Historical Op Ed Pieces

 

Los Angeles City Watch

Don’t be Fooled: DWP Reform Ballot Measure Simply Transfers Oversight to the Bureaucracy

 

Oct. 17, 2016

 

NO ON MEASURE RRR--The Water and Power Associates opposes Measure RRR on the November 8 ballot.

Here’s why: If passed, it will amend the City Charter to seriously change the governance of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

We concur that reducing political interference in LADWP’s business activities would be a positive step. However, the proposed Charter changes do no such thing. Instead, these amendments would transfer the City Council’s oversight over water and power rates to LADWP’s bureaucracy. This would quash the appropriate governmental oversight of the policies and performance of this vital asset of the City of Los Angeles, while conveniently deflecting voter outrage for increased rates. We also believe that the proposed amendments would encourage, not deter political interference.

On July 1, 2000, the last major revisions to the City Charter dealing with the LADWP were implemented. They culminated from the activities of two separate commissions, one appointed and the other elected, working over a period of two years with extensive and open public input. In the previous Charter Amendment process, the public knew exactly what they were voting for.

By contrast, these measures were prepared in the proverbial smoke-filled room, with little public involvement, and they allow changes to the Civil Service Procedures through future Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between the labor unions and the LADWP, which the public is not privy to, subject to generic and non-specific requirements.

The LADWP currently operates under a number of constraints that were approved through the same proposed MOU process, which the public would probably not have approved of, such as: required union approval of all contracts affecting union membership; a requirement that all employees affected by contracting out be offered a minimum of 10% overtime; and the Letter of Agreement granting generous Longevity Pay Bonuses originally intended to go only to linemen – a group traditionally difficult to attract and retain – which were extended to 86 different easy-to-retain civil service classes such as painters, roofers and plumbers.

Allowing an open-ended MOU process, which the public is not invited to, to determine how the LADWP is run is not the appropriate process for making such major changes as substantially modifying the Civil Service System.

The Associates agree that LADWP needs to be able to streamline but work within the Civil Service System; improve flexibility in hiring and promoting qualified candidates; and be able to fill positions in a timely manner. The proposed amendment, as written, could change many Department jobs from Civil Service status to “At Will” status and open the door to political appointments rather than merit-based appointments. The proposal also allows the Council to delegate the salary setting authority to the LADWP Board.

In the 1930s, Los Angeles recalled Mayor Frank Shaw and convicted his brother and Aide Joe Shaw, for selling civil service jobs and promotions in order to fatten the campaign coffers of Mayor Shaw. While we are not accusing anyone of planning such activities, Measure RRR makes them possible. Allowing open-ended changes to this system, which has safeguarded the City from corruption for nearly a century, with neither thorough analysis nor full public participation is not the way to accomplish this. It benefits neither the LADWP nor other City Departments to curtail the interdepartmental transfers that would occur with the removal of the Civil Service System from the LADWP, as allowed in this Charter change.

As stated in the Ralph M Brown Act, 1953 -- “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

The Department needs reforms, but they should not be left in the hands of the unions and politicians.   The Associates recommend that Measure RRR be rejected at the ballot box.

by Ed Schlotman

 

Edward A. Schlotman is President of Water and Power Associates, Inc. 

 

 

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Los Angeles Daily News

L.A. Should Evaluate Possible Construction of a Desalination Plant

 

June 16, 2015

 

The current drought has again raised interest on the part of the public and water agencies in developing seawater desalination as a resource. We know that desalination represents a significant source in the water supplies of the Middle East. The construction of seawater desalination facilities also played a major role in Australia’s response to a decade-long drought in the 1990s, albeit at a substantially increased cost for water. Currently there are at least a dozen projects in California that are under consideration. The largest seawater desalination project in the Western Hemisphere is scheduled to become operational by the end of the year in San Diego, and the Orange County Water District is actively pursuing a similar project. The city of Santa Barbara is almost completely rebuilding its 25-year-old facility (built during the last major drought, but never put into full operation). What role can and should desalination play in the water supply for Los Angeles?

In early 2000, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, after a trip to Israel, encouraged the L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to investigate the role that seawater desalination should play in Los Angeles’ water supply. In response, the LADWP developed a conceptual plan for a modest-sized project to be co-located with its Scattergood Power Generating Station near the Los Angeles International Airport. This plan would have allowed the LADWP to gain firsthand knowledge and experience in the technology with a minor impact on rates. The Scattergood station had an existing seawater intake for plant cooling that was to be used as the desalination source and existing available space that would have allowed for new plant construction without purchasing any additional land. The proposed capacity of 10 million gallons per day would have served the area in the vicinity of the plant with minimal requirements for pumping and distribution. The disposal of brine that results from the desalination process would have been handled by the existing city of Los Angeles Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant outlet; this method of brine disposal was considered at the time as environmentally beneficial as it would have raised the salinity level of Hyperion’s discharge effluent closer to that of the ocean.

While this desalinated water would have been more expensive than purchases from the Metropolitan Water District at that time, the overall cost impact would have been negligible, as the quantity delivered would have been less than two percent of L.A.’s overall water supply. Projected costs would have been within the range of the some of the more expensive water recycling projects under consideration at the time. However, interest in the proposed desalination project eventually waned in favor of continued focus on water conservation, wastewater recycling and stormwater capture.

In light of the current drought and ongoing long-term water supply issues, L.A. should carefully study and critically evaluate the desirability of adding some measure of desalinated water to the city’s water supply portfolio. This is not to suggest immediately beginning construction, since it is likely (although not certain) that the current crisis will be over long before a facility could be built. Much information should become available from the first few years of operation of the San Diego project, although information sharing may be severely limited due to the private ownership of the facility and the owner’s desire to protect competitive advantage. The Santa Barbara facility will be another, likely more open, source of information. L.A. should do all it can to encourage information sharing through the regulatory and permitting processes for the benefit of the entire state.

It is unlikely that desalination of seawater will be a “magic bullet” to solve all of California’s water issues due to the limited number of feasible sites and the immense cost that would be involved in facility construction and moving the water from sea level elevation where it would originate to inland areas where water demand is highest. However, there is substantial water use in coastal Southern California and desalinated water could provide a significant benefit to local water supply reliability (as a drought-proof source) and to the economies of L.A. and the Southern California region.

Conservation, as the cheapest and most immediate source of water, has been mandated by Gov. Brown to reduce California’s urban water use in response to the current drought. However, conservation alone cannot be counted on to fully offset the effects of future droughts as well as increasing demands due to population growth and continuing water allocations for the environment. Therefore, serious consideration should be given to expanding L.A.’s current water supply portfolio (traditional sources, recycled water, stormwater capture) to include desalination, a proven source of water in the Middle East and Australia, to reliably meet L.A.’s water needs of the future.

by Jerry Gewe

 

Jerry Gewe is a retired assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and is currently on the Executive Board of the Water and Power Associates.

 

 

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The Signal Newspaper, Valencia, CA

April 26, 1998

 

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On Valley Secession, Los Angeles Times

September 15, 2002

 

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