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— Democratic state senator Steve Peace has been fighting hard for Western Water, formerly Yuba Natural Resources, the company once run by ex-felon Dick Silberman, one-time husband of San Diego mayor Susan Golding. Before Silberman went to prison in 1991 after being set up on money-laundering charges in an FBI sting, the failed financier told investors he had discovered gold on the Yuba River north of Sacramento. After no gold was found and Silberman was busted, other controlling shareholders in Yuba, including the late Hotel Del Coronado magnate M. Larry Lawrence, changed the name of the company to Western Water and began touting its expertise in brokering water deals. But fortune has eluded the firm. For the past two years, Peace has been waging a legislative war on L.A.'s Metropolitan Water District on behalf of Western Water and other water brokers who claim that the MWD is unfairly blocking access to its lucrative network of pipes and aqueducts. Last week, according to the State Net Capital Journal, Peace lashed out at Assemblyman Mike Machado, a fellow Democrat and an MWD champion and opponent of Western Water's legislation, who Peace accused of "prostituting" himself for the giant water agency. "When you get to a point when you get a chairman and he's participating in fundraisers with all your contractors and that chairman refuses to set a bill [for a hearing], you have succeeded in fundamentally corrupting the legislative process.... Why do we bother hearing bills on this subject when we know the fix is in the other house?" Ironically, Western Water has moved its headquarters from La Jolla to Point Richmond and now says it wants to sell the company. "We are disappointed that the slow pace of market development has made it unlikely that we will be able to achieve our objective of building a viable, sustainable water sales business as a free-standing company and within a reasonable time horizon," the company announced in a news release last week that also disclosed that Western Water had "limited cash resources."

Return of the Prodigal

Roger Vitaich, forced out of his job as general manager of the Del Mar Fair back in August 1992 when it was alleged he had sexually harassed female fair workers, has turned up in a new role: general manager of the Ramona Pageant near Hemet in Riverside County. Vitaich, who later was accused by state auditors of shabby business practices at the fair, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise he was planning major changes for the pageant. "All in all, the whole [operation] needs to be looked at; who are we, where are we from, where are we going." ... A Nevada slot-machine manufacturing outfit has announced its "first major California order," a $1 million contract from the Barona Casino. A news release from Mikohn Gaming Corp. says the order for new Barona gambling machines will include "visual displays, electronics, and oversized Mini-Bertha slot machines." ... The latest newspaper circulation numbers are in from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. For the six months ended March 31, the Union-Tribune had a daily circulation of 381,300, little changed from 381,256 last year. Sunday circulation, meanwhile, slipped noticeably to 450,304 from 453,666.

Murder

Police in Spokane, Washington, say they may have finally solved the murder of the daughter of a Marine Corps colonel from Oceanside. Forty-seven-year-old Michelyn Derning, after graduating from high school in Virginia, followed her father Ed to Oceanside, where she briefly attended Palomar College. She also got married and divorced and began doing drugs. After losing custody of her son, she moved to Spokane three years ago in an attempt to rebuild her life but soon fell back into a life of drugs and prostitution in that city's seedy red-light district. Her body was found in a vacant lot on July 7, 1998. Police now say they have linked Derning's murder, along with the killings of at least 11 other women, to Robert Lee Yates Jr., 47, a former Army helicopter pilot and father of five from Spokane who regularly cruised a two-mile strip along East Sprague Avenue in his white Corvette looking for "dates." Yates may have murdered as many as 18 prostitutes in the area between 1992 and October 1998.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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