Pressure on MWD

KatzMayor Villaraigosa is lobbying hard to install his campaign advisor and former Assembly colleague Richard Katz at the head of the Metropolitan Water District—and MWD board members feeling the pressure think it may lead to reviving the Cadiz water-storage scheme out in the eastern Mojave Desert. David Zahniser exposes the lobbying push in one of his final pieces to run in the Daily Breeze. "With the MWD's 37-member board slated to interview the five finalists on Tuesday," Zahniser says, "the intensity of the lobbying campaign has stunned some at the agency, who say the search has become more politicized than any hiring process in recent memory."

"It's a political campaign, and it's never been that way," said MWD board chairman Wesley Bannister, who represents the Orange County Municipal Water District. "We've turned a slow, methodical selection of a person based on skills and knowledge and talent and turned it into a whirlwind political campaign."

MWD board members say they have received calls from attorneys, lobbyists, fellow board members, mayoral aides, Villaraigosa and Katz himself asking them to vote for Katz. Bannister said Los Angeles and San Diego have already lined up behind the former lawmaker, a situation that would require him to find only a handful of other votes on the MWD's 37-member board.

Still, some at the agency wonder if L.A. plans to flex its muscles further by resurrecting a $150 million proposal by the Santa Monica-based land company known as Cadiz for a water storage facility in the Mojave Desert.

Since 1999, Villaraigosa has received at least $61,450 in campaign contributions from Cadiz, its executives and its board of directors, according to Ethics Commission reports. Villaraigosa worked for Cadiz as a consultant in 2001 and 2002, and the company's president, Keith Brackpool, has been one of the mayor's close friends, a political fund-raiser who directed $25,000 toward Villaraigosa's inaugural ball, which raised money for after-school programs.

I included Brackpool in my round-up of Friends of Antonio who were destined to have influence with the new administration at City Hall. Though, Villaraigosa tells Zahniser that Cadiz is not part of the discussions with Katz. The Democrat from the Valley was involved in water issues in the Assembly, advised Gov. Gray Davis during the electricity crisis a few summers back and has been on the State Water Resources Control Board. Villaraigosa appointed Katz to the MTA board last year.

Also: An emailer with good connections reminds me that Katz's recent girlfriend Wendy Mitchell, the former chief of staff for San Diego-area State Sen. Denise Ducheny, used to be director of external affairs for Cadiz. I don't know the current relationship status of Katz and Mitchell. [They are still together—ed.]

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