Sunday, April 14, 2013

Waves In Mesa Water's Little Pond

More than a few of you probably don't read the Orange County Register in print, which means you didn't see Mike Reicher's excellent piece above the fold in the Local section today, Sunday.  And, unless you've decided to pay for it via the Register's recently-announced Paywall, you can't read it online, either.  That's a shame.  However, if you DO have access to the Register online - like me - you can read Mike's article HEREJohn Canalis, editor of the competing Daily Pilot, described this article as "strong enterprise" in a Twitter feed.  So, since you probably can't read Mike's work, I'll give you a taste of it without (hopefully) violating their copyright. *Early Tuesday, 41613, Mesa Water President Jim Fisler sent me the following link to a blog entry by their former PR consultant, Laer Pearce, providing his view (spin?) on this issue.  Thanks to Fisler for this information:


Mike's opening paragraph will give you a little bit of the flavor: "Native American musicians blessed the 'ancestral waters,' valets parked cars for the 150 'VIP' guests and $50,000 event planners passed out catered custom cookies shaped like water drops and redwood trees - $1,500 worth of cookies"

He goes on from there to describe "Mesa Water District's lavish spending on marketing and communications.", including "undergoing a $500.000 branding campaign, including a name change and redesigned logo."  By now you've probably got the feel for the article.

He tells us that, while raising rates, Mesa (the new name) has increased its communications spending by 300% in four years - a $1.25 million annual budget that "dwarfs those at similar water districts."

Apparently Mesa paid PR consultant Laer Pearce nearly $270,000 in total consulting fees since beginning talks in 2008, including $85,000 specifically for branding.  They stopped using Pearce in December and plan to issue a new request for proposals for public relations consulting support.

By all measures Mesa is a financially strong organization, but we wonder why they feel it's necessary to spend so much on public relations - to let people know who they are.  Reicher says, "A customer survey in 2012 found less than one-third of surveyed ratepayers could identify the district by name."  He quotes Mesa's Communications Manager Stacey Taylor as saying, "There's a big void.  It showed a lack of connection with the community."

Reicher tells us that "in 2009 the Board of Directors voted to increase rates by 25% between fiscal years 2010 and 2014".  He quotes district officials as stating the money to be received by the increased rates "is needed to maintain its AAA credit rating".  However, Mesa has "about $23 million in reserves and the Orange County Grand Jury issued a report last year recommending districts use excessive reserves to pay down debt."

To further illustrate the financial condition of Mesa Water, Reicher provided a little chart showing the top ten most highly compensated members of the Mesa staff - - each earn over $150,000 including benefits - starting with General Manager Paul Schoenberger at over $315,000  and includes Taylor at the number 3 spot, with more than $194,000 in total compensation.  You can find out more information about Mesa Water at their website, HERE, and specific information about the compensation program HERE.

Reicher's last paragraph leaves his readers with an interesting quote from Communication Manager Taylor.  He quotes her as saying, "Yes, we're a monopoly public utility, and customers don't have a choice," Taylor said, "but does that mean we want people grumbling about their government?"  That should make us all think just a little about how Mesa is spending OUR money.

I hope these snippets will cause you to jump off your couch, abandon watching the final round of the Master's Gold Tournament, and go buy a copy of the Sunday Register at your local convenience store.

Reicher's article is only the most recent of many critical publications about Mesa Water District.  In February former Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook published a scathing commentary on the SurfCityVoice blog titled Mesa Water Drops Fiduciary Duties as Ratepayers Pick Up The Tab, HERE.

SurfCityVoice Blog publisher John Earl has long been a watchdog on water issues in our region, focusing on the planned Poseidon desalination project in Huntington Beach.  Last month he published two very critical essays on his blog concerning Mesa Water, HERE and HERE.


Late last month Costa Mesa resident Jay Litvak published a commentary in the Daily Pilot that asked, "What is Mesa Water Up To?", HERE.  And resident Howard Hull - one of the cadre of true believers who hover around the power elite in Costa Mesa - published a snarky rejoinder to Litvak in the Daily Pilot last week, HERE.

Personally, I think a little light on Mesa Water and the other small, special districts, is a good thing.  I'm not so sure that Mesa anticipated the kind of attention they're getting when they decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a PR campaign so folks would know who is delivering their water.  It might be one of those "be careful what you ask for" situations.  We'll see...

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Anonymous CMresident said...

In regards to comments by Debbie Cook and others concerning Shawne Dewane's investment company and his role in CalDesal I looked for his and all the Mesa Board of Directors Form 700: Statment of Economic Interest papers. They should be made easily available on the Mesa website but I couldn't find them. I filed a Public Records Request with the District and will let you know the results.

4/14/2013 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Follow the Money said...

Hmm.. Rig-clone Hull's name on a piece trying to "refute" Litvak, Rig-clones Fisler and Temianka on the Board of Directors. I smell untreated sewer water.

4/14/2013 04:58:00 PM  
Anonymous History Channel said...

Next thing you know Dave Ellis will be selling "healing waters" at the Swapmeet.. Riggy will proclaim a "water shortage" in the city; Mensy will throw water on a service person and call himself an environmentalist. Baby Ethan and Fitzy will suddenly start reading weird scripts about water during council public comments.

But don't be fooled, there's no agenda or nefarious plot by Riggy and his little friends. This is all just junk that "Angry Geoff West" and various malcontents make up.

And if you believe that, then you'll believe we saw Millard at the premier for the movie "42."

4/14/2013 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous rate payer said...

James Fisler said of the rebranding. "It's how you feel if you came back from the a day at the spa. It's refreshing." Really, We elect people like this.

4/14/2013 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Heck of a spa visit, huh? I guess it's a half-million bucks well spent if Fisler feels "refreshed"! :-(

4/14/2013 06:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Stacy Taylor said...

In 5 fiscal years, less than $280,000 was spent on branding (that's an average of $56,000 per year). The OC Register rounded up & included another $210,000 (actually $208,400) that was forecast for branding in FY14...this amount won't be spent now that the branding is done.

In any case, the District's name is now Mesa Water District with "Mesa Water" for short (not "Mesa", the Register got that wrong too, among other inaccuracies).

Mesa Water hopes that its outreach efforts will result in customer awareness, community connections, and conversations like these...please feel free to contact us directly at 949.631.1201 or and we are happy to answer questions, address concerns, and receive your comments.

Meanwhile, Mesa Water remains financially strong -- with a AAA rating -- and will continue to provide high-quality, safe, reliable, and affordable water (still just 1 penny for 2 1/2 gallons) with 100 percent locally sourced supplies (which reduces the District's energy use and carbon footprint). For more info, visit

4/14/2013 08:20:00 PM  
Anonymous yellow journalism said...

-the rebranding cost 80K , not 500K? Still trust the reporter?

-the cookies were parting gifts in lieu of a t-shirt or other similar things that are usually given?

-the "budgeted" numbers quoted are not "actual" dollars spent?

-the grand jury did not call out Mesa's reserves but any districts "unrestricted reserves"? Mesa's stash of cash is required covenant for the AAA rating? And the grand jury violated a penal code by not talking with the districts when investigating basically online numbers.

-the quotes from Taylor and Fisler are but small snippets of very long conversations, taken out of context to cast negativity upon them?

-there were "valets" parking cars because there is no parking around the facility.

-the event was a 53 year milestone being celebrated, much like the city's 60th anniversary. It was not a "revamped water filtration system" as the author states but a 20 million dollar build that makes the water district 100 per cent locally reliable snd protects the aquifer for surrounding districts?

-the district actually doesn't have "relatively high rates". The author doesn't know the lower rate districts take 1 per cent of your property tax (mesa water takes none) money to supplement water cost so that costs are actually higher elsewhere?

-Newport Beach raised its water rates 40 per cent in the same time frame Mesa Water raised them 25 per cent? Another district over 70 per cent. Because water charges to pump for the basin increased dramatically?

Mesa Water's communications budget doesn't really "dwarf" other district's budgets for the same programs, that those other districts allocate that money into different budget lines and programs? not apples to apples comparison.

-the claim the district "only" serves 110K people is misleading? People make up less than 2/3rds of what the district serves. And as many as 40 million people are served annually if you count the airport, south coast plaza and the fair.

And what if, and it IS true, Mesa Water has less expenditures per capita (the 110K) than any other water district (in addition to the AAA bond rating and 100 per cent local supply after a 53 year effort)?

A lot more could be said about Litvak's curious letter and motivation and the always clever with "facts" (everything is "illegal" or "in secret" according to them, yet curiously their claims are never shown to be correct) twosome of John Earl and Debbie Cook.

Just something to mull over.

4/14/2013 08:21:00 PM  
Anonymous i want names ! said...

Fisler again? Using 500K of ratepayer money to go to a spa? wow. He and Dewane are very suspect to me. How do they get away with this when it takes 3 votes or more to pass something. I was thinking Temianka but he is too new to be involved in any of this though it is supect that he got voters to overwhelmingly elect him over a sitting 27 year tenured incumbent. Did he pay off the voters? Stuff the ballot box. Something is fishy. What other board members voted with Fisler and Dewane to get a majority vote? Why are they not outed? Maybe cuz not OCGOP? Who cares? Nail em all. I am all for sticking it to Fisler since he is a big supporter of Mensinger but he is just one vote. I looked back to see who was on the board and Bockmiller, Hall, and Atkinson were the other names I saw. One, or more, of them is complacent in banking money for a AAA bond rating and replacing infrastructure. They could put this stuff off and lower our rates and bill us when they need it, why plan ahead? Dumb. I think Litvak nails it when he says they are going to try to go private and not be subject to brown act. John Earl quotes a real attorney saying that while rare there is a possiblity that it could be done. What more do you need to see the truth, actual pictures of UFO's?

4/14/2013 09:42:00 PM  
Anonymous hygiene advice said...

brush your teeth (with mesa water) "follow the money" and that untreated sewer water stench you smell may go away. if you don't want to use water try a bar of soap for that smart, but rank, mouth.
Hull trying to refute Litvak's gibberish was a waste of time. Too logical, it smells of the perfect pre planned explanation. There is a conspiracy. Either the district is going private, getting taken over by the city, or staying the same. it has been the same for over 50 years so it is only logical that it is going to change now. why not? The Aztek calendar predicted big changes. Litvak is a forward thinker to come up with this line of thought. it has nothing to do with his wife leaving the district under a cloud. they haven't offered proof they are not up to something have they? this lack of proof equals guilt. I look forward to more from Litvak in the future. I have heard rumors the water company is going to buy something. Anyone else heard this? Again, they have not offered proof they are not. Thus guilty. time to start some trouble....

4/14/2013 10:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Judgment! said...

i almost took the hook. it was a great lead in ! then it all fell apart, it was an obvious hit piece from a rookie writer who will be fortunate to keep his job. then a grand jury quote. everyone knows what a joke they are. overtasked. non investigative. yet they have to come up with something so they copy the previous grand jury. over and over, going back years. then john earl and debbie cook get mentioned. that pretty much sealed the deal for me. those two are looneys in the first degree, especially earl. cook has been known to, to put it kindly, exagerate numbers and falsify facts. both are obsessive compulsive types, one trying to get back in the public eye after a humiliating election defeat and the other trying to be noticed at any cost. and that cost will probably get greater for him as he loses control in his writings and smears the wrong guy who is just waiting to sue him, aggressive lawyer already lined up and anxious to go. already won two lawsuits for him in the last six months. you go john, bring it!

4/14/2013 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Hmmm, looks like we struck a nerve with some folks close to Mesa Water District. Too bad they chose to be anonymous - not surprising, but disappointing. At least Stacy Taylor signed in - much appreciated, Stacy.

4/14/2013 11:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Antonio said...

If it's shown that Fisler has done wrong, then he should be recalled and all real estate dealings he's involved in should be boycotted.

4/15/2013 06:51:00 AM  
Anonymous boycott !! said...

well said Antonio. Fisler has done wrong by being a republican and backing Mensinger. enough is enough. recall now. boycot Torelli realty until he is fired. The nerve of some people sometimes really amazes me. to actually be a registered republican is uncalled for if you are holding a seat that is supposed to be non partisan. i wonder if any council members, school board members, or san district members are registered republicans? time to start some trouble....

4/15/2013 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

4/15/2013 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Thanks for the link. So, Fisler isn't interested in video coverage of their meetings, huh? At least they didn't give themselves a raise! Thanks to the Voice of OC for the coverage.

4/15/2013 10:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Water and Power said...

Let's find out who is pulling Fisler's strings. Since his tongue seems firmly attached to Riggy and Mensy's boots, there's a good starting point. What is Valerie Torelli's position on old Fis being in the middle of political intrigue that involves land use and land rights?

4/15/2013 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous colleage said...

we at torelli do not think our agent is involved in land use and land rights. we believe he is involved in providing water to our city and is very dedicated. talking with him, four years ago he was a planning commissioner involved in land use but has since been elected twice to the water district and is not on planning commission anymore. he is at a loss to explain any political intrigue he is involved in regarding land use and finds it amusing that someone so ignorant posted such a claim here.

4/15/2013 07:19:00 PM  
Anonymous No bueno said...

Good thing Fitzy is off the Sanitary District Board otherwise you would be reading much of the same information about CMSD! I wish there were video recordings of his early meetings. He pushed SO HARD for crap like over paid, unnecessary branding consultant...seriously? Just to drop the word consolidated? Be real.

4/15/2013 07:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Truthout said...

We don't believe Fisler acts independently. We think he's a foot soldier for Riggy and the Newport bosses. Too bad his commissions are down.

4/15/2013 10:03:00 PM  
Anonymous John Earl said...

Geoff: I won't waste my time responding to Fisler and the other cowards posting on here who don't use their real names, but I will respond to Stacy Taylor. Stacy, one thing I learned while doing PR (and other duties) for Orange County's hotel union years ago was, don't lie to the press or public or deliberately mislead them. At a recent WACO meeting I asked you how much your branding program cost, including related PR, and you told the large crowd of water buffaloes present there that it cost about $20,000. Afterward, when I pointed out that you had fibbed, you said, lamely, that you meant just for logos, as if that were even a justified cost for something a couple of college interns could have done with Photoshop for a few hundred dollars. Now you are saying it was "under $280,000." Well, you think that's a justified use of the ratepayers money? Well, we will see if the public agrees with that because I will give them the chance to decide for themselves when I publish all of the invoices from Laer Pearce Associates that Mesa (Water) paid for branding and other PR help, at a RATE equal to approximately $400,000 per year, based on hourly rates charged by Laer and his associate (in invoices that were not properly itemized, a point that you refused to comment on when I asked you). And, please, stop pretending here (and in the Voice of OC interview recently) that you are trying to create public awareness ... and "conversations like these" when, actually, ALL of your documentation on PR outreach that I have seen (hundreds of pages of it) indicates that you are trying to CONTROL public discourse and PREVENT conversations like this from going public. Not a DIME of your ratepayers' money EVER went toward even considering the idea of video or audio of public meetings online or encouraging the public to attend meetings. To imply that you are seriously considering that is simply a lie (at a recent MWDOC meeting, board president Joan Finnegan scoffed at that very idea, saying, sarcastically, "Mesa has been considering video streaming for years." Anyone who has attended Mesa meetings and dared to speak out (if you could sit though all the BS self-congratulatory photos sessions first) knows how Mesa's board shows contempt for the public. Frankly, you all (yes, even Atkinson) should be ashamed of yourselves. Anyway, it's obvious that your attempt to control public perceptions in order to create a hagiography for Mesa Water is backfiring. Much, much more to come in the Surf City Voice on related topics.
Thank you,
John Earl
Surf City Voice

4/16/2013 12:59:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Thanks, John...
I learned a new word today:

— n , pl -phies
1. the writing of the lives of the saints
2. biography of the saints
3. any biography that idealizes or idolizes its subject

4/16/2013 01:22:00 AM  
Anonymous si muy bueno said...

No Bueno is a board member who knows Fitzy killed the randing consultant. The board member also knows it was Fitzy who got cameras into the board room and stopped audio recordings from being routinely destroyed. But that does not fit no bueno's false narrative.

4/16/2013 08:13:00 AM  
Anonymous water water everywhere said...

Love that West takes the likes of Earl and gives this wacko any credibility. Although Earl and West may have similar disorders that require them to wander around and take pictures perhaps because they were nerds in high school and this is revenge? We dont know?

Earl is all over Mesa because he and his cohort's hagiography is all about stopping desalinization in huntington beach because the like those from our city that join them are anti growth and think water enables growth

4/16/2013 08:26:00 AM  
Anonymous definition said...

John Earl=amateur in over his head. his preconcieved end results cause him to fabricate. he has cried wolf way too often. now irrelevant.

4/16/2013 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Thanks to Mesa Water President Jim Fisler, who sent me the following link to a blog entry by PR consultant Laer Pearce, who provides his perspective (spin?) to this issue. Rather than attempt to paraphrase him, I'll leave it to you to interpret his view on this issue yourselves. Please do take special note of his final words.

4/16/2013 09:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Troll Tracker said...

The Pot Stirrer said...
"Thanks to Mesa Water President Jim Fisler, who sent me the following link"

So what? Fisler should be ashamed. Who ordered Fisler and Temianka to support this boondoggle? What's the plan of the Newport bosses? Why are they working so hard to discredit John Earl? Lots of energy being expended to put down someone they say is "irrelevant.."

4/16/2013 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous sk said...

Mesa management is having a spa day with ratepayer money. Ask any resident how much they care if their water district is named Mesa Consolidated or Mesa Water. And if they realized that means they are paying costs for new business cards, new name tags, new stationary templates, new decals, new signs, new logos etc. The consultant says they needed the communication expense to explain rate increases. Did they communicate all the costs involved in changing a name? Did they ask the ratepayers opinion? I thought that is what communication is all about.

4/17/2013 06:41:00 AM  
Anonymous u can't fire me, i quit said...

is sk a former disgruntled water district employee. heard she was. the district has done well without her. easy to see why.

4/17/2013 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous codakrome said...

two questions: where did you get that old picture of debbie cook. she used to look good!

second, to sk: i heard you were a defender of the san district on every matter no matter what so i guess you approve of thier 40K expense for some telephone push poll ? but not of a mesa event that cost about the same? do you double standards maa'm? yep!

4/17/2013 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous sk said...

@ codarome - yes i do support polling ratepayers to get their opinion.

@ ucan'tfireme - you guys label any employee that leaves any government entity with your soldiers on board as a disgrutled employee.

4/17/2013 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Too bad, so sad said...

Fitzy, poor, poor Fitzy...

Why don't you grow a pair and use your own name? Or, you can just go by the moniker Loser. It’s short, simple, easy for you to spell, straight to the point, and goes well with every one of your stupid posts.

I wish you weren't so threatened by sk. She is a "titan of the industry", a "thought leader" and likes to have "robust" discussions just like you! ahahahahaha! Dude, your breakdowns and tantrums are sure fun to read. Thanks for all the questions...again.

4/17/2013 03:01:00 PM  

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