By Allen Payton
Six days after an article was posted on the Antioch Herald website questioning the existence of a group that East Bay Regional Parks Board candidate Mark Foley claims endorsed him, he responded with an emailed statement to the Herald. The question on the endorsement came from the fact that he used the incorrect name of the group. Foley said he was endorsed by “Friends of Urban Creeks.” Foley now says the group’s name is actually Friends of Creeks in Urban Settings. He failed to respond to both a voicemail message and email asking about the endorsement before the original article (which can be viewed by clicking, here) was published.
In addition, Foley provided a statement from the group’s co-fouder, Beverly Ortiz, who also responded to one of a few questions about the organization.
Following is Foley’s initial response:
“The Antioch Herald recently published an article titled “Parks Board candidate Foley claims endorsement of a group that may not exist.” This article questions one of my endorsements and the existence of the endorsing organization, Friends of Creeks in Urban Settings.
There is a simple explanation about the endorsement in question; my campaign listed the endorsement of a group called “Friends of Urban Creeks”. The group is in fact called FOCUS (Friends of Creeks in Urban Settings). Once my campaign discovered the error in the name, it immediately corrected it on my campaign’s website, and apologized to the organization for the mistake.
Additionally, the Antioch Herald questions the existence of FOCUS. This is insulting to an established and respected citizen’s organization. Friends of Creeks in Urban Settings has existed for more than two decades. FOCUS’s co-founder, Bev Ortiz, wrote me that she was deeply saddened to hear that the group’s existence has come into question by the media while she is out of the country traveling with a research delegation. The Antioch Herald should publish an apology to FOCUS.
I believe the strong support of the dedicated East Bay Regional Parks’ workers, including the rangers, naturalists, lifeguards, trades workers, supervisors, clerical and other professional workers in AFSCME 2428 who are responsible for the stewardship of our precious parks day in and day out is as good as environmental credentials can get.
I’m committed to ensuring the democratic nature and transparency of the East Bay Regional Park District. I decided to run for the board because I have important experience to bring to the table. I’ve worked on water issues in a special district for my entire career and understand the complex nature of the decisions that must be made by the Board of Directors. In the past decade, the Regional Park District has done a great job in acquiring more land for open space and conservation. I am running to make sure that the people who are paying for these land acquisitions also have access to them for recreational and educational purposes, or just to connect with nature. I’m running to help foster a better, more respectful relationship between workers and District management. I am the only candidate in this race that has the trust and experience to make progress in this regard.
On November 4, voters have a rare opportunity to have a say in who will represent our community on the East Bay Regional Park board. I thank you for your consideration while making your decision about who you will cast your vote for.”
Foley also forwarded a statement from FOCUS co-founder Beverly Ortiz:
“To whom it may concern: I am the co-founder of Friends of Creeks in Urban Settings (FOCUS). We started our work in the early 1980′s in Central Contra Costa County. Our emphasis in our early years was on solutions to flooding and erosion that would also protect creek environments and habitats. In part through a state grant, we were successful in developing alternatives to the planned channelization of tributaries of Grayson Creek–working with a hydrological consulting company on a plan to install bypass pipes and detention basins that was ultimately adopted by the Contra Costa Flood Control District. We also created an informational brochure that was distributed to creekside homeowners with suggestions for solving flooding and erosion problems short of channelization. For many years we were an affiliate of the Urban Creeks Council. In recent years, we have worked behind the scenes to advise homeowners in similar situations.”
In response to a question about the form of the organization, Ortiz replied, “We are NOT a 501c3. We have membership and fund raising and a bank account, and NO non-profit status.”
However, Ortiz, a parks district employee, did not respond to questions about what form the organization is nor how many members it has. Ortiz was traveling at the time, and had limited computer access.
To those same questions, Foley responded by email:
“I am not affiliated with the organizational leadership of FOCUS, and I have no authorization to make a comment on their behalf. I was asked to forward their response to you and have done so, as well as providing you with Beverly’s personal contact information.
I don’t think the question is about this organization’s status and work anyway. It’s about my environmental credentials:
I have decades of experience working for a public agency charged with the stewardship of water and land, having spent my 22+ year career working to protect and improve a water system that provides safe, clean drinking water for 1.3 million people in the East Bay. Currently, I work on a team charged with maintaining the infrastructure that moves and stores surface water from the source in the Sierras all the way to reservoirs in the East Bay hills. Daily, I work to ensure the integrity of an important large-scale system that includes open space and recreational areas. In my role as President of AFSCME 2019, I have been involved in advocacy on key environmental and water policies, including my personal opposition to the peripheral canal and now the Delta tunnels, in the Board room and in Sacramento.
Finally, I have what I believe is the most important environmental endorsement in this particular race: the workers of the East Bay Regional Park District. These rangers, naturalists, planners, educators, construction workers and others are the ones who know our parks — and the public which uses them — best. They are there, every day, year round, developing programs, maintaining trails, protecting creeks, and observing condition of all the natural flora and fauna in our regional parks. I’m honored their membership voted to endorse me after considering both candidates in this race.”
According to his campaign website, Foley is an Analyst in the Operations and Maintenance department for the East Bay Municipal Utility District – which provides water services to Central Contra Costa County residents – and President for the past 10 years of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2019, which is the same union as the employees of the East Bay Regional Parks District.
He is running for the East Bay Regional Parks Board of Directors in Ward 7, against Oakley City Councilwoman Diane Burgis, who is the Executive Director of Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed, in the November 4 election.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The Herald did not question the existence of FOCUS, because that was not the name of the organization provided by Mr. Foley. We questioned the existence of Friends of Urban Creeks, which could not be found via an internet search, nor had been heard of by East Bay environmental leaders, as were quoted in the original article. Mr. Foley’s own statement proves the fact that Friends of Urban Creeks doesn’t exist, since he got the group’s name incorrect. No apology is necessary from the Herald.