|San Diego Education Report
|Otay Water District's legal costs by fiscal year (July to
"The claim alleges Bonilla directed Garcia and Sistos to perform legal services
for the Otay Water District in December 2000, months before the water district
board had hired the law firm. In fact, Bonilla himself hadn't even been sworn in
as a board member when he ordered the legal services to be performed.
"Nonetheless, the law firm submitted bills for more than $32,000 for the
months before it had been hired, and Griego and the board, led by Bonilla,
paid the bills in March 2001."
Otay Water District's legal advice keeps
getting more expensive
In yet another example of the Otay Water District's irresponsibility toward ratepayers, board
members have agreed to pay the legal costs for defending their own
outside attorneys in a ratepayer's lawsuit against the district.
Got that? Otay board members are paying for attorneys to defend their attorneys. They have no choice.
At a November 2001 meeting, in a move that legal experts say was highly unusual for a public
agency, board members voted to give the Los Angeles law firm of Burke, Williams & Sorensen
blanket indemnity from any legal action brought by anybody against the firm for its advice or its actions
on behalf of the district.
Usually, when an outside law firm represents a public agency, either the firm indemnifies the agency
against bad legal advice or both sides agree that each will be held harmless. But not at Otay.
Among a half dozen legal actions and complaints pending against the district is a false-claims
lawsuit against board member Jaime Bonilla, General Manager Bob Griego, the firm of Burke,
Williams & Sorensen, and two Burke attorneys, Bonifacio Garcia and Roberta Sistos. The claim
alleges Bonilla directed Garcia and Sistos to perform legal services for
the Otay Water District in December 2000, months before the water
district board had hired the law firm. In fact, Bonilla himself hadn't even
been sworn in as a board member when he ordered the legal services to
Nonetheless, the law firm submitted bills for more than $32,000 for the
months before it had been hired, and Griego and the board, led by Bonilla, paid the bills
in March 2001.
The false-claims lawsuit says that money should be repaid to the water district, plus damages and
Garcia and Sistos are closely linked to Bonilla. On the first meeting after Bonilla was sworn in, he
helped engineer the firing of the water district's in-house counsel. Burke, Williams & Sorensen
was retained shortly thereafter. The district has paid the law firm over $1 million and perhaps as
much as $2 million over the past 2 1/2 years. Now, the water district board is paying other legal
counsel to represent the law firm and board members for actions taken by the district on advice
from Burke, Williams & Sorensen.
Legal experts say the indemnity given to Burke, Williams & Sorensen by the
Otay Water District is far from normal procedure for public agencies. Most
lawyers would not ask to be released from liability for advice rendered to a
client. And why would any client, especially a public agency supported entirely
by ratepayer dollars, agree to such a deal? What kind of legal advice is Otay
receiving if its attorneys won't stand behind that advice without indemnity?
Garcia says the indemnity clause is perfectly legal and within the rules of
professional conduct. He has a letter from Escondido attorney Ellen Peck,
dated yesterday, saying as much.
But Burke, Williams & Sorensen does not have the same indemnity clause with
its other major South Bay client, the Sweetwater Union High School District.
Attorney Dan Shinoff, who is now representing Otay in the
false-claims lawsuit, said he has seen such indemnity clauses
before. But when asked if he had such indemnity from the
district for his legal work, his answer was no.
The indemnity clause could become very costly to Otay ratepayers. The turmoil at the district
already has produced a lot of legal action, and more may be forthcoming. If Otay's pricey outside
attorneys are responsible for giving legal advice that results in harm to the district, ratepayers
will foot the bill. It's just more bad news from the Otay Water District.
San Diego Union-Tribune, June 19, 2003
More information can be found here.
Otay Water District settles lawsuit with ex-workers
By Anne Krueger
San Diego Union Tribune
April 7, 2007
The Otay Water District has reached a settlement of more than $371,000 with six
former employees who claimed they lost their jobs in early 2001 because of a scheme
to replace them with Latinos.
With the $371,250 settlement, only a lawsuit by the district's former attorney, Tom
Harron, remains pending from a time that Otay's general manager Mark Watton has
called “the dark days,” when the district was filled with dissension and legal tangles.
The district board approved the settlement in closed session Wednesday afternoon.
The district continues to deny any wrongdoing but said it agreed to the settlement to
avoid further litigation.
The water district serves a population of about 190,000 in southern El Cajon, La Mesa,
Rancho San Diego, Jamul, Spring Valley, Bonita, eastern Chula Vista and Otay Mesa.
The settlement was reached with former Otay employees Donna Bartlett-May, Clarence
Cassens, James Clements, Michael Coleman, Mona Favorite-Hill and Janice Tubiolo.
Favorite-Hill is African American, the others are white.
All the dismissed employees except Tubiolo lost their jobs in early 2001 in what was
described as a structural reorganization. Tubiolo, who served as water conservation
coordinator, retired in March 2001 because she claimed district officials made it
impossible for her to do her job.
A state administrative law judge ruled in November 2002 that Otay wrongly dismissed
the five employees, and the water district was forced to pay more than $675,000 in
back pay, said their attorney, James Gattey.
The former employees then sued in federal court, alleging they were told they were
dismissed because of a reduction in workers, but that they were replaced by five Latino
associates or former employees of board member Jaime Bonilla.
Bonilla has denied that racial bias played any part in the employment decisions.
The federal suit was dismissed, and a similar suit was filed in San Diego Superior Court.
This settlement ends that lawsuit and any other potential litigation.
Otay Water District
This is EXACTLY the question that
the San Diego Union Tribune
asked in June of 2003 after it
discovered that the deeply corrupt
Otay Water District had
indemnified its lawyers.
Why would a public agency dole
out taxpayer dollars to protect
outside lawyers for their
Indemnifying your own
Here is a quote from a San Diego
Union Tribune editorial about
Otay Water District:
"Usually when an outside law
firm represents a public agency,
either the law firm indemnifies
the agency against bad legal
advice or both sides
agree that each will be held
"Legal experts say [that
indemnification of lawyers] is a
far from normal procedure for
Most lawyers would not ask to be
released from liability for advice
rendered to a client."
[Maura Larkins: But that is exactly
what Bonifacio Garcia of Williams
Sorenson law firm demanded; when
he was sued for his actions, the
ratepayers had to defend them!]
The Union Tribune editorial
ended with two questions:
"(1) ...Why would any client,
especially a public agency,
supported entirely by [tax]
payer dollars, agree to such a
"(2) "What kind of legal advice
is [a public agency] receiving if
its attorneys won't stand behind
that advice without indemnity?"
I ask you, what is going on here?
It is doing this to help keep
individuals who are guilty of
wrongdoing in control of the
Until you disavow the practice of
indemnifying outside lawyers, I
will be left wondering: What can
you possibly be thinking?
As a customer of Otay Water District, one of the most corrupt public entities in San
Diego, I am still paying for the huge bills that Bonny Garcia of Burke Williams Sorenson
started generating BEFORE the Otay Water District authorized him to do the work.
Eastlake store owners sue
over sewage water
CHULA VISTA: Store owners at
an Eastlake business park who
discovered that recycled sewage
water was flowing through their
taps have sued the Otay Water
District, Chula Vista and their
The owners of Candy Bouquet, a
gift store that closed in
November, filed their lawsuit
Wednesday. Attorney Anthony
Dain, who represents the store,
said other business owners were
filing similar suits this week.
In August, owners of the 17
stores at the Fenton Business
Center discovered they had been
getting treated sewage water in
their pipes for two years because
a recycled-water pipe had been
connected to a meter for drinking
water. The problem was
corrected, but store owners at the
park said their businesses
suffered. Another store, Dream
Dinners, also closed.
The lawsuits allege that Otay
failed to assure the waterlines
were correctly connected and
that Chula Vista improperly
approved the flawed plans.
Otay General Manager Mark
Watton said he could not
comment because he has not
seen the lawsuits. He said Otay
has settled 60 claims in
connection with the incident.
Could it have been that the auditor wasn't going along to get along?
Firing of Otay Water District auditor upheld
By Anne Krueger
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
October 7, 2003
A Superior Court jury decided in favor of the Otay Water District yesterday in a lawsuit brought by the
district's former auditor.
Ruben Rodriguez claimed he was wrongfully fired after he was told to investigate questionable
hirings and massive legal bills.
By a 9-3 vote, the jurors said the district's board had good reason to fire Rodriguez in July 2001. The
verdict came after about four hours of deliberation yesterday.
The district's lawyer, Bonifacio "Bonny" Garcia, said the verdict restores the reputation of the Otay
district. The firing of Rodriguez came at a time when Otay's board was in turmoil, with one member
removed from office, another quitting in disgust and a restraining order issued against a third.
"For two years, we have been subjected to rumors, innuendos and lies," Garcia said. "The jury saw
through all the baloney and came to the right result."
Rodriguez's case was the first of several lawsuits filed by disgruntled former Otay employees to
come to trial. Rodriguez said he was disappointed with the verdict, but pleased that the district's
problems were brought to light in court.
"People are going to see the problems in the district. They are not going to go away," he said.
The water district serves more than 140,000 customers from Chula Vista to southern El Cajon.
After the verdict, jurors raised questions about the management of the water district after hearing
testimony from board members and district employees.
"I wouldn't want to work in that district if they paid me all the money in the world," said juror Alfonso
Rivera of East San Diego, who voted in favor of Rodriguez.
Juror Sheryl Thomas of Point Loma, who voted in favor of Otay, said jurors had to weigh the
credibility of the witnesses who testified.
"There's corruption," she said. "Both sides had some improprieties going on."
Thomas said jurors largely disregarded testimony about a $1 million bribe that was supposedly
offered to three board members in exchange for their vote on a power-line transmission project. She
said the testimony was irrelevant to the case involving Rodriguez.
Juror John Lockwood, a retired San Diego city manager, said the testimony highlighted the
problems that beset Otay's board at the time.
"For a several-month period, it was a very dysfunctional family," he said.
Rodriguez, who lost his bid for a seat on Otay's board in a coin toss, was selected in February 2001
to serve as Otay's auditor.
Rodriguez's attorney, Dale Larabee, said Rodriguez was told to investigate $120,000 in legal bills
from the district's attorneys and the district's hiring of business associates and former employees of
new board member Jaime Bonilla.
In July 2001, the board fired Rodriguez on a 3-2 vote, with board members Fred Cardenas and Tony
Attorney Chris Carlton, representing Otay, said Rodriguez was fired because an investigation
showed he lied about his education on his resumé. Cardenas, who with Inocentes interviewed
Rodriguez for the job, said Rodriguez admitted in his interview that he didn't have a college degree.
Carlton said the investigation also showed that Rodriguez wrote a $1,250 check to a nonexistent
company. Larabee said the check was written to a consultant for work authorized by board members.
The jury also unanimously threw out claims that Otay's general manager Robert Griego defamed
Rodriguez after he was fired by calling him crooked. In a 9-3 vote, the jury also found that
Rodriguez was not defamed by Bonilla.
Otay Water District Settles with its former attorney
San Diego Union Tribune
October 4, 2007
SPRING VALLEY: The Otay Water District has reached a settlement of nearly $700,000 with its former
attorney, who claimed he was wrongfully fired in 2001 from the job he had held for nine years.
The district board approved the settlement yesterday with Tom Harron, who now works as a deputy
county counsel. The settlement calls for Harron to be paid $372,000, plus retirement benefits he would
have received. The district also paid $300,000 for Harron's attorney fees.
Harron said he could not comment except to note that the settlement included an apology from the
Harron filed suit in San Diego Superior Court after he was fired in January 2001, during a time when
the district struggled with employee dissension and legal problems. Six other workers fired in early
2001 reached a $371,000 settlement in April.
“We're pretty happy to have this all behind us,” Otay general manager Mark Watton said.
All is not well at Otay Water District
San Diego Union-Tribune, January 22, 2004
Board members of the Otay Water District claim a recent state study shows that all its problems are
in the past, or, at least, can be blamed on board members who have since departed.
But that's simply not true. The district continues to incur millions of dollars in legal expenses, and
will pay even more attorney bills in the future, due to ongoing managerial problems. And one
board member who has been the focus of some of those problems, and therefore some of the
lawsuits, is still on the board today -- Jaime Bonilla.
... The report noted that Otay has experienced the highest employee turnover rates and legal
expenses of any water agency in southern San Diego County. It recommends that the district improve
its personnel practices, seeking outside professional help to create a better atmosphere between
management and employees. The report also urges that Otay require training for its board and
management in the state's open meeting law. The commission found that some of the complaints
about the board and management are outside of its purview, and so they have been referred to
the county grand jury, district attorney and state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Otay's continuing legal bills show that much is still amiss. The LAFCO report quotes Otay officials
as claiming that a spike in legal costs was due to past problems, and that legal costs should
diminish now that those problems are in the past. Those statements were recorded no later than
early 2003, and probably in 2002.
However, a check register from the Otay Water District last fall shows nearly $1 million in fees
paid for legal services in a 50-day period. For a small water district with a $36 million budget, such
legal bills are extreme and eventually will hurt customer service if they continue.
And the district's biggest legal challenges still lie ahead. Long-time Otay legal counselor Tom Harron,
now chief deputy county counsel, has a pending lawsuit against Otay and board member Jaime
Bonilla claiming racial discrimination, defamation and wrongful termination. In a federal lawsuit, six
other former employees allege discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation for labor activities.
That federal suit also names Bonilla as a defendant. There's another discrimination lawsuit pending
by an ex-employee and yet another one waiting to be filed.
Otay's claim that all its problems are in the past is belied by these lawsuits and by the fact that
Bonilla, who is named in several suits, remains a powerful board member. The water district is not
only paying legal fees for itself, but also for Bonilla and other district officials named in suits...
The LAFCO study did not harshly criticize the Otay Water District, because the study was a service
review, and Otay's water service has not been seriously affected by its management or legal
problems -- yet. But the Otay Water District is a public agency and therefore must be held to higher
scrutiny than whether the water flows. We hope the grand jury, district attorney and Fair Political
Practices Commission will also take a hard look at this troubled public agency.
San Diego Reader
By Nancy Fay
June 13, 2002
Even in a town where every month some
major or minor political figure is caught
with a conflict or an unreported loan or a
few unpaid bills or some back taxes, Tony
Inocentes stands alone.
Since his election to the Otay Water
District board eight years ago, Inocentes
has been accused of kidnapping,
spousal abuse, threats against fellow
board members, violence, harassment,
unpaid bills, loan fraud, bankruptcy fraud,
perjury, delinquent taxes, mental
instability, and lots of other not-so-good
Friends -- now former friends -- of Tony
Inocentes still can't figure out how his
once-promising career as a director of
one of the largest -- and richest -- water
districts in California went so wrong so
Many of them gathered at a May 1
meeting of the Otay Water District in
Spring Valley to ask -- plead -- that the
now-disgraced Inocentes resign.
"I regret to ask for the resignation of Mr.
Inocentes," said Pedro Morena, a former
supporter and one of 25 Otay Water
ratepayers in attendance to urge
Inocentes's resignation. "But for the good
of the district, as well as the good of his
family and himself, Mr. Inocentes must
Morena was referring to a string of
incidents involving Inocentes going back
to his first election to the board eight
The bizarre episodes culminated on May
1, when a Superior Court judge granted a
restraining order to all of Inocentes's
fellow board members and the head of
the Otay Water District, barring Inocentes
from harassing or even talking to them or
to district staff outside of board meetings.
In documents supporting the restraining
order, Inocentes made "physical threats
by bringing his adult son" to a March 15
meeting with him, said Bob Griego,
general manager of the district. "His
son's aggressive remarks left no doubt
that I would be subject to physical
violence at a later time."
Other board members reported receiving
dozens of phone calls throughout last
year and the first three months of this
year, many with the sound of someone
kissing -- the kiss of death, said San
Diego police officer and gang expert Felix
Aguirre. "This was a very serious and
According to court records, Inocentes
threatened fellow board member Jaime
Bonilla after an October 2001 meeting,
accusing Bonilla of reporting Inocentes's
alleged misconduct to state and federal
authorities. "You ought to know what
happens to snitches," Inocentes allegedly
told Bonilla. "Snitches disappear. Don't
be surprised if something happens to
you. Don't be surprised."
Aguirre was alarmed by the threat. "The
term 'snitch' is common in gang culture
and would indicate a threat to Mr. Bonilla,"
said Aguirre. "In gang culture, this is
probably the most dangerous term to
utter to another."
Inocentes's son Tony Jr. is a known
member of the Old Town National City
gang, a well-established Mexican street
gang with a history of violence, Aguirre
said. "And Mr. Tony Inocentes Jr. has a
tattoo on his chest that reads 'Old Town
National City.' "
Bonilla's office had been vandalized and
gang graffiti with the letters OTNC
scrawled on the windows. Aguirre called
the defacement "gang graffiti."
Bonilla told police he suspected
Inocentes and his son were behind the
criminal acts. "Inocentes has also
bragged that his son is a bodyguard for
the Arellano-Felix cartel and that his son
can take care of business," Bonilla said
in a Chula Vista police report of the
Despite at least five depositions alleging
threats and harassment, despite phone
records that match dozens of calls from
Inocentes's home to the phones of board
members at the same time they were
reporting obscene and threatening
messages, Inocentes and his son deny
they ever threatened or harassed anyone.
The allegations, Inocentes said, were the
work of his "political enemies."
But the claims of Inocentes and his son
were not helped when, the night before
the hearing to make the temporary
restraining order permanent, Tony Jr. was
arrested (with blood reportedly still
dripping from his hands for what police
first called a gang-related attempted
murder in National City but now are
calling an assault). Because the younger
Inocentes was incarcerated in the
downtown county jail, he was unable to
show up for the hearing contesting the
allegations that he had threatened
violence against members of the Otay
A Superior Court judge did grant the
restraining order against the elder
Inocentes. At another hearing two weeks
later in the same court, with members of
the National City police gang detail in the
audience and prepared to testify, the
younger Inocentes agreed to the
three-year restraining order.
Before his son was arrested, Inocentes
told the Chula Vista Star-News on April 15
that the charges against him were "an
attempt to muddy me up before the
[election] filing period. They want to make
me look bad. There's a strong possibility
if I don't run, my son will run. And this is
their way of killing two birds with one
His tone hardly changed even after his
son was charged with the gang-related
assault, telling the San Diego
Union-Tribune on April 16 that his son
was in the wrong place at the wrong time
and that his arrest was "irrelevant" to their
pending hearing on threats of violence
against fellow board members.
This was not the younger Inocentes's first
brush with the law. In November 2000,
the 21-year-old Inocentes was a
candidate for a seat on the Sweetwater
Union High School District board when
the San Diego Union Tribune reported he
had just been released from the custody
of the California Youth Authority less than
a year before.
"Inocentes was committed to the CYA on
weapon charges June 21, 1996, and
discharged from parole this February 28,"
the Union-Tribune reported. "When asked
about his reputed criminal history during
an interview last month for a story on the
board election, Inocentes would neither
confirm nor deny that he had a CYA
record. Inocentes was sentenced in 1996
under penal code sections dealing with
possession of weapons at school and
making threats. Contacted again
yesterday, Inocentes said he took a small
knife to school. He said he served 18
months in a CYA facility in Ventura."
Although juvenile records are sealed,
Teresa Mata, the mother of Tony Jr.'s son,
submitted a sworn statement in a
paternity case where she filled in some of
the details of Tony Jr.'s violent past:
In 1992, Tony Jr., after being expelled
from Bonita Vista Junior High School,
re-entered the campus and assaulted a
student with an ice pick. He was
incarcerated at Juvenile Hall in San
Diego, then released to his father's
In 1993, Tony Jr. assaulted a teacher with
a chair at Summit School (a continuation
school for children who have been
expelled) and was incarcerated at Campo
In July 1994, Tony Jr. was taken into
custody by the Chula Vista Police
Department for possession of a
concealed firearm. He was returned to
California Youth Authority and later
transported to St. John's School for boys
at Palm Springs for about six months.
In May 1996, Tony Jr. battered Teresa --
an attack he describes in a sworn
declaration on file with the court as a
"physical altercation." Tony Jr. said the
fight occurred because he was
"embarrassed and disappointed" by
Teresa's arrest for shoplifting a $3 baby
shirt. He was arrested and returned to the
custody of CYA at Paso Robles for a
period of 18 months and was released in
On February 28, 1998, Tony Jr. again
violated his probation by attacking his
father and was returned to the CYA. He
was released in April 1999 and began to
stalk Teresa, "culminating when
Respondent (Teresa) called the Sheriff's
office in Lemon Grove after Petitioner
(Tony Jr.) threatened to kill her and kidnap
the child," court records show. She called
the police to report that Tony Jr. had
threatened to kill her and to kidnap their
child. He evaded arrest from April 1999
until August 1999, when he was arrested
and returned to CYA. He was released
from custody on February 14, 2000.
The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.
Court records also show that in April
1998, the elder Tony Inocentes was
arrested for kidnapping and assault on
his then-wife, Esther. In another
restraining order, Esther says that she
was "afraid for my life" after Tony
Inocentes found her at Casa Salsa
restaurant in National City and
"unexpected, came from behind and
dragged me physically and threw me into
Inocentes "took me to the house and
started to harass me, pushing me and
grabbing me. He put bruises all over my
hands and arms and cut my hand. He is
mentally and physically unstable. He has
stalked and abused me in the past."
Inocentes was released on $50,000 bail
after Ian Gill, a contractor who does
business with the district, including
building their new headquarters, gave
Inocentes $5000 to meet bail, public
Later in 1998 he signed a statement that
his declaration about his wife to the court
was "all false."
The charges were dropped one month
later, after Inocentes agreed to get
counseling for his "mental state." And
after he agreed to repay to his wife --
co-owner of his consulting business --
half of the money Inocentes received from
Gill for his bail.
Inocentes had claimed that the bail
money was actually part of a consulting
agreement he had with the contractor and
was not a payoff of any kind, he said,
despite the claims of his political
opponents to the contrary.
One of the names of the business and
political consulting firm is K.A. Strategies,
with the K.A. standing for Kick Ass. They
claim to have run the successful
opposition to the recent (unsuccessful)
Chula Vista City Council campaign of
Otay Water general manager Bob Griego.
In another curious incident, Inocentes
once supported an "anonymous"
newsletter during the November 2000
elections and reported board members
who were involved in criminal acts, while
painting himself as a ratepayers' hero.
One headline in the newsletter claimed
the water board was lending money to a
landowner with illegal ties to a board
member. Another headline claimed a
board member received money for
attending a meeting that he supposedly
never attended. Both allegations were
found to be untrue.
The newsletter was nominally edited by a
man known to National City police as
gang member Emmanuel Sotelo. In
October 2001, Sotelo's editing career was
cut short after he was shot dead by police
after throwing away a gun and running
during a police stop. Although National
City police told reporters Sotelo was a
member of the OTNC, after the shooting,
Inocentes told reporters Sotelo was a
"great kid" and asked his fellow
boardmembers to observe a minute of
silence in memory of the person who
edited the paper that said it was
published by "Old Time Neighborhood
At the May 1 meeting of the water board,
gang expert Aguirre pointed out the
Inocentes even sued his own district for
defamation in the year 2000, demanding
$2 million in damages because fellow
board members were speaking out
publicly about his improprieties. The case
was thrown out of court. Inocentes's
lawyer is still seeking his legal fees of
$80,000 and now has claims against
Inocentes in bankruptcy court for $80,000
in legal bills.
Steve McCue, Inocentes's former attorney,
filed claims in bankruptcy court last
March, where he says that not only does
Inocentes owe him legal fees, he says
Inocentes is hiding substantial consulting
income from the court.
Inocentes has "concealed, destroyed,
mutilated, falsified, or failed to keep or
preserve recorded information from which
defendant's financial condition and
business transactions might be
ascertained," McCue told the court.
"Inocentes purposely and intentionally
receives consideration for his consulting
services on a cash-only basis with the
express intent to conceal and hide his
consulting transactions and the income
Inocentes's own e-mail to water district
officials seems to back up his former
lawyer's claims. While his bankruptcy
filings and statements of economic
interests list only his salary as a director
and his reimbursable expenses as his
only income -- which last year was
$29,000 -- Inocentes, in a February 13
e-mail to Susan Cruz, an employee of the
Otay Water District, asks that an
appointment to discuss redistricting be
set around his schedule because he has
"a consulting contract with a City in L.A.
I'm in the middle of for the next 90 days.
Also, I am planning to go to Mexico City,
Hawaii, and China on business soon."
If Inocentes did indeed receive income
from these clients, this would cause
additional problems because, by law,
Inocentes is required to disclose his
assets and income, as are all public
officials in California.
Other creditors, including the state and
federal government, have filed liens and
obtained judgments against him. In
November, the IRS filed a lien for $11,004
for back taxes. In December 2001, the
State Franchise Tax Board also filed a
lien to garnish Inocentes's wages for
$27,570 in back taxes. On May 18, 2001,
former board members Mark Watton and
Susan Price also filed a wage
garnishment to collect legal fees they had
been awarded after Inocentes
unsuccessfully sued them.
In 1997, Inocentes's wages were
garnished to satisfy an $1127 small
claims judgment. At least two separate
court orders to pay back child support
were also entered into public records in
November 1999, though the documents
do not reveal the amounts.
Meanwhile, public records show that in
2001, Inocentes collected more money
from the water district in salary and
expenses than all the other directors
combined. His $29,369 in salary and
expenses was 52 percent of the total
money -- $56,471 -- that all the directors
received last year.
Inocentes was also involved in the
strange case of the National City
councilman, Fred Soto, an attorney who
resigned from the state bar in August
2000 after allegations of fraud and
misuse of clients' funds.
Soto took $11,000 from National City bar
owner Evelyn Jones to represent her in
negotiations with the family of the bar's
former owners. After the family members
contacted Jones directly, asking for their
money, Jones confronted Soto, asking
why the family had not received the
$11,000, said the San Diego Filipino
newspaper Diario Veritas.
Soto did not return Jones's calls for
weeks, saying he was in Europe, but
upon his return, admitted he had not paid
the money to where it was supposed to
Soto and Inocentes delivered a check for
$5000 to Jones, promising to repay the
rest later. When news of the alleged
scam became public, Inocentes claimed
his friend had not defrauded his client but
instead had merely taken out a loan from
"Liar," said Jones of Inocentes.
In taking a page from his own play book,
Inocentes then said the charges against
Soto were politically motivated to stop
Soto from running for another term. Like
Inocentes, Soto even filed a defamation
suit against his colleagues on the
National City City Council. The suit was
As the allegations mount against
Inocentes, his family, and his friends, so
do the chances that Inocentes will never
seek reelection to another term this
November. In the meantime, Inocentes
has missed the last three Otay Water
Board meetings, perhaps meeting with
his court-ordered anger counselor,
suggested one wag at the last Otay Water
Years of allegations and charges against
Inocentes have caused him to lose much
of the institutional support he enjoyed as
a member of the San Diego Hispanic
community. The local papers that once
loved to hear him rail against the racism
that was keeping him -- and by extension
other Hispanics -- down are now
shunning his articles.
This is one of the reasons why three
years ago, Inocentes suddenly
discovered his long-lost Filipino roots,
friends say. And since then, he has been
publishing articles in the Filipino News, a
San Diego publication. And he has taken
a leadership position in the Filipino
Chamber of Commerce on the board of
He is their auditor.
When asked if she was familiar with
Inocentes's long record of financial
irregularities in business and politics,
chamber president V.L. Vinson said she
didn't care about that. "I'm a Christian and
we do not believe in judging people."
Other members of the Filipino community
are alarmed that this fox is guarding the
henhouse. "It is truly a shame that
Inocentes and his family have brought
such disgrace to a position of such trust
and honor," said Carol Santos outside a
meeting of the Otay Water Board in May.
"We Filipinos are especially hurt,
because Inocentes used his Filipino
heritage as part of his disgrace. If he has
any honor left and any hope of saving his
family, he will resign." Tony Inocentes
says that will never happen.
(Inocentes was reached once but was
unavailable for comment and did not
return subsequent calls.)
See all blog posts about Bertha Lopez.
Law firm gets caught between agencies
Otay water district’s attorney steps aside, stays on with Sweetwater schools
By Tanya Sierra
January 5, 2011
A law firm that represents two South Bay governments, a school board and a water district, has had
to drop one because of an apparent dispute between the agencies.
Garcia Calderon Ruiz, LLP, has tendered its resignation to the Otay Water District board after 10
years, in a letter saying partners had “been placed in the middle of adversarial relationships that
have developed between members of the Otay board of directors and the board of trustees of the
Sweetwater Union High School District.”
The firm would not elaborate.
The president of the Otay water board, Jaime Bonilla, said he may have caused the rift by making
an offhand comment to one of the attorneys at the firm.
Bonilla is friends with Bertha Lopez, a board member of the Sweetwater Union High School District
who is being sued by a district admistrator who accuses her of meddling in the alternative
education department. Lopez says she was just doing her due diligence as a board member.
Bonilla commented to a Garcia Calderon Ruiz attorney that he thought Lopez was being treated
Bonilla said he was later informed by the law firm that Sweetwater officials issued an ultimatum —
either Otay went away as a client, or Sweetwater would.
The firm chose to drop Otay, which also has Bertha's husband Jose Lopez on its board.
The decision will cost the firm about $500,000 a year from Otay, but will allow it to keep making
about $1 million a year representing the Sweetwater schools.
Sweetwater’s legal budget is $750,000, but it paid the law firm $1.2 million two years ago and at
least $904,000 last year.
OTAY WATER DISTRICT RETAINS STUTZ, ARTIANO,
SHINOFF & HOLTZ AS GENERAL COUNSEL
The Board of Directors of the Otay Water District has selected the law firm of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff &
Holtz as its general counsel. The unanimous vote came today at a special meeting of the Board of
Directors. The initial length of the appointment is one year.
“The District has had a good relationship with Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz and we are happy to
have them representing the District as its general counsel,” said Board President Jaime Bonilla.
“They have the full support of the Board and we hope to have a long relationship with them.”
The selection became necessary after the previous law firm tendered its resignation to the Otay
Water District Board earlier this month.
The Otay Water District is a public agency distributing water to more than 206,000 customers within
approximately 125 square miles of southeastern San Diego County, including the communities of
Spring Valley, La Presa, Rancho San Diego, Jamul, eastern Chula Vista and Otay Mesa.
Otay board members use district's attorney without
By Wendy Fry
March 29, 2011
CHULA VISTA — Two Otay Water District board members used the agency’s
attorney at an Ethics Commission hearing in Chula Vista without formal
authorization from the board, according to several district officials.
[Maura Larkins' comment: It appears that this attorney failed to advise the two board
members that ethics required they get permission for him to represent them regarding
Board President Jaime Bonilla said the decision was made by himself, board
member David Gonzalez, a former water district attorney and the general manager of
the Otay Water District.
According to a clerk, the item was never listed on the agenda for the Otay Water
District board to consider. No vote to authorize legal representation for Bonilla
and Gonzalez at the ethics hearing ever took place, according to district
secretary Susan Cruz.
Bonilla maintains the representation was legal because lawyer Daniel Shinoff was
hired as the water board’s attorney at a Jan. 11 public meeting.
At issue is a complaint filed by Bonilla and Gonzalez, who claimed that
business consultant Chris Shilling made derogatory comments about the two
during last fall’s election campaign. Those statements damaged the relationship
between Chula Vista and the Otay Water District, the complaint states.
Shilling was defeated by Gonzalez, ex-Padre Adrian Gonzalez’s brother.
Bonilla and Gonzalez filed the complaint on Nov. 19 with the Chula Vista Ethic
Commission — a board on which Shilling serves. Shilling recused himself from
considering the item; the commission voted on March 16 to drop the complaint.
“This is just typical South Bay politics at its worst,” Bonilla said. “This notion that if you’
re on the ethics board then you are squeaky clean is propaganda.”
On Friday, Bonilla said the water board came to a consensus during a closed-
door session that Shinoff should represent the Otay board at the Ethics
Commission meeting, but no vote was officially taken.
However, board member Mark Robak said he was unaware that Bonilla and
Gonzalez decided to use an attorney to handle the situation.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Robak said when asked about the matter. “I’ve heard
them express concerns about what happened during the elections, but them taking it
to the next level, I had not heard that.”
He added: “I suppose I’m concerned. I need to know how much it cost.”
Bonilla called Monday and said he had looked back through his notes and found that
the board had not, in fact, discussed legal representation for the ethics meeting;
instead, it was decided between himself, Gonzalez and a former attorney with the
law firm of Garcia Calderon Ruiz [Maura Larkins comment: this must have
been Bonny Garcia], who represented the Otay Water District at the time. Shilling
has filed a complaint with the public integrity unit of the District Attorney’s office
accusing Otay Water District board members of violating the state’s open meetings
law when they discussed the matter.
Shinoff has not said how much he was paid to provide the board members
with legal representation.
Attorneys Daniel Shinoff, Jeffery Morris and Richard
Romero to Serve as General Counsel Team to Otay
January 11th – Spring Valley, CA – The Board of Directors of the Otay Water District
has selected the law firm of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz as its general counsel. The
unanimous vote came today at a special meeting of the Board of Directors. The initial
length of the appointment is one year.
“The District has had a good relationship with Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz and we
are happy to have them representing the District as its general counsel,” said Board
President Jaime Bonilla. “They have the full support of the Board and we hope to
have a long relationship with them.”
The selection became necessary after the previous law firm tendered its resignation
to the Otay Water District Board earlier this month.
About the Otay Water District
The Otay Water District is a public agency distributing water to more than 206,000
customers within approximately 125 square miles of southeastern San Diego County,
including the communities of Spring Valley, La Presa, Rancho San Diego, Jamul,
eastern Chula Vista and Otay Mesa.
A Mystery Partner in Plan to Tap Mexico's Ocean
September 5, 2011
by Rob Davis
Voice of San Diego
...The Otay Water District has spent at least $674,000 on its plan to buy water from a seawater
desalination plant planned across the border in Rosarito Beach. The district, which supplies water
to 200,000 people from Otay Mesa to Jamul, has committed to spend $4 million more.
But for all of the district's work toward the unprecedented binational water deal, it hasn't yet
checked the track record and history of the corporation that first proposed the idea.
In fact, the district's general manager, Mark Watton, refused to disclose the corporation's top
employees — even though he's met behind closed doors at least four times with
representatives from the company, Norte Sur Agua. Watton wouldn't say who he met with.
The result is a shroud of secrecy blanketing a proposal that could enable the United States to tap
Mexico's ocean as a water source for the first time. If Otay does strike a deal, the district's secrecy
makes it unclear who stands to profit from the international water pact.
The major water agencies that supply Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego
have also been closely studying the site in Rosarito Beach for its potential to augment the strained
Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid region. Drinking water could be pumped to the United
States or swapped for the rights to some of Mexico's share of the Colorado.
But while major suppliers are in the midst of a joint multi-year study, Otay has struck out on its own
and already begun preparing to upgrade its system for an influx of desalinated water. The district
needs to improve its pumping system and build a disinfection facility to bring the water in. It's hired
an engineering firm to do $3.9 million of the $30 million of work that will be needed. Little has been
done so far.
A desalination plant in Mexico, which faces less stringent regulation than here, remains far from
certain. No permits have been granted in either Mexico or the United States. Otay hasn't committed
to buy water from Mexico, though it hopes to get a third of its supply from the effort no sooner than
This much is known: Norte Sur Agua, a Mexican company, first proposed building the estimated
$500 million plant and repeatedly met with Otay officials behind closed doors in 2010 just before
bringing in a partner, Consolidated Water, a small, publicly traded Cayman Islands-based
company. Norte Sur Agua and Consolidated are now 50-50 partners in a joint venture called NSC
Consolidated agreed last year to spend $4 million developing the plant and says it has "effective
financial control" over the partnership, according to regulatory filings. But the public company has
already spent that much and is currently deciding whether to continue investing in the project, which
has encountered delays.
Rick McTaggart, Consolidated's president and CEO, said in an email that confidentiality
agreements prohibited him from disclosing the principals of Norte Sur Agua. A man named Gough
Thompson is listed with Norte Sur Agua in Otay's board agendas; Watton said he "may be one of
the principals." Thompson could not be reached.
Two local water officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to alienate
Watton, said Otay's secrecy about Norte Sur was unusual. They both said they would not hesitate to
say publicly who they were dealing with if they were executing such a deal.
They said it was unusual that Otay had not checked the history or backgrounds of anyone involved
with Norte Sur Agua, which is an equal partner in the desalination venture. When a public agency
begins spending ratepayer money on a new water source, the officials said, numerous checks
should first be made to ensure the deal is realistic...
[Maura Larkins comment: Given Otay's sleazy history, it was just a matter of time
before the characters in control of the district made their next sneaky move.
This is the district that indemnified its own lawyers (see right column). As a
ratepayer, I'm still paying the legal bills for defending Otay lawyer Bonifacio
Garcia in court.]
A History of Death Threats, Scandal and
October 16, 2011
by Rob Davis
Voice of San Diego
Jaime Bonilla is president of the Otay Water District's board. The
district has endured numerous scandals and costly litigation
during his decade in office.
In the last decade, the Otay Water District has delivered sewage
to drinking water taps, tried to squelch criticism with legal action
and endured costly litigation from its customers, employees and
The water district is a middleman that buys water from major suppliers
and delivers it to the taps of homes and businesses from Spring Valley to
Otay Mesa to Jamul.
The officials' phones often rang late at night or after meetings. It
was the early 2000s, and the Otay Water District was roiled by
scandal, by accusations of mismanagement, bribery, fraud and
What followed was never good.
Sometimes came only the sound of a single kiss. A warning, police said.
The kiss of death. Sometimes came an ominous message. Rap music,
blaring the same threat: Come on, motherfucker, come on.
When agency attorneys investigated, the answer they uncovered
sounded like the kicker to a campfire horror story: The calls had
been coming from inside — from the phone of one of the
district's own board members.
... But even a decade later, the Otay Water District is hardly
...While big suppliers bring water here from sources far away, agencies like Otay
maintain local pipes, read your meter and send you a bill every month or two. They
typically do that in relative obscurity...
It determines how much developers must pay to connect new
homes and offices to the water system. Its board has the
discretion to spend millions of dollars on construction.
Otay's service territory includes large stretches of a Southern
California rarity: Undeveloped land.
And it controls the only local water connection between San Diego and Tijuana.
|Board of Directors
(Jaime Bonilla's replacement;
President of Otay
Water Board of Directors
La Mesa Patch
The resignation is effective
immediately. Bonilla served on
the Board of Directors for
nearly 12 years, including
four of those years as Board
President. The announcement
was made by the Otay Water District
on March 27, 2012.
Asst. Fire Marshall
City of San Diego
by D.A. Bonnie
Dumanis Dec. 2012; Jaime Bonilla
was mentioned in search warrants
in the case.
Gary D. Croucher
San Miguel Fire
David Gonzalez, Jr.
Now, 10 years after he resigned, Mark Watton runs the
Otay Water District. He was the county's highest-paid
water official in 2010, in a job that gives him 71 days of
leave annually. Add in weekends, and that's almost half
Watton today says that he had it wrong. Bonilla was wearing a wire, working as an informant for the
FBI. Watton said he didn't know Bonilla was trying to nab two other board members and a
prominent Los Angeles lobbyist in a failed bribery sting. The case eventually fell apart.
"I didn't have the full picture of what was going on," Watton said. Watton today answers to the
district's five-member board. Its president, still, is Jaime Bonilla.
...It was the summer of 2007. Business owners throughout the Fenton Business Center in Chula
Vista's Eastlake neighborhood reported that their tap water suddenly appeared yellow. Others said
green. They all agreed the water was foul, so gross some were embarrassed to have customers
use their restrooms...
In the Fenton case, Otay blamed the problem on stagnant water in the newly constructed complex
and told the businesses to flush their lines. It didn't help. When the district came out and checked,
they tested the water at a nearby fire hydrant, where it looked fine, not at the businesses' taps. The
color lingered for days.
The mysterious cause was unimaginably foul. Worse, it had been happening undetected for more
than a year...No one noticed at first because the sewage was diluted with tap water. But that
summer, Otay began buying more treated sewage to put in its purple pipe system — suitable for
lawns but not people. After that, what came out of the businesses' taps was 100 percent treated
The district had put a potable water meter on a pipe meant for irrigation and missed chances to
catch it. Otay didn't re-inspect the facility after discovering one of its inspectors had taken a bribe on
another project from a contractor involved in the park's construction.
A civil jury found Otay and other developers had acted negligently. Lawsuits have held the district
liable for $3 million in damages, money Watton said will be covered by an insurer, not ratepayers.
But the settlements are the latest to inflate Otay's legal bills and leave a thick trail of paper in
courthouse files over the last decade.
There came Tom Harron, the district's former attorney, in 2001. He alleged that he was fired
because he was white so the newly elected Bonilla could hire Latino friends. Two rival former Otay
board members and a former auditor testified under oath in the case that they'd regularly heard
Bonilla call Harron "El Gringo" or "white boy" — allegations he denied.
"With Mr. Bonilla," one rival board member testified, "it is not enough to simply put a man out of his
job. He wants to just completely annihilate this person."
The district apologized and settled with Harron in 2007 for nearly $700,000.
There came a class of six employees (five white and one black), alleging racial discrimination as
the cause of their departures around the same time as Harron. One rival board member said
Bonilla had used a slur to describe the fired black employee. The former auditor, then suing the
district, testified that shortly before winning his seat, Bonilla had said about Otay: "We got to get rid
of all the gringos." Bonilla denied that.
The district settled in 2007 for $371,000.
This case was terribly flimsy. And it carried echoes of the political retribution that had once clearly
defined Otay's dark days.
But this was March 2011, and an attorney for the Otay Water District was making a case for
censure to the Chula Vista Ethics Board. One of the advisory group's members, a businessman
named Chris Shilling, had run unsuccessfully in November against an Otay board member, David
The election hadn't been close. Gonzalez, the brother of Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez,
won easily after far outspending Shilling.
Shilling had taken his campaign against Gonzalez to Facebook, on a page with 46 followers.
There, he called the district corrupt and accused Gonzalez of stealing campaign signs. They were
baseless comments, hardly noteworthy during election season.
But they sure got the water district's attention. Otay pursued legal action. Bonilla filed a
complaint with the ethics board to get Shilling booted.
Bonilla didn't do that on his own dime though. The district's ratepayers paid
for the agency's attorney to work on the complaint, which purported to come
from the agency's board of directors. But the board hadn't agreed to send it.
Bonilla told the Union-Tribune that he, Gonzalez, Watton and an attorney had
Watton said the district got involved because Shilling had noted in campaign literature that he
served on the ethics board, making his criticism carry more weight.
"If someone is just out making stuff up and lying to the public, that is of interest to the district,"
Watton said. "We're not corrupt."
Bonilla later told the board that he'd pay for any litigation himself, according
to meeting minutes. But he didn't reimburse the district for its legal
When the agency's attorney, Dan Shinoff, presented his case to the ethics
board in March, he zeroed in on what he called Shilling's malicious critique
of Gonzalez and Bonilla. Shinoff, who's paid $250 an hour by the district,
appeared to be settling a campaign score. Talking to commissioners, he
unfurled an inflated oratory filled with its own baseless accusations.
Shinoff tried to connect Shilling to an anonymous website that attacked
Gonzalez. And yet Shinoff offered no proof it was Shilling's site. Shinoff said
the criticism was symptomatic of the country's devolving political discourse.
"Somebody's going to be a victim if we continue this in this society," Shinoff
told the board, noting the shooting rampage that had left six dead and 13
wounded in Tucson, Ariz. a few weeks earlier.
He said an ethics board member shouldn't be allowed to make such attacks
— not with so much at stake. A rebuke was absolutely necessary, he said.
"I urge you with my heart and with my soul for you to do the right thing," he
said. "I come from a family of concentration camp survivors. And I can tell
you from a very personal perspective, permitting this sort of dialogue only
leads to tragedy."
The ethics board dismissed the complaint.
Customers in the Otay district often have little reason to complain.
They pay some of the county's lowest water rates. In 2009, while other water districts told
customers to cut back on their consumption or face penalties, Otay didn't, saying its customers
had already conserved.
But this August, customers went berserk. A standing-room-only crowd filled a mid-afternoon board
meeting. They were furious about the district's push to guarantee health care coverage for all
current employees after they retire.
While other water agencies and government bodies are doing the opposite, Otay was about to
increase its employees' retirement benefits. The district had struggled to articulate a clear reason
The fight that day was between Otay leaders and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association,
and it turned nasty. Just before voting, Bonilla said something that in any other district might've
sounded unusual, which evoked memories of the chilling phone messages that he and other
agency officials had received a decade earlier.
"You should see the emails we got, threats to our families," Bonilla told the crowd. "It was
motivated by this organization."
Fixed-income retirees erupted in howls of protest, bringing the board's discussion to a halt.
Retirees were already upset about the retirement benefit boost, concerned it may impact water
rates increasing faster than they said they could afford. Now it appeared that Bonilla was blaming
death threats on the taxpayers association. "You're going to lie! Shut up!" one bellowed.
Bonilla quickly clarified. The taxpayers association hadn't actually convinced people to threaten
board members, he said. They'd just misled the public and gotten people angry.
Two months later, Bonilla cited the anonymous threats again. This time, he was writing to the
taxpayers association's board, calling the group's criticism unfounded, misleading and
dangerous. Two threatening emails — "You are US enemies and deserve to die," one said —
were attached as evidence.
And just as Otay had done months earlier with Shilling, another public critic, the letter concluded
with its own threat.
If the taxpayers association's attack continued, Bonilla wrote, the district would sue.
...Though the board member implicated in
those late-night calls a decade ago is
gone, death threats have continued even
Talk in Secret
December 1, 2011
by Rob Davis
Voice of San Diego
Good luck if you wanted to
attend the Otay Water
District committee meeting
in late March 2010. Two
directors were talking
about legal issues.
The district was facing
lawsuits from Chula Vista
business owners who'd
been drinking treated
sewage for months. The
water district hadn't
noticed the wrong pipe
was connected to the
business park's taps.
But to know a meeting was
happening that day, you
would've needed a tip that
the public agency was
holding one. No
announcement was made.
You would've needed
someone to leak you a
copy of the agenda. It
anywhere. Even today, the
district conceals the three
topics that were on it,
keeping them secret.
And you would've needed
a code to open the gate
blocking the entrance to
Otay board President
Jaime Bonilla's cul-de-sac
in eastern Chula Vista.
The afternoon meeting
was at his home.
Since the 1950s, a state
law called the Ralph M.
Brown Act has required
government meetings in
California to be open to
the public. With public
money being spent, the
state wanted to encourage
transparency and public
But for the last decade,
the Otay Water District's
board of directors has
pushed the boundaries of
a legal loophole allowing
its members to meet in
secret. They've formed ad
hoc committees, two-
member groups with the
authority to give guidance
to district employees. The
groups have escaped
scrutiny they'd otherwise
typically have standing
committees that meet
regularly in public on
topics like finance,
They're allowed to form
temporary ad hoc
committees, too. But ad
hocs are supposed to be
different. They must be
temporary and address
only a specific task. They
don't have to meet publicly
or announce meetings.
That means information is
sparse about many of
Otay's ad hocs. But at
least one hasn't followed
the rules. The district's
legal matters ad hoc has
existed for years and
hasn't zeroed in on one
Since mid-2009, it has
discussed multiple lawsuits
and vetted candidates for
the district's legal counsel.
It's met at restaurants and
Bonilla's home. During a
recent August meeting, it
discussed nine topics.
Exactly what is secret. The
district redacted every item
on that agenda and others
it released under a
California Public Records
Act request. Only the
locations, times and
attendees were disclosed.
The district said the rest
was protected by attorney-
Public agencies can hold
closed-door meetings to
discuss lawsuits and the
threat of litigation. Board
whether the district should
settle, for example, so they
don't tip off the opposition.
But they must typically
announce what topic or
case they're discussing
and publicly report any
decisions. Holding secret
ad hoc meetings has
allowed Otay's leaders to
avoid that requirement.
Terry Francke, general
counsel for Californians
Aware, an open
said Otay has violated
both the state's open
meetings law and its public
records law. Agendas
aren't required for ad hoc
meetings, but they're
public documents once
they're created, he said.
The legal committee
wouldn't qualify as a
temporary ad hoc because
the directors have
cases and topics for years,
"That should cease and
desist immediately or be
reported to the district
attorney," Francke said.
"It's entirely plausible that
this ad hoc committee
charade could be simply a
mechanism for a total
subversion of the Brown
If a temporary committee
exists in perpetuity to
address litigation and not
a specific case, "that
begins to very much
resemble what we think of
as a standing committee,"
said Michael Jenkins, a
Manhattan Beach attorney
who helped write a book
on Brown Act compliance.
Jenkins said after a
meets for more than a
year, "you need to look
real closely at why — and
whether it has become a
Two recent Otay ad hocs
have existed for more than
a year: The legal
committee and an
committee that district
records show existed from
2007 to 2010.
Bonilla said Otay strives to
fully comply with the Brown
Act. Ad hoc meetings
aren't unusual for public
agencies, he said.
"It helps expedite district
business and focus topics
of discussion," Bonilla
wrote in a statement. "The
committees are advisory
only and all ad-hoc
recommended action goes
before the full board in a
noticed public meeting."
In at least one legal
records suggest three
board members attended,
which would be a majority
of the five-member board.
That would be illegal. A
board majority can't
discuss business without
calling a formal meeting.
An agenda for the July 10,
2009 legal meeting says
two directors attended. A
third board member, Larry
reimbursed for attending
the meeting, expense
Breitfelder, who stepped
down last year, said he
filled in for Bonilla, who
was traveling. Bonilla also
said he wasn't at the
meeting. But he said in his
statement that the district
did not have any
documents listing who did.
The meeting's agenda
says he attended.
Breitfelder said he
believed the committee
may have discussed the
Few issues have gotten as
much attention from ad
hocs. Otay paid out $3
million in settlements after
business owners in the
Fenton Business Center
drank and brushed their
teeth in water
contaminated by human
Four temporary groups
have addressed it: the
Legal Matters Committee,
the Fenton Business
Center Committee and the
Fenton Business Center
Legal Matters Committee.
One sitting board member,
Mark Robak, was unaware
of all the issues that have
had dedicated ad hoc
committees. He said
discussed issues he
believes should have gone
straight to the board.
Some of the biggest issues
Otay has encountered
have been talked about in
the secret meetings. The
district's top employee has
been initially reviewed by
an ad hoc committee. A
major desalination plant
proposed in Mexico has
come up in an ad hoc
group. So have the
boundaries, which must be
redrawn every decade.
Candidates to replace a
board member who
resigned were narrowed
by another ad hoc.
Robak said the full board
should've been included at
"We use ad hoc
committees too often," said
Robak, who doesn't sit on
any committees. "I'm not
clear on why, but it doesn't
encourage a robust
discussion of the issues,
that's for sure."
Ad hoc committees can be
easily abused, said
Francke, the open
They can allow staff
members to talk with the
board about issues they
don't want the public to
know. And they can make
it easier for directors to
discuss a plan secretly
and then negotiate a final
agreement with other
board members outside an
A controversial retirement
benefits boost Otay
granted this summer first
came through an ad hoc
On the day that
came to the board for
public discussion — one
filled with angry ratepayers
opposing the boost — the
board's deliberations took
mere minutes. Only Robak
asked any probing
questions. He was the lone
vote against the plan,
which guarantees district
employees health care
after they retire.
Francke said sending the
issue to an ad hoc
committee wouldn't be
unusual. But the lack of
discussion is a sign the
board may have hashed
out its plan behind the
scenes and violated state
law, he said. Though hard
to prove, the strongest
evidence is when a
complicated issue gets a
"Things you'd expect to
take some time to iron out,
those things must've
Francke said. "And if they
didn't happen publicly, I
think that board has a real
contracts tied to
awards them, without
bids, up to $50,000, a
practice he calls
San Diego Union-Tribune
Dec. 29, 2011
The general manager of
the Otay Water District
approved more than
$200,000 in no-bid
contracts this year to
associates of the board’s
chairman, Jaime Bonilla.
Three of the contracts
involved a desalination
plant planned in Baja
California that Otay
officials hope will be a
key source of future
water. One covered
redistricting of the agency’
s political boundaries
and another was for
Otay allows General
Manager Mark Watton to
award contracts up to
$50,000 without board
approval, a set-up he
said is standard across
One elected board
member, Mark Robak,
said he didn’t know
about any of the contracts
until The Watchdog
“I was a bit surprised to
find out about these,”
Robak said. “If there are
ties to anyone (at the
district) then of course I
Everything should be an
The contracts were:
• $45,000 for Hector
Mares Cossio to provide
the district with reports
about water issues in
Mexico. Mares is a fiscal
auditor with a state
agency in Mexico and
served as an adviser to
former President Vicente
Fox. Because Watton has
renewed the contract six
times, Mares has
received $310,000 in no-
bid contracts with the
Mares, a certified public
accountant, was formerly
PR director of Bonilla’s
company, Media Sports
de Mexico. He did not
respond to emails
• $50,000 for Cruz
lieutenant governor of
California, to serve as
adviser. Bustamante has
been a friend and adviser
to Bonilla for years.
Bonilla contributed to
Bonilla into office after
his re-election bid in
2004. Bustamante did
not respond to calls for
• $50,000 for Peter S.
Silva, a former water
chief for the federal
Agency, to provide policy,
technical and regulatory
advice on the
desalination project. He
left the EPA in
January and signed the
Otay contract two months
later. Silva said he knows
Bonilla from social
events, but he dealt only
with district staff on his
• $50,000 for Chula Vista
Castaneda to steward
the district’s efforts to
boundaries for its board
members using new
Castaneda, who Bonilla
said is a friend, referred
questions to Otay
• $32,000 for Enrique
Morones, a former
marketing executive with
the San Diego Padres,
former radio host and
founder of Border Angels,
activist group. Morones
started performing public
outreach after a
controversy over the
award of lifetime health
benefits to Otay
Morones at Super K 1040
AM, where Bonilla was
Morones said he knew
Bonilla before that, when
he helped the station get
the contract to become
language affiliate in San
Morones said if the rules
allow for Watton to
execute the contract, he
is fine with that.
“If those are the rules,
those are the rules,”
At least one critic, who
started a recall drive after
the health benefits were
awarded, questioned the
contracts being approved
consideration by the
"They do things like this
and then have the gall to
say that they are
transparent,” said the
critic, Dan Connell. “They
are basically giving away
our money as ratepayers
to Bonilla’s friends
without recourse. When a
board member doesn’t
even know that this is
going on, that’s not
Mark Watton -- Howard
Lipin/U-T San Diego
Watton said the contracts
“The contracts to which
you refer are not
sensitive or controversial
contracts; rather they are
a component of a board-
approved project,” Watton
Otay is anticipating
receiving up to 20 million
gallons a day from the
desalination plant, which
is being built by a private
company in Mexico. For
its part, Otay would build
a pipeline to the border to
bring the water into the
country. The pipeline
project would require the
approval of several local,
state and federal
The consultants hired all
experience, Watton said,
and their ties to Bonilla
“Because of these
credentials, of course Mr.
Bonilla knew them,”
“Each of these individuals,”
Bonilla said, “have stellar
excellent reputations, personal
accomplishments, and each
brings specific expertise that
will assist the district in
achieving success for its
The Watchdog reviewed
contract approvals for the
agencies and found no
active PR or consulting
Watton said general
managers in the county’s
smaller districts would
not be an appropriate
they are not involved
large and complex
projects. A more
he said, would be the
San Diego County Water
At the authority, General
Stapleton can sign
contracts up to $150,000
without board approval,
and amendments up to
$150,000. Stapleton can,
and has, executed
without competitive bids
or from single sources.
Over the past year,
Stapleton executed one
lobbying and public
relations contract, San
Communications, to assist
the district in a lawsuit
against Metropolitan Water
District over rates. It was
executed after the water
authority solicited four
firms for the job.
Authority contracts are
to the board if
push the amount higher
procurement policy does
not have that feature.
Stapleton said each
agency has different
“I don’t think there is
some kind of hard-and-
fast rule, or rule-of-thumb
for all agencies,” she
said. “One trait of a
successful manager is
understanding his or her
own board’s need for
information and fulfilling
that need, while carrying
out the work of the district
in an efficient and
“Other districts or boards
of directors may choose
to do things differently
since each has its own
code of ordinances,” he
said. “The general
manager followed the
process the board of
Morones is a member of
the U-T’s Latino advisory
2012 and went
back to Mexico
|San Diego Education Report
During the tumult's peak in the early
2000s, a long-time board member got
fed up and quit.
The board member, Mark Watton,
lashed out against the district's
leadership, setting his sights on one
man: Otay's board president, a radio
station owner named Jaime Bonilla
trying to distance himself from
accusations of favoritism engulfing
the rest of the agency.
In a letter to La Prensa San Diego,
Watton said Bonilla was right in the
middle of Otay's problems.
"A (hopefully) short sad chapter in the
Otay story, and what happens when
public officials like these (including Mr.
Bonilla) only want the position for their
own ego, power and enrichment,"
WHAT WA$ IT THAT MADE HIM
CHANGE HI$ MIND ABOUT U$ING
PO$ITIONS FOR ENRICHMENT?
(Oh, well. What can you do, right?)
MARK COZIAHR VS OTAY WATER
CLASS ACTION SUIT FILED
AGAINST OTAY AND OTHER WATER
AGENCIES OVER TIERED WATER
By Miriam Raftery
East County Magazine
July 22, 2015
(San Diego)—A class action lawsuit has been filed
against the Otay Water District, San Diego County
Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District.
Mark Coziahr filed the suit July 14 in Superior Court
seeking an injunction to stop enforcement of tiered
water rates. A similar suit has also been filed by
ratepayers in Marin County.
The actions follow a ruling by the California Fourth
Appellate District court on April 20, which found
that San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water rates were
unconstitutional. .The court held that Capistrano
violated Proposition 218, a voter-passed initiative
which states that fees or charges for water service
cannot exceed the proportional cost of service
attributable to a given parcel.
Though filed by an Otay ratepayer, the suit if
successful c could have a ripple effect in other
agencies with tiered water rates, if the highest tier
users are charged more than the actual cost of
water delivery. Moreover, the suit notes that MWD’
s scope of service includes selling water to 26
public agencies that provide water to over 19
million people in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange,
Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura Counties –
meaning the impact of the suit, if successful, is
Some districts have adopted higher rates and fines
for those in the highest tier as a means of
encouraging conservation of water. But Andre
Mura, an attorney with Gibbs Law Group
representing Coziahr, says, “The California
Constitution expresses the people’s view that water
conservation is achieved by pricing that reflects the
actual cost of water delivery service to a given
property. This suit seeks to enforce the water
conservation policies adopted by the people.”
Case Number: 37-2015-00023413-CU-MC-
Case Location: San Diego
Case Type: Civil
Date Filed: 07/14/2015
Misc Complaints - Other
Last Name or Business Name
First Name Primary (P)
COZIAHR MARK P
Last Name or Business Name
First Name Primary (P)
OTAY WATER DISTRICT P
CITY OF SAN DIEGO
METROPOLITAN WATER DISTRICT OF
SAN DIEGO COUNTY WATER
SAN DIEGO PUBLIC UTITILIES
SAN DIEGO PUBLIC UTITILIES