Regional Water head stepping down

Heal the Bay’s president says that state government employees “are leaving in droves” due to furloughs and pay cuts.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

The head of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, Tracy Egoscue, who has had a contentious relationship with several Malibu officials and residents, is calling it quits after less than three years as the state agency’s executive officer. Egoscue declined to say why she is leaving. But a friend and environmentalist ally said it was a financial decision.

Egoscue submitted her resignation letter last month, and this is her final week. The regional board voted last week to install assistant Executive Officer Sam Unger as the interim head of the RWQCB. In an interview this week, Egoscue said, “It’s time to move on,” and declined to say anything further. Her resignation letter was equally vague.

“Being the executive officer of this board has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has helped me grow professionally and personally, however, it is time for me to pursue other opportunities,” she wrote in her letter of resignation. “Please accept my gratitude for a challenging and fulfilling experience. I take with me genuine pride for what I have helped accomplish while in your employ.”

Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, said this week that Egoscue had to leave because the state government’s implementation of three furlough days per month reduced her salary to “considerably less” than what she received with her previous job as head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Baykeeper. He said with a family of four she could not afford to continue working for the RWQCB.

“The state staff that we have are leaving in droves because they have received 10 to 15 percent pay cuts and just can’t afford to work there anymore,” Gold said. “This is the case where a highly effective leader in the state system is a casualty of that situation, and that’s just tragic.”

Gold said most of the “good” state employees who are leaving the workforce are choosing to go with early retirement rather than significant pay cuts. As for how this can be prevented, Gold said, “That’s a much longer discussion that would take up your entire newspaper.”

While Gold is saddened by the loss of Egoscue, she will not be missed by many in Malibu. Egoscue has been at odds with this city, with many perceiving her as having an agenda in opposition to it. Although she does not have a vote on the water board, as its executive officer her opinions are influential and she brings proposals to the board. Many in Malibu see her previous position as head of the Baykeeper, which filed lawsuits against the city under her watch, as evidence of her bias.

“I hope we can have a better relationship with somebody who isn’t a former litigant against the city,” City Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said of Egoscue’s resignation and the RWQCB’s selection of a replacement. “Hopefully the new person will be objective and give us a fair chance.”

During a dispute over the wastewater discharge permitting process for the Malibu Lumber Yard mall, City Manager Jim Thorsen in 2008 sent a letter to Egoscue accusing her of bias. He wrote that she should not be involved in decision-making regarding Malibu.

“Your participation in these decisions taints the regional board’s process and denies the city and its residents an unbiased decision maker,” Thorsen wrote.

Egoscue refused to publicly comment on Thorsen’s letter. But she had plenty of defenders, including her former colleagues at the Baykeeper.

“The unfounded allegations directed at Tracy Egoscue for doing her job to protect water quality are disingenuous and an attempt to divert attention from Malibu’s serious water quality problems,” current Baykeeper head Tom Ford said in response to the letter.

Accusations of bias continued from Malibu throughout last year’s process to implement a ban on septic systems in large sections of eastern and central Malibu. The board approved the prohibition in November. It must go before the state board for the final vote, and litigation is possible after that.

Egoscue, who holds a law degree from George Washington University, has not begun searching for a new job. She said this week that she will begin looking after she is officially steps down.

As for her interim replacement, Gold said the first thing he said to Unger was “my condolences.”

“It is a tough gig,” Gold said. “So much is at stake with the water quality within the region. Almost every issue is a contentious issue. That’s why he’s got his hands full. He’s a smart guy. He’s an experienced guy, but that’s tough for anybody.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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