One of these four things led the California Valley Community Services District to hold a special meeting for SunPower on Aug. 23:
• SunPower offered to pay the directors’ usual fee, but the CSD turned down the company.
• CSD officials discussed having SunPower pay for their special meeting, but took no action.
• The CSD asked SunPower to pay for its special meeting, but hasn’t received payment yet.
• Or SunPower paid CSD board members to gather for a special meeting and vote on on two items pertaining to its project.
On Aug. 23, crammed into a small California Valley Community Services District office, the district’s board of directors discussed two seemingly routine items.
Though the minutes weren’t available online, a video recording of that meeting shows the directors discussing whether to sell CSD properties to SunPower for use as mitigation lands for the company’s proposed California Valley Solar Ranch power plant, and addressing road impacts that would come with construction of the project.
California Valley is the type of place where everyone seems to know everyone. It’s a rural outcropping of San Luis Obispo County as alien to other county residents as the surface of Mars, but it’s a place where people tend to go to get away from urban life. At the Aug. 23 meeting, board members identified the parcels they were selling to SunPower as “where Beatrice used to live.”
The Aug. 16 minutes note the public agency report included a Cal Fire update and “also a hunter was bitten by a rattlesnake last weekend.”
Recordings of two CSD meetings provided to New Times by a resident were burned onto DVDs featuring artwork of various Disney princesses.
On one of those DVDs, of the hour-long Aug. 23 meeting, California Valley resident David Webb stood up and told the board members: “You’ll be the board that gave up California Valley. So enjoy your little compensation that’s being paid by SunPower. Today they’re paying for you guys to come over here and support them. Isn’t that special? And I think it’s a little too special for this special meeting.”
There was no discussion that day as to who paid for the special meeting, but at the Sept. 6 meeting, another resident, John Wilson, asked again: Who paid?
A CSD official responded that SunPower had agreed to pay, but hadn’t yet.
So who asked SunPower to pay?
“At the board’s request,” one of the directors answered, though it’s unclear from the video which member responded.
California Valley board members get $100 a pop per meeting. When first asked whether SunPower paid the board to hold a special meeting, District Manager Sharee Washer told New Times the company offered to pay, but the CSD turned them down. When asked again later, this time specifically why board members seemed to think SunPower had paid for the meeting at the CSD’s request, Washer said it was discussed, but nothing more.
“They talked about it, but no action was taken,” she told New Times.
However, the CSD’s attorney Michael Seitz later told New Times SunPower did, in fact, pay for that meeting—this, he said, was according to his conversation with Washer.
“The special meeting, because it only dealt with SunPower, the district costs associated with having that meeting were paid for by SunPower, as opposed to the ratepayers of California Valley,” Seitz said.
When asked about the meeting, a SunPower spokeswoman said the company “received an invoice for the Aug. 23 CSD meeting, which we will pay.”
Special meetings are generally covered by district ratepayers, Seitz said. However, if the items up for a vote at a given meeting pertain to a single company, it’s not unusual for the company to foot the bill.
Not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement. Even some of the CSD directors were confused about who paid for their meeting. On Sept. 6, Director Tammy Forrest abstained from approving the consent agenda and proclaimed, “I have to say that I was unaware that SunPower was paying for our compensation.”
Board President Ruth Legaspi responded, “They haven’t yet.”
Four of the five directors didn’t respond to requests for comment from New Times. Director George Ayres couldn’t be reached.
One thing that’s clear is the SunPower-backed meeting hasn’t helped the CSD’s reputation among some of its customers. Webb lashed out at directors again on Sept. 6 for accepting SunPower money.
“You’ve been bought and paid for,” said Webb, whose comments were followed by clapping and cheers from the audience.
According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the California Valley situation would likely not constitute a conflict of interest. An FPPC spokesperson said “a public official has a conflict of interest with regard to a particular governmental decision if it is sufficiently likely that the outcome of the decision will have an important impact on his/her economic interests and a significant portion of the official’s jurisdiction does not also feel the important impact on their economic interests.”
The spokeswoman said California Valley’s situation would likely have to be reviewed by the local District Attorney’s Office, which didn’t return a call before press time. Additionally, no FPPC complaints have been levied against the California Valley CSD.
Though there has been no official sanction and indeed no official wrongdoing, the CSD has still received a public-relations black eye.
“At a board meeting that was dealing with nothing but the solar people, they bought you,” Wilson told the board.
Contact News Editor Colin Rigley at firstname.lastname@example.org.