Chrislock: Defending Democracy Will one vote block the Cal Am buyout?


On July 4th we celebrate our democracy, but these days only a few votes can block the will of the majority. Locally we’ve seen this with the Cal Am buyout at LAFCO.

Last year the Water Management District was ready to make Cal Am an offer and carry out the mandate of the 24,000 voters who passed Measure J. All they were waiting for was LAFCO’s approval of their latent power to sell water retail.

LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) is a local agency tasked with approving changes in the services and boundaries of public agencies in the county. Approval of the Water Management District’s latent powers should have been routine. The required feasibility study was completed in 2019 and this buyout was mandated by the voters. There was no reason not to approve it. But Cal Am had five friends on the seven-member LAFCO board.

The vote was 5 to 2 opposing the buyout. Supervisor Chris Lopez, Salinas Mayor Kimbly Craig, Pete Poitras, Matt Gourley and Mary Ann Leffel all voted against the will of 24,000 voters. Leffel is the only one of the five who is elected by Peninsula voters. So the other four cannot even be held accountable by the voters their decision affects.

Supervisor Luis Alejo who normally sits on the LAFCO board made the first motion to block approval. But before the final vote he had to recuse himself because he had taken money from Cal Am president Kevin Tilden and two of Cal Am’s law firms, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, and Anthony Lombardo and Associates.

But come November, with new representation replacing John Phillips on the Board of Supervisors there will be changes at LAFCO that remove one of the no votes, making it 4 to 3 opposing the buyout. 

For LAFCO to bring approval of the buyout back for another vote it would take a majority. One more vote is needed.

Incredible as it sounds, the Cal Am buyout may be blocked by one vote. That vote could be Mary Ann Leffel’s. 

Sixty percent of Leffel’s District voted for Measure J, but that democratic decision doesn’t appear to matter to Leffel. She is determined to keep Cal Am in control of our water. Leffel has been a long time Cal Am supporter. She signed the ballot statement opposing Measure J in 2018. 

Leffel said she voted against the Cal Am buyout because of tax revenue losses. But those losses are tiny – less than 1%. Her Airport District would only lose 85 cents annually in tax revenue according to the tax revenue report given to LAFCO. 

But now Leffel has changed her story, she says she did the numbers and they don’t work.  

Never mind the obvious question. What qualifies Leffel to do the numbers? Her belief flies in the face of LAFCO’s consultant hired to analyze those numbers. He said they work. The Water Management District’s outside consultant hired to determine feasibility said the numbers work. But Mary Ann Leffel says they don’t.

To be clear, in order to be feasible the buyout cannot raise the cost to ratepayers to cover the buyout. The cost of buying Cal Am would be covered by the profit Cal Am now takes and the corporate taxes it pays on that profit. That’s why the numbers work.

This is such an outrageous situation. We have nonsense claims being used as the basis of blocking the voter-mandated buyout of Cal Am and the will of 24,000 voters.

Should there be consequences when a public official goes against their constituents and sides with special interests like Cal Am?

A recall effort has been undertaken by a group of Leffel’s voters, the committee to Defend Democracy – Recall Leffel. If you want to protect your vote on the Cal Am buyout and you live in Leffel’s District (most of Monterey and Pacific Grove) you can sign their petition to put the recall of Mary Ann Leffel up for a vote on the November ballot. To find out where you can sign the petition contact Defend Democracy – Recall Leffel at The petition must be signed by July 13.

Melodie Chrislock
Managing Director
Public Water Now


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