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Independent audit of Natural Resources Agency is urgently needed

MLPA Initiative, BDCP must be investigated

by Dan Bacher

The examination of more than 500 special fund accounts revealing a $2.3 billion "discrepancy" between state controller and Department of Finance numbers (http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_21172870) demonstrates how unaccountable our state government has become.


Everybody who supports the public trust and openness and transparency in government should back the recent request by the California State Parks Foundation for a separate probe by the state auditor to assure an "autonomous and unimpeded audit" of state parks, in light of the State Parks Scandal that spurred the special funds' examination.

Ruth Coleman, the controversial State Parks Director, resigned on July 20 as a preliminary investigation into Department of Parks and Recreation finances disclosed that the agency was sitting on $54 million in surplus funds at a time when state parks were faced with closure.

“This discovery uncovers the ultimate betrayal of public trust," said Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa). "It is inconceivable to me how anyone with an ounce of morals could outright steal $54 million of taxpayer money intended for our historic public lands. (http://www.sacmetronews.com/2012/07/state-parks-director-resigns-amid-54.html)

Governor Jerry Brown, while answering reporters' questions at a press conference in Sacramento on July 25, tried to minimize the significance of the scandal.

"This is the first problem I've ever seen where actually people in government saved money," Brown claimed. "And that's good, because we have the money and we can use it. How the heck it happened, we're trying to figure it out. And we will figure it out. We're looking at all the special funds."

Regardless of how Brown tries to downplay the scandal, confidence in state and elected officials is at all an time low, largely because of corruption and lack of accountability in government.

The audit and examination shouldn't stop with state parks or special fund accounts. There needs to be an immediate audit and investigation of all funds of the Natural Resources Agency, especially the funds of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create questionable "marine protected areas" in California and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build a peripheral canal or tunnel.

Both of these fiascos are public-private partnerships that have come under intense fire from grassroots environmentalists, tribal members and fishermen for the appointment of corporate interests, who stand to benefit from these processes, to oversee them.

Senator Dean Florez tried to conduct an oversight hearing on the MLPA Initiative in 2009, but the hearing never took place. That's BEFORE myself and others uncovered many articles worth of evidence of conflicts of interest and severe flaws in the process, including the appointment of the President of the Western States Petroleum Association as Chair of the South Coast MLPA Task Force. (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/06/24/18716180.php) And that's before the co-chair of the MLPA Science Team was arrested, along with two other people, for embezzling $900,000 from the Yurok Tribe.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build a peripheral canal or tunnel is also ridden with numerous conflicts of interest that open the way to fiscal irresponsibility and lack of accountability.

Documents obtained by this reporter under the California Public Records Act reveal that Susan Ramos, Deputy General Manager of the Westlands Water District, is currently working “on loan” for the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. She was originally contracted to work for the state from November 15, 2009 through December 31, 2010. The contract was extended to run through December 31, 2011 and again to continue through December 31, 2012. (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/12/14/18702762.php)

“Susan Ramos’ hiring by the Department of Water Resources is a classic example of the revolving door between government agencies and water districts controlled by mega-corporate farms such as Westlands,” said Tom Stokely, Water Policy Analyst for the California Water Impact Network. “It further erodes public confidence at a time when distrust of government is at an all time high. We can be sure the public’s interests will not be protected.”

The news of Ramos’ service on loan from Westlands followed the disclosure that DWR hired Laura King Moon, the Assistant General Manager of the State Water Contractors, to assist in the completion of the BDCP.

People concerned about the public trust should demand an "autonomous and impeded" audit of all funds of the Natural Resources Agency, including the controversial MLPA Initiative and Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Once that audit is conducted, there must be an independent audit of all state agencies, as Senator Noreen Evans has demanded.

"If one department can hoard $54 million for 12 years, who else is playing the same tricks of deceit and thievery? I call upon the Governor to conduct an administration-wide audit of every department and every division to be made available, line by line, to the public," urged Evans.

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