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Exclusive HMG-CN Interview With Central Basin Director Arturo Chacon

Central Basin Water Board Director Art Chacon.

By Brian Hews and Randy Economy

Art Chacon remembers his first meeting with Director-Elect James Roybal shortly after Roybal won his seat on the Central Basin Board. Chacon recalls Roybal boasting about his many prized accomplishments in life, including earning two Master’s degrees in education. Seeing that his future colleague was obviously slightly impressed with himself, Chacon thought to himself, “well I’ve been shot three times, top that!” Clearly the two travelled different paths to Central Basin.

Two years have passed since that initial meeting with his now nemesis and while Chacon readily admits that he can’t hold a candle to Roybal’s notable credentials, he nevertheless wonders how well those elite degrees served Roybal while he languished through his final years as an educator in LA Unified’s notorious Teacher Jail? Chacon quips with a earnest grin, “we’re all human I guess, even the high and mighty.”

The road to elected office wasn’t paved with gold for Arturo Chacon, especially when you consider that to get where he is today he had to survive growing up in the worst of LA’s public housing projects, the Ramona Gardens. Chacon however, feels his survival of the streets to be his biggest accomplishment in life and one of the many miracles he’s experienced in his 49 years. “I count my blessing every single day and I take nothing for granted” claims Chacon, “I probably shouldn’t be alive today let alone having the opportunity to serve over 400,000 people, many of whom starting out just like me.”

Chacon, who is up for re-election in November, is completing his second term at the water wholesaler. Eight years ago he faced a handpicked, well-financed candidate recruited by the powerful Calderon family who also enjoyed the support of most of the then-existing Board. After four years of hard work learning everything he could about the business side of water, he ran unopposed in 2010. This November five challengers, all backed to some degree by Roybal and his lone remaining Central Basin ally Leticia Vasquez, have lined up to unseat Chacon. “My opponents are not running in protest of my water policy achievements like our agency’s extensive recycled water distribution system , instead they’re running on whether or not I had a driver’s license in 2008, or 2011, or whenever. I don’t deliver water in my family car!” adds Chacon.

Chacon sees this election as battle to restore the credibility of Central Basin. He acknowledges that rightfully so many elected officials have lost confidence in the wholesaler, most notably the LA County Board of Supervisors lead by Don Knabe. Chacon agrees they should be concerns and it certainly doesn’t help that their longtime insurance carrier publicly dropped them earlier this year after deeming the Board “dysfunctional, not management or staff, but the Board”. Currently, the District is within months of losing $1.7 million in federal and state funding that could greatly aid the region in conservation efforts, but according to a District officials, terminations and the lack of appropriate staff have prevented the agency from moving forward. According to Chacon, former GM Art Aguilar and consultant Tom Calderon attempted to convince the Board to award a substantial contract to a firm that was discovered to have Calderon serving as an employee. Chacon adds that it was former Central Basin Assistant to General Manager Ron Beilke, at the time employed by the Water Replenishment District, who successfully exposed the Calderon scheme enabling the then-Board to reject the contract outright.

Ironically, Chacon also notes that Central Basin was on their way to identifying projects meeting the criteria for federal funds when Beilke and former Interim Chief Operating Officer Chuck Fuentes were abruptly fired in January 2013, an effort Chacon points out that was led by Roybal and Vasquez. “I think it’s safe to say those individuals cost the District $1.7 million given that the District has been unable to secure projects after 20 months and are in jeopardy of losing the funding”, notes Chacon.

Chacon also credits Beilke with exposing other contracts that prompted the unexpected ouster of Calderon, Aguilar and former attorney Doug Wance. Chacon comments “one thing I’ve learned over my years on the Board is to force yourself to listen to different opinions and I think many on our past Board learned that the hard way like me. We were loyal and supportive of our former management but it became apparent they held back on details we should have had.” Some of those “details” referred to by Chacon are now subject of an ongoing federal investigation that Chacon hopes the District can put behind it in the coming months.

Although Chacon acknowledges that this election will be a challenge given the overly-biased negative attacks he’s endured as of late by a local paper fueled by Roybal’s and Vasquez’ blatantly slanted propaganda, he points out that this election will be just another test of his will and determination. “My mother taught us everything we know about facing challenges, she raised seven children as a single mom while working the fields in Central California for many years,” explains Chacon. Every time I’ve faced adversity in my life I think back to when eight of us slept along the roadside in our station wagon. The bright side was that we always stayed warm and we never got bored.”

Today Chacon’s lives with his mom who is 77 and suffers from diabetes. His aunt and older sister also live with him, both of whom have health issues as well. He remains close with his siblings and they regularly reunite for campaigns as they have once again while preparing for Chacon’s November’s race. Three Chacon brother’s have held elected office with his brother Hector having served the longest while on the Board of Montebello Unified School District. Another brother heads a non-profit assisting families with child care needs. The family counts numerous present and former elected officials as friends with the family assisting in many of their campaigns.

Chacon is optimistic about his chances in November. He believes the District has much to accomplish in the coming years including the delivery of the largest water sale in the agency’s history to the Water Replenishment District and the continued identification of customers to link to their recycled water system. He is confident in the ability of the General Manager and staff currently in place at the District but expects another round of capricious firings if he is not re-elected. Another thing he is confident about is that the wholesaler will continue to draw scrutiny and be the subject of takeover threats if Roybal and Vasquez regain majority control.

“I intend to get the message out and connect with the cities I represent to ensure them that I am worthy of another term. I know they’ll hear their share of exaggerated nonsense that has nothing to do with the delivery of water, but I’m confident they’ll see Roybal’s and Vasquez’ desperate antics for what they are, a pathetic power grab,” commented Chacon. He further points out that Leticia Vasquez was recalled from the Lynwood City Council, is suspected of leaking and forging federal subpoenas and has cost the District in excess of $200,000 dealing with her frivolous lawsuit against former law firms representing the agency.

He also notes that James Roybal has collected over $15,000 from Central Basin per his $233.00 meeting stipend to meet with the General Manager and staff, clearly abusing the reimbursement policy that is meant to cover community meetings and events as well as official District meetings. Chacon adds that staff has complained that Roybal will walk in unannounced to make a couple of mundane comments and then will seek his $233.00 reimbursement.

Chacon has also lead the District’s efforts to investigate allegations that Roybal is guilty of “double dipping” while collecting his District stipend for attending meetings while also collecting a salary while being on LAUSD’s time in Teacher Jail. Roybal recently resigned his teaching position after a year and a half in Teacher Jail. Chacon has repeatedly demanded that Roybal confess as to what offenses he might have committed and whether he potentially had an inappropriate relationship with a child.

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