As Marina’s Christmas tree sparkled and residents went about their holiday shopping, the Marina Coast Water District offices – one in Central Marina and one on the former Fort Ord – were patrolled by armed security guards. Marina police even posted up at the Dec. 15 board meeting, just in case things got out of hand.
These are tense times at Marina Coast.
On Dec. 30, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Heidi Whilden granted the district a three-year restraining order against a recently terminated employee who had sent what district officials considered to be threatening emails. That employee, according to court files, doesn’t have an attorney and did not appear in court.
But the threat – targeting three co-workers, including Interim General Manager Brian Lee – was serious enough that Lee hired the two guards for several weeks in December. (He says their rate was about $28 an hour, but the district hasn’t been invoiced yet.) He also requested police presence during the board meeting, which was peaceful.
“We were taking extreme precautions because of the emails we received,” Lee says. “We wanted to make sure the district was as protected as possible.”
The threats are the least of Marina Coast’s problems. Lee, who joined the district as deputy general manager in February 2013 and has been interim general manager since former boss Jim Heitzman departed in June 2013, bid farewell to the district Jan. 7.
Lee starts a new job as general manager of San Lorenzo Valley Water District on Monday. He says the new post is a better fit for his personality. “The political environment here – I just don’t like it,” he says. “People have lost, or maybe never had, the ability to negotiate. The attitude is, ‘For me to win, you have to lose, and lose badly.’”
The district board, which reportedly failed to seal a deal with a top candidate for permanent director, is now launching a search for a new interim. Lee says he never sought the permanent director position. His salary as interim was $190,000, and he says the board declined to offer him a merit increase during a closed-session review Nov. 17.
Marina Coast has been dealing with heavy politics and litigation as it is. The California Coastal Commission recently overturned the district’s denial of a test well permit for California American Water’s proposed seawater desalination project; Marina Coast is suing the commission in response (though drilling is already underway).
In a separate lawsuit, Marina Coast faced off against the county and Cal Am in San Francisco Superior Court last month, trying to get back the $17 million it sunk on the failed regional desalination project. That decision is pending.
Meanwhile, the politics on the bitterly split board have gotten so nasty, four directors voted to censure Director Howard Gustafson in October.
“Our district is just under so much scrutiny and pressure,” Director Jan Shriner says. “It puts us into a very stressful situation.”
Still, the board’s swing vote, Director Peter Le, has high hopes for 2015: progress on a new Fort Ord water supply, environmental planning for Cal Am’s desal project and, at long last, a permanent general manager.