The little community known as the “Pines by the Sea” now has a well-connected man vouching for them in the big halls of Sacramento.
The Cambria Community Services District (CSD) recently hired Dean Florez and his consulting firm, Balance Public Relations, to represent the district on water supply and wastewater matters for a short-term period. The contract was approved at the April 23 meeting, and the term started May 1 and will run through June. The Cambria CSD will pay Florez $8,500 a month, bringing the cost of his two-month contract to $17,000.
According to Cambria CSD Public Information Officer Tom Gray, Florez will represent the CSD to the governor’s office and with the multitude of state agencies that issue permits. Part of his mission will be to lobby for available funding from Proposition 1—a November 2014 bond measure that generates funds for water and wastewater infrastructure projects—for the Cambria CSD to use for both its wastewater facility and the Emergency Water Supply project, Gray said. That project, a brackish water treatment plant built in 2014 for emergency situations, has experienced some permitting hurdles after it was hastily built with a temporary emergency permit.
“This year everybody is conscious of the drought now, and there is a lot of people up there [competing for funding]; big water districts like Los Angeles are in the mix,” Gray told New Times. “He’s known to be very effective and a very good spokesmen for water districts.”
During the meeting Florez was scrutinized by some members of the public and CSD board member Amanda Rice for reported Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC) violations that led to a $60,000 fine in 2013 after a series of campaign funds were identified as misused. Florez, who represented parts of the San Joaquin Valley in the state Assembly and the state Senate—at one time serving as the senate majority leader—ran for lieutenant governor in the 2010 primary, and then for state controller in 2014. An audit of his campaign expenditures revealed he’d spent thousands of dollars on personal expenses, including purchases at home and furniture stores, concert tickets, fireworks, monthly parking passes, and gas. Florez was also fined for not returning $247,000 in general campaign contributions after dropping out of the 2010 lieutenant governor’s race. The FPPC fined Florez for 12 violations at $5,000 each.
While Florez is registered with the California Secretary of State as a lobbyist, Gray said he’ll be serving in the capacity of public relations.
Rice opposed hiring Florez on both the grounds of hiring a lobbyist as well as because of Florez’s FPPC violations. CSD board member Jim Barringer also opposed the district’s decision to hire Florez.
“I do not think that we should be buying our way into the halls of Sacramento. I think our General Manager [Jerry Gruber] is quite capable,” Rice said. “I do not want this person representing us in the halls of power, even if he can get us access, I don’t know whether that is going to be good or bad. Sometimes, when I show up with pink hair, immediately people know that they don’t want to trust me, or they know that I’m OK.”
Gray said that despite the FPPC violations, the district chose Florez for his track record and recommendations. The Cambria CSD voted 3-2 to hire him.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay