Public Records Reveal Eastern Municipal Water District Fronting San Diego Public Relations Campaign for Metropolitan Water District

Short Title
Records Reveal MWD Public Relations Campaign
Riverside County water agency sued for refusing to release public records

Public records show the Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County is funding a $15,000-per-month public relations campaign in San Diego County on behalf of the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

While limited information was provided under the California Public Records Act, Eastern water district officials redacted key information and refused to release all records to the public, forcing the San Diego County Water Authority to file a lawsuit on January 22 to obtain the records.

On Nov. 2, 2012, the Water Authority sent a public records request to Eastern for a copy of a public relations contract the agency had issued.  Eastern gave the Water Authority a copy of the contract (click here), but refused to turn over an accompanying document that detailed the scope of work for the public relations campaign in San Diego.

The Water Authority pressed Eastern to comply with state law.  Eastern then sent the scope of work but blacked out all the language for the services to be provided  by the consultant (click here). The Water Authority again pressed Eastern to comply with state law. Eastern then revealed some of the information it had previously redacted (click here). The unredacted information made it clear that the public relations campaign was being conducted “… on behalf of MWD and its member agencies.”

Eastern is still refusing to release to the public the rest of the information contained in the contract and other records sought by the Water Authority.  Although the Consulting Services Agreement with Eastern clearly describes the nature of the services to be provided as, “government and community relations strategy relative to local, regional and statewide policy issues,” Eastern has engaged lawyers to block disclosure of the rest of the contract under the guise of attorney-client privilege.

The Water Authority and Eastern both buy water from MWD, a wholesale water supplier for Southern California.  In 2010 and 2012, the Water Authority sued MWD claiming that its water rates and charges are illegal and overcharge ratepayers in San Diego County to the benefit of ratepayers in other parts of MWD’s service area, including Riverside County.  Those cases are pending in San Francisco Superior Court.

The California Constitution and state law require public agencies to promptly provide complete copies of documents, emails, calendars and other records relating to the conduct of the public’s business. 

"There is no legitimate legal basis for Eastern officials to hide a public relations contract from the public,” said Kelly A. Aviles, an attorney representing the Water Authority in the case.

“The fact that Eastern chose to join Metropolitan’s side in rate litigation with the Water Authority does not make every contract or document relating to San Diego exempt from disclosure and public scrutiny,” Aviles said.  “Indeed, the law makes it clear that the records requested by the Water Authority are public and subject to disclosure.  The Water Authority will move forward quickly to secure the earliest possible hearing date to obtain a court order compelling Eastern to release complete, unredacted documents.”

Aviles also serves as vice president of open government compliance for Californians Aware, a nonprofit group that helps the public understand how to hold government agencies and other public institutions accountable.

To read the complaint, click here.

To learn more about the California Public Records Act, visit: www.sunshinereview.org/index.php/California_Public_Records_Act#ixzz2HgZjpHmB.