A behind-the-scenes Republican effort to gain control of regional government boards took a big step forward Thursday, with the ousting of Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido from the region’s air pollution regulatory agency.
At a meeting of the committee that chooses the representative of Orange County cities on the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) board, a large majority of local mayors and their representatives opted to not re-appoint Pulido, instead choosing Republican Lake Forest Councilman Dwight Robinson.
The move appears to tilt the balance of power at AQMD, giving Republicans a majority of the board seats if the other members are still in their seats come January.
AQMD is in charge of controlling air pollution all of Orange County and the non-desert areas of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It creates and enforces rules – including issuing fines – on air emissions by local businesses, including oil refineries.
In recent weeks, GOP leaders – with the backing of the oil industry, sources say – launched an effort to replace Pulido, a Democrat and green energy advocate, with a more “pro-business” board member.
The not-so-subtle aim of the Republicans — who have relatively little say in Sacramento, where Democrats control the legislature and executive branch — is to loosen regulations at the local level by taking over regional regulatory bodies. AQMD has been high on their list.
“Businesses are constantly being impacted” by AQMD, Robinson told the mayors just before the vote.
“That’s our problem here, and we need to focus on making sure we can retain jobs” so they don’t move to other states, he said, adding that he’ll balance the importance of air quality with “jobs and retaining jobs here in Southern California.”
Pulido – who has served on the AQMD board for over a decade – sought to emphasize his pro-business credentials in a final speech to keep his seat.
“I’m very concerned about saving jobs. Since I’ve been on the board we’ve continued to increase jobs in the area – we need to do more on that,” he told his fellow mayors, adding that clean air is a “basic fundamental right.”
He also pledged to take up anything the mayors find important.
“If you need anything else – any issue – anything that comes up in any of your cities – your concern is my concern,” Pulido said.
But in the end, it wasn’t enough.
The final vote tally Thursday was 21 for Robinson and 12 for Pulido. Robinson also had to get a majority of votes when weighted by city population, which he achieved with 54.06 percent.
“I’ve lived in California for a long time – my entire life – and you know raising my kids here, air quality is really important to me, but also making sure that we’re not over-regulating business and pushing jobs out of the state. And so that’s really going to be a big focus for me,” Robinson told Voice of OC after the vote.
After Robinson’s victory was announced, Pulido got up from his seat, congratulated the victor, and left the meeting early.
By losing his seat on the board, Pulido will also lose several perks, including $17,000 in compensation and free use of a plug-in hybrid car. He also appointed his brother to a part-time consulting job paying more than $35,000 at the agency.
Pulido’s ouster was the subject of a lobbying campaign by some of the most influential Republican power brokers in Orange County.
Among them, lobbyist Curt Pringle and his firm Curt Pringle & Associates were rumored to be involved, with sources saying Pringle was doing it on behalf of a client, the Western States Petroleum Association.
This is important because AQMD is currently sorting out how to regulate the controversial oil drilling technique known as fracking, which has taken place in and around cities in northern Orange County.
Two years ago, the agency stepped up its disclosure requirements for fracking, requiring that companies tell AQMD when they plan on fracking a well and what chemicals will be used.
(Click here for a complete list of who voted for Pulido and who voted for Robinson.)
Robinson’s four-year term at AQMD starts in January and runs through December 2020.
Senior staff writer Adam Elmahrek contributed to this story.