CSD Holds Special Meeting On Solar

Posted: February 13, 2020
Newberry Springs Community Alliance
by Ted Stimpfel

Community members disrespected by board.

    On less than a one-day notice, the Newberry CSD called a Special Meeting on February 12, 2020, at 6 P.M. at the Newberry Springs' CSD building.

    Director Larry Clark was once again MIA having also missed the previous general meeting.

    Chairman Robert Springer and directors Vickie Paulsen, Jack Unger, and Paula Deel were present.

    In the audience were only six community residents who were able to attend despite the very late notice.  Before the meeting, in speaking with director Paula Deel, she said that the meeting was called by the CSD's attorney.  Deel would not disclose for what purpose.  This lack of CSD transparency has been creating a great divide between the CSD and the community.

    The audience had an opportunity to speak prior to the board going into a closed session where the board spoke via speakerphone with their attorney.

    The public speaking was led off by myself addressing the concern that the board might cave-in at the Superior Court ordered Mandatory Settlement Conference scheduled for March 9th.  As some possible mitigation factors have been discussed in the past that included project set-backs from the roads and possible tree lines, I expressed that such would have no effect on stopping fugitive silica dust.

    Carcinogenic silica dust can be 1/100th the size of a grain of sand.  It easily becomes airborne in winds and can quickly rise hundreds of feet over trees and stay suspended in the air for days.

    I also spoke of my concern for the average Newberry household and the emphasis that some directors seem to be placing more concern on representing the interest of a few large alfalfa farmers.  The farmers have been crying crocodile tears after having over-drafted our residential water table and are now facing severe ramp downs.

    A couple of the vocal farmers, at least one who doesn't even live in Newberry, favor selling out to the solar farm as a community exit strategy.  A couple of the directors seem to feel sorrier for these affluent farmers than the couple thousand Newberry residents who have their families in Newberry.

    In the CSD's attorney prepared Writ before the Superior Court, the Friends of Newberry Springs are co-Plaintiffs and Petitioners, and are identified as an unincorporated association comprising "of residents and property owners in Newberry Springs dedicated to protecting the quality of life and environmental health in the area."

    I requested that the board allow myself (Ted Stimpfel), Kathy Ridler of the Newberry Springs Property Owners Association, Bob Berkman of the Newberry based CEQA-Now, and possibly others represent the Friends of Newberry Springs.  The board members may have a legal conflict of interest in representing the "Friends."  The Newberry citizens' group that is identified in the Writ should have representatives.

    I made a specific request to the board that while in communication with their attorney, that they, "Make it happen."

    Further speaking was Gaye Burch who made a passionate request to the board not to mitigate, and Bob Berkman who spoke mostly on how Clearway Energy will not have the capability to control fugitive silica dust during the estimated 5-year construction period.

    Robert Shaw also spoke against a board settlement of the appeal.

    From the meeting's flag salute to the end of the public's input, it was 20-minutes.  The board then convened to private session for 53-minutes.

    Upon reopening the public session, Chairman Robert Springer simply announced that "No action taken... move to adjourn."

    I interrupted, requesting a report.  The board refused, claiming attorney-client privilege.  Chairman Robert Springer shut down the meeting.  This resulted in others in the audience angerly claiming contempt from the board which further escalated for a heated 30-seconds.  Director Jack Unger got particularly worked-up over complaints of the board's lack of transparency.

    The arrogance of the CSD towards the audience was indeed contemptuous and should have been better handled.  At a minimum, Chairman Robert Springer could have stated the topic of the subject matter discussed without disclosing any privileged details.  Instead, the audience was slapped with cold disrespect.

    The CSD board definitely did not want to reveal anything about their closed session.

    Under California law, attorney-client communications and attorney work product can be held as privileged.  This is necessary as attorneys are usually involved in sensitive matters involving public entities being sued or employee matters.  In this case, the citizens have the CSD representing them.  The audience was left wondering what is going on that the public's right to knowledge of the CSD's workings should be outweighed by a necessity for privilege.

    If the CSD is not going to settle at the Mandatory Settlement Conference, there is no true reason for privilege.

    If the CSD is planning to settle, and a settlement strategy is being planned, then yes, the attorney-client privilege is necessary to prevent the County from having prior knowledge.

    Or, has Clearway Energy secretly stepped in with a monetary offer to the CSD to sweeten a settlement.  Some board members are associated with community organizations that could greatly benefit them from large donations flowing to the Chamber or NSEDA or a new community center that directors Paula Deel, Jack Unger, and Vickie Paulsen have been highly promoting to demonstrate their worth.  Such offers selling-out the community would naturally warrant a call for secrecy.  Is that the reason for the attorney-client privilege being called?

    As the CSD board members continue to trample on open transparency, community minds will wonder.

    There is a needed balance between a public entity's privacy privilege and the public's State constitutional right to know the workings of their representatives.  What is currently underway does not give the community confidence in their CSD board which is looking more like the corruption of the County.

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