carson residents.

State lawyers acknowledge that the water district does not sell water to Carson residents, does not directly set water rates, and has no rights to extract groundwater from district basins. But they said there are many other "conflicting duties and loyalties that could arise." They include the Carson City Council's power to deny the water district permission to build projects in Carson, or the water district's ability to sell water directly to Carson and its residents if it so desired.

Robles said the district attorney's office is targeting him because he is Latino.

Another Water Replenishment District board member also has a second elected job. Sergio Calderon has been on the water district board since 2006, representing a district that includes Maywood. In November, Calderon was elected back to the Maywood City Council, a job he quit in 2009 after county prosecutors raised questions about him holding both offices.

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The district attorney's office is reviewing Calderon's holding of both elected jobs, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. Calderon did not respond to a request for comment.

Robles is also facing an inquiry from the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces state ethics laws.

He came under scrutiny for failing to submit state-required disclosure statements for his political campaign finances and personal economic interests for both his elected jobs.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said Tuesday that the question of Robles' residency "remains under review."

In a Times report in September, Robles asserted that he lives in his parents' home in Carson, but said he spends most of his free waking hours with his wife and two children at their Adams-Normandie apartment in Los Angeles.

The Times reported that several current or former residents of the Adams-Normandie neighborhood said Robles has been a fixture there for many years.

Robles said he has lived in his parents' small Carson home since moving back here from the Bay Area in 2003. At that time, Robles said, he and his wife decided to live separately, even though they were in a loving marriage that later produced two children.

If Robles lives in Los Angeles, he would be ineligible to serve as Carson's mayor or sit on the board of the Water Replenishment District. He earned more than $100,000 in total compensation from the two posts in 2013.

Times staff writers Paul Pringle and Nathan Fenno contributed to this report.

Twitter: @ronlin

Twitter: @LATVives

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