By David Handler, Daily Nexus, January 10, 1972
On Nov. 2 , Goleta voters elected a slate of three candidates to the Goleta County Water District who were pledged to limited growth of the Goleta Valley in the face of a water shortage.
At its Dec. 16 meeting, the directors voted 3-2 to retain Robert M. Jones as attorney for the district, despite the fact that Jones and former District Director Garrett Van Horne have both been accused by citizen Robert Behrens of conflict of interests relating to their water district activities.
Directors Dee Pagliotti and Harry Iddings, who did not face re-election in November, voted to retain Jones, as did one of the new directors, John McCord. Opposition came from the two other new members, Llana Sherman and Jose Martinez.
Concerned at McCord’s vote and afraid he might be backsliding from his campaign statements, the Isla Vista Community Council sent several representatives to Thursday night’s Water District meeting to make sure the anti-growth majority on the board of directors is abiding by its promises to the voters.
That question still remains in doubt.
McCord once again cast the deciding vote on a 3-2 decision, which approved the annexation of 415 acres of land located in Rancho Embarcadero into the district.
The directors had emerged about ten minutes before midnight from a 45 minute private executive session meeting. They said the meeting was necessary to discus an almost certain lawsuit against them by Wallover Inc., owner of the land in question, which would result if they did not annex the land by midnight — the end of the 35-day deadline.
However, it appeared obvious to the audience that the public vote which followed the private session was a mere formality, and that the directors had made up their minds on annexation in private.
Fred Eissler, a representative of the Sierra Club, challenged the board, saying their private meeting may have been a violation of the Brown Act (discussing public business in private session).
Jones insisted, however, the meeting was held only for the purpose of his advising the board of possible legal action if they did not annex the land.
Eissler said later he and several other individuals are researching the possibilities of citing the board of directors for violation of the Brown Act.
Explaining his vote, McCord said he ordinarily opposes annexations because it is morally wrong to promise water which the district doesn’t have, but that this is a peculiar case — the district has full control of any water development there.
He said if the land is not annexed, homes could be built on it, and a suit could force the district to provide water when the wells run dry.
Speaking for the opposition, Board President Martinez maintained that annexation will result in the owner reaping an immense profit because the value of the land will rise sharply.
Moreover, the annexation could conceivably be construed as another pressure for the district to develop sources of imported water for Goleta, but Martinez said it would be difficult to say just how great this pressure would be because the district has made no analysis of the area’s water requirements.
Of prime interest to Isla Vistans attending the meeting was a discussion concerning the water district’s payment of $850 to Robert Jones for a legal opinion he wrote — primarily for the press — on behalf of himself and Van Horne, maintaining their innocence of the conflict of interest charges.
A letter from IVCC, along with several Isla Vista speakers, demanded return of the $850, questioning how Jones could possibly offer a fair legal opinion on the matter since he had been included in the charges.
The board also read a letter written to them by attorney Richard Solomon for the legal collective of Eiden, Imhoff, Schlosser and Solomon, which said the board’s payment to Jones, “leaves the board open for a taxpayers’ suit to recover the illegally expended sum of $850.”
The letter continued: “There is a substantial body of evidence that this work done by Jones for Van Horne was a personal matter and cannot justifiably be distinguished from the work Jones does for Van Horne in his capacity as his personal attorney.”
“This evidence includes an oral statement by Director Dee Pagliotti at the Oct. 21, 1971 meeting of the Goleta County Water District at which Pagliotti was acting chairman. Pagliotti clearly stated that the letter from former Board President George W. Smith which Jones claims to authorize him to bill the board for the said opinion was ‘personal correspondence’ and ‘…not district business’.”
The letter from Smith, which wouldn’t be read publicly, that Jones considers his authorization for a legal opinion and subsequent payment reads as follows:
“Relative to the allegations contained in Robert L. Behren’s letter of Oct. 5, 1971, to Attorney General Evelle Younger, you are hereby authorized to write to Younger, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, urging an immediate investigation of all charges.
“Emphasis should be placed on obtaining the findings of this investigation prior to Nov. 2, 1972.”
No authorization for Jones’ opinion or payment was given in the letter, and according to Director Sherman, no written authorization exists.
The minutes from the Oct. 21 meeting mentioned in Solomon’s letter say the board requested Jones to submit his legal opinion on conflict of interest charges against himself and Van Horne. The tape used for the meeting, however, disagrees. Jones said District Manager, Robert Watson, previously asked him for a legal opinion and, he continued, “I propose that I will give you a legal opinion.” Pagliotti replied, “I think we’d better proceed the way you suggest.” No vote was taken.
Martinez felt “The authorization does exist. The question is that the board may have acted improperly.”
He moved to ask the county council [sic] if the prior board legally authorized Jones to write the opinion. If so, was this authorization proper, and if not, what action should the present board take?
The motion passed unanimously.
Gregg Knell, a legal worker for the collective, attempted to clarify the position expressed by the Eiden, Imhoff, Schlosser and Solomon collective in its letter.
Jones interrupted and asked him if he was the Gregg Knell whose name appeared on the letterhead.
When Knell replied he was, Jones asked him if he represented the firm. Knell affirmed this, but while he tried to explain to Jones the difference between a legal collective and a law firm, Jones turned to District Manager Robert Watson, who was seated next to him, and said, according to an observer seated in the front row, “Take this down carefully. I’m going to take them to the Bar Association in the morning.”
It is not known at this time whether or not Jones acted, but Knell thinks Jones may question their having non-bar members listed on a legal letterhead and charge their having written the letter only for political publicity.
To call Jones an influential attorney would be an understatement. Aside from being Van Horne’s personal attorney and attorney for the Goleta County Water District, he is the attorney for the Montecito and Carpinteria Water Districts and for the Montecito and Carpinteria Sanitation Districts.
He is a member of the law firm of Price, Postel and Parma, whose clients include Safeway Markets, Standard Oil, the Montecito Country Club (second largest water user on the Southern California coast), CoastalLemon Company (another large water user), Ambrose Lumber Company and four banks — Crocker-Citizens, United California, Security Pacific and Santa Barbara National, all of which deal in loans for land development.
Isla Vista resident Kate Carroll asked Jones how he arrived at the figure of $850 and what his hourly wages were.
Jones replied, “It was my understanding, Mr. Chairman (Martinez), from a telephone conversation I had with you, that the quality of the work and the amount charge would not be a topic for discussion here tonight.”
Director Sherman interjected, “Mr. Chairman, I would also like to know Jones’ hourly wages.”
Jones responded “I’ll be more than happy to discuss it with the board in executive session, but I am not here to engage in a public debate.”
Again gaining the floor, Carroll said, “I have a definite feeling that the board is kind of ignorant of how it spent $850 of my money. I’m very curious about where this money’s going o.”
Jones reply was, “I’ll furnish it to the board, but not to you.”