With the first Las Virgenes Metropolitan Water Board election in 12 years, Westlake Revelations’ readers are asking for information about the water board candidates. Rather than a Westlake Revelations article, we’ve instead asked both candidates a list of questions — for you to read their words for yourself. You can see their style, tone and communication skills, and you can compare it with your past experiences with both individuals.
Note: Incumbents are limited on what they say since because they are in office, they are restricted on expressing decisions in advance of a vote (they should hear all the information, speakers, etc… before they finally decide). On the flip side, challengers are limited on what they can say because they don’t have have access to the information incumbents have.
Below is the question list readers have contributed. The answers to the questions are alternated for fairness.
“BOWMAN” refers to Joseph “Joe” Bowman, Incumbent appointed in 2002.
No web site available. More information, phone and email on flyers distributed.
“POLAN” refers to Leonard “Len” Polan, Challenger.
More information, phone and email available at http://www.lenpolan.com and on flyers distributed.
Q: What is your position and/or thoughts on the expected rate increases?
I see many opportunities to save money that the district is not taking advantage of, as the district has long had higher overhead costs than other water districts. The water district’s General Manager has indicated, that if the tank above Three Springs is not built, then those funds could be used to delay or reduce rate increases for several years. If rate increases are warranted in the current economic conditions, then we have an absolute obligation to insure all possible efficiencies has been implemented within the water district before agreeing to a rate increase.
POTABLE WATER RATE INCREASES are needed primarily because the district has lost $6.7 million on potable water sales since 2009. Previous rate levels adopted 5 years ago have not kept pace with wholesale water rate increases charged the district by Metropolitan Water District which is LVMWDs only source of supply, and the districts increased operating costs. LVMWD has used reserves to cover these loses but cannot continue to do so indefinitely. In the last 9 years, MWD has increased the price LVMWD must pay for our water by over 90% and has announced additional increases of 5% in 2013 and 5% in 2014 plus a yet uncalculated additional increase in 2015. LVMWD has no ability to negotiate the rate MWD charges. MWD may set rates as necessary to cover its costs, but not higher.
MWD will continue to increase its rates because its operating costs continue to rise. Currently, MWD spends $175 million annually for repair and replacement of aging infrastructure and federal regulations and court rulings have restricted the amount of water MWD historically has taken through the Sacramento Delta to deliver water from water rights it owns north and east of the Delta. Less water to supply means higher unit costs. These regulations have been made by the Environmental Protection Agency of the federal government and upheld by federal courts to give priority rights to fish in the Delta which are considered by the EPA to be endangered.
LVMWDs operating costs also continue to rise, including electricity to move water, chemicals to treat it and surging medical premiums for employee coverage. However, payroll has increased by less than 1% (2007 thru 2011) because staff positions have been cut and employees have had no salary increase in 3 years! LVMWD rates are NOT being increased to cover capital improvement costs.
I will NOT vote for the rate increases at the level requested by staff. I believe we can continue to use reserves at a slower pace than we have without jeopardizing the financial stability of the district and spread the increases over a longer period of time. Rising water costs are not a local phenomenon; they are rising throughout California. Even if the increases recommended by staff are adopted, LVMWD ratepayers will continue to enjoy the lowest water rates in the region.
Q: What is your position and/or thoughts on the expected tank constructions at the reservoir above Three Springs?
THE 5MG TANK @ Westlake reservoir is NOT proposed only to have adequate storage for emergency situations. Rather, it is needed to have adequate storage for efficient, cost effective day to day operations to supply potable water to the west end of the district, i.e., for all customers west of the backbone pump station @ Cornell Rd. which moves water west and east in the district. The tank would supply all these users, not just the Three Springs neighborhood. The tank would:
—be the last major component of LVMWDs district wide backbone water delivery system that brings water to more than 20 tanks in various neighborhoods, district wide
—meet common design standards for peak summer demands, the state mandated requirement for projected needs through 2030
—allow the district to avoid peaking charges from Metropolitan Water District, i.e., allow the district to purchase water at times of day or night when it is least expensive
—similarly allow the district to avoid peaking charges for electricity needed to move water
—optimize use of the reservoir and adjacent water treatment plant; with more storage for the treated water, the plant can be operated more efficiently
—similarly, reduce operating hours for the major backbone system pump station @ Cornell Rd.
—provide a supply cushion increasing the time the district would have to address emergency situations in the west end by 70%
Funds are in the bank for the tank, already reserved for this capital improvement as required by state law. It is NOT the reason why the district is now considering the level of potable water rate increases beginning in 2013.
We have been very fortunate that to date, we have known in advance of cut offs from our sole water supplier, Metropolitan Water District. At those times we have filled tanks to maximum before the cutoff. The 5mg tank would afford that much more capacity. More significantly, we have been able to purchase water from the City of Los Angeles. That alternative will not likely exist in a real emergency such as an earthquake that damages MWD and likely other delivery lines.
On the surface, the district’s reasons sound valid, but on deeper inspection, the arguments fall apart. My opponent has refused to answer questions regarding the tank, even questions being asked by the public.
Over the past couple of years, the water district has flip-flopped and changed their argument to support the tank’s construction. This tactic of changing the rationale to push their own agenda is both deceptive and not in the best interest of the community.
I am against the expenditure of tank construction; unless it is proven to be a necessity- and to date, it has not. My opponent’s once said of the tank, “Trust me, We need it”.” This is not an answer.
Q: What changes would you like to see, if any, in the District’s communications with customers?
Did you know that our water district has a Communication Department with a staff of 3 employees, with a budget close to $1 million dollars, delegated to communications with customers?
Do you feel as though you are receiving $1 million dollars worth of information from the water district??
They do not say where this money is going, nor are records available to the public showing breakdown of how this is being spent. I think transparency is necessary, and we need to operate simply, clearly, and efficiently. Communication should serve you the customer.
CUSTOMER COMMUNICATIONS programs are constantly reviewed by the staff and Board. We have an extensive web site (lvmwd.com), frequent press releases, about a dozen mailers annually (with a very low readership levels) and scores of other outreach programs, facilities tours, and participation at others community events throughout the year. At my request last April, the Board hired an expert in water and sanitation agencies community outreach activities to review our programs. In August, she reported that overwhelmingly, ratepayers think very highly of the district. For example, per a recent survey of district customers who are kind enough to give their Email address, out of a perfect score of 9, the respondents gave us an 8.3 on keeping them informed about water issues. Seems to me that we received a solid A!
Recommendations for improvement to outreach efforts were made and will be evaluated. Primarily, these were in the area of non-specific issue forums with interested parties and possibly expanding the number of specific issue public forums like the 2 forums held regarding the 5mg tank. But then, consider the lack of interest in our most recent, well publicized forums on water rates. The Board has asked the current general manager to critique all recommendations. The new general manager to be on board in January will be asked for what outreach efforts he or she has known to be successful. The Board will then revise our Community Outreach Plan and direct implementation.
Q: What culture changes, if any, would you like to see within the District?
The districts CULTURE is entirely appropriate. I can count on two fingers the number who has complained to me about staff conduct, competence, or demeanor during the 10 years that Ive been on the Board and remained dissatisfied after we sought to address the manner. CUSTOMER SERVICE is the FIRST listed value in the districts Mission Statement and all employees are frequently reminded of this priority value, including during their annual performance reviews. In the survey mentioned above, responders gave the district an 8.4 out of a possible 9 to the question of whether our employees are courteous; another A! I know of no employee who is not committed to do his or her very best job and to make sure customers get their answers in a timely manner. Frankly, Ive been amazed at the patience Ive always seen exhibited by our people who deal with customer complaints and I often hear that praise when I follow up with someone who approached me with a question or an issue to be resolved.
I will ask the new general manager, the one primarily responsible for employees conduct and commitment, to ask every employee to sign a pledge to commit to the districts Mission Statement and to act entirely proper in all customer contact. By no means do I believe the written pledge is necessary, and I would not make signing it mandatory, but it seems to me this is an excellent vehicle to tell every employee about how serious the Board is about courtesy and service.
Our water district has many problems. It has become an closed organization locally, in believing that only “water people” can understand, or provide suggestions and answers to issues concerning: Human Resources, Engineering, Finance, and Communication.
We must extinguish the unbelievable arrogance of this water district.
I believe others can contribute, and the water district must bring people together and welcome change.
In addition, I want to change the districts’ culture by providing better responsiveness to customer problems, and I want the board meetings to be more interactive in this day and age of greater communications.
Q: What is your position and/or thoughts on water conservation efforts?
70% of water used is outside the home. It’s the water district’s responsibility to reach our conservation goals and make it easy. There are so many simple and cheap ways for consumers to contribute.
Conservation can take the form of using well water where feasible. We’ve seen a 20% cut in water usage during the drought without having to change our lifestyle. That should be the focus, and that will me my focus.
WATER CONSERVATION is a goal and priority of LVMWD. Recently enacted state law requires that the district reduce the water ALL residents use by 20% by 2020. Overwhelmingly, this must be done by cutting back the amount of water LVMWD customers use outside the home which currently is about 70% of the water LVMWD delivers to residences. If the 70% is cut by one-third, we achieve a 20% overall savings. In the very near future, LVMWDs staff and board will begin to develop a program to achieve these reductions. The district will have a new general manager in January, 2013. I believe we should give this man or woman no more than 6 months to settle in and understand the district and the community before we begin to attack 20% by 2020.
The program almost certainly will be multi-faceted, including incentives to cut back, community information on innovations for outside irrigation, and steep costs to those who do not cut back. There may be other means uncovered by research of other agencies programs. All retail agencies must cut back.
Almost certainly, every customer will be put on a water budget again so the district and customer can track water consumption vs. goals. From the budget program utilized during the 2009-2011 drought, the district learned a great deal about establishing equitable budgets, neighborhood by neighborhood. The stiff penalties over users faced during the 2009-2011 drought cannot be the only answer. That was a temporary cut back; 20% by 2020 is permanent. The district must convince its ratepayers to get very serious about conservation.
Q: What can be done to make water board meetings more accessible?
BOARD MEETING TIMES are later in the day than when I came on the Board. The change was made at my request for convenience of our constituents. Community forums are held on Saturdays or @ 7:00 pm if on a weekday. Yet less than a composite total of ten ratepayers came to the four community outreach forums held in evenings or on a Saturday over the last several weeks to discuss water rates. Though each forum was heavily publicized, no one came to one of them! The others had only two or three attend. Regular meeting agenda are set in an order such that the Board typically does not get to public hearing matters until 5:30, often much later. Upon advanced request, the Board will adjust an agenda to accommodate any reasonable request. Agenda are published in advance of meetings and available to all ratepayers who ask.
Put the meetings an local cable tv, and change a speaker’s response ability.
Currently, the meetings are held at 5pm on work days that make attendance inaccessible for many. The current representative for Westlake Village held the meetings even earlier, making them even more inaccessible. In addition, the meetings are not videotaped, broadcast, or even keep transcripts to view. More disgusting, is that the current board has verbally attacked citizens by name who have questioned the water districts unwillingness to answer questions and request more disclosure.
This situation is reprehensible, and I favor a different approach. Meetings should be accessible to all, transparent, friendly to partake in, and open consumer input. Meeting should be changed to a more opportune time and encourage people to attend, be broadcasted, and keep transcripts.
Q: What is your position and/or thoughts on increasing recycled water usage?
We need to use more recycled water during the cooler seasons to eliminate putting water in the Las Virgenes Creek. This will stop the proposed new recycled water reservoir or worse, the more expensive option of upgrading the sewage plant.
RECYCLED WATER (RW) is another priority goal of the district which is now studying a major and expensive storage facility to store RW when demand is low and release when it is not. Currently, RW is discharged into Malibu Creek during five winter months; the district has no place to store it. In Spring and Fall shoulder months for demand some RW is utilized; the rest sent to the Los Angeles River. To the extent economically feasible, I want to keep all that water in our own drainage basin. Only during summer months do we have demand for all RW produced daily at the districts Tapia Sanitation Treatment Plant. The district constantly looks for more places to use RW in place of potable.
Q: What is your position and/or thoughts on the staff levels at LVMWD?
LVMWD STAFF LEVELS are appropriate. Eight positions have been eliminated in the last few years, primarily because of advances in technology. Additional future reductions may be possible for the same reason, but in response to its prodding, the districts general manager has told the Board of Directors twice this year that currently the only places he can cut additional staff would be in customer service and community outreach. I will oppose cuts in both areas. Ratepayers often praise our customer service program and some few criticize the levels of community outreach. Cuts in these areas would only be minimal in a $10 million payroll for 117 employees and certainly do not pass a cost/benefit test. In our last community survey, the responding ratepayers scored the district at 8 out of a maximum 9 when asked if employees are easy to contact, 7.8 if they are quick to respond. Customer service staff cut backs can only increase response times. Customer Service earns the highest value in the districts Mission Statement.
The district must reduce staff costs, this will help to lower our rates.
This organization should be staffed to match its needs. For decades this water district has been has been operating with the mentality to “build more” for no other reason than just for the sake of building. The focus of their effort should be changed from “build” to “water conservation and efficiency”.
Q: What is your position and/or thoughts on the staff compensation and benefits at LVMWD?
It is important that the compensation and benefits not be at the expense of attracting talented people. That being said, today is different than 30 years ago when the current compensation & pension was put in place, and we should review the compensation packages based on current market standards.
SALARY LEVELS are where they should be. Salaries of the entire staff are studied every three years to be in line with the industry and enable us to attract competent people. The Board of Directors then sets salary ranges for every position. Employees do NOT receive an automatic raise if the range moves higher. Within those ranges, the general manager sets each individuals salary after an annual merit review. The TOP of the ranges set by the Board is the higher of median or between 65% and 75% of arithmetical mean of the 12 most comparable agencies studied considering size of district, similarity of operational challenges and respective areas cost of living. Much is demanded of our employees in challenging, responsible positions; many must hold state licenses for the work they do. NO EMPLOYEE HAS RECEIVED A RAISE FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS and very few are likely to receive one in 2013.
EMPLOYEE BENEFITS must be established through collective bargaining with one rank and file employees union and another employees collective bargaining association which represents middle management. Some LVMWD benefits, in my opinion, are high even considering the cost of living in our area and the fact that a large majority of district employees cannot afford to live in or near the district. Most come from the North and East San Fernando Valley and beyond, even to the Antelope Valley. Substantial employee concessions in the benefits offered are unlikely, but I want the employees to pay a greater share of those benefits, particularly for retirement and medical insurance. I voted against the last union and association negotiated contracts primarily because I felt employees should pay more.
Q: What else would you like to tell people about yourself?
WHAT ABOUT JOE BOWMAN? WHO IS HE? Here are some of my accomplishments as an LVMWD director:
—convinced the Board to concurrently, not at different times, review our Master Plan (how we will address expected new laws and regulations and expected events and trends that may effect the district in the next five years), with our Strategic Plan (where we want to be in five years and how will we get there), with our Capital Improvement Plan (what infrastructure new or replacement, and major maintenance or upgrades are needed in the next five years), with our Financial Plan (how will we finance the other three plans)
—while Treasurer, led Board efforts to adopt and implement a Comprehensive Risk Management Plan which identifies all risks, annually purchases proper insurance coverage and sets reserves for risks which cannot be covered by insurance and I put in place a redundant invoice approval process whereby no one employee, however senior, can approve an invoice which must then also be approved by the Finance Department. Despite two efforts (the would be wrongdoers were identified and reported to the police), the district has not lost one cent after this process was adopted
—earlier this year, had the staff start again from scratch to confirm all research and studies done to lead to staffs recommendation that the 5mg tank be built and where it should be built, and then double community outreach efforts to educate the community as to its need
—helped the Board and staff to understand the details and procedures for annually adopting a zero based budget per programs I used in private industry.
Since I came here in 1968 to be general counsel for American-Hawaiian Land Company, the designers and implementers of the Westlake Village community in both Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, I have loved our community, want the best for it and committed to be pro-active in it. Ive raised my now adult family here and served on many community associations and committees, including raising $100,000 years ago to build the first weight training facility at Agoura High to, along with six others, raising $600,000 years ago to open the doors of The Wellness Community, to serving on the Board of Many Mansions which builds and operates housing in Thousand Oaks and elsewhere for low and very low income families, to forming and then managing a chapter of HomeAid, a not-for-profit which builds, expands or rehabs facilities to house temporarily homeless individuals and families at absolutely no cost to the charity which operates it.
In 2002, I was asked by a majority of the City Council of Westlake Village to seek a then vacant chair on the LVMWD Board of Directors. Happily, I was appointed to the seat from among three applicants. I ran for election in 2004 and re-election in 2008 and wish to continue.
I have learned a great deal by being one of 15 to 20 water people from across the entire State of California who is on committees which constantly monitor proposed federal legislation and federal agency regulations that will affect water supply or sanitation agencies throughout the state. Ive have gone to Washington DC more than a dozen times to represent those agencies before Congress and regulators. Since 1968, I have continually held positions, from large corporations like Prudential Insurance (VP, Real Estate), to my own company with a high of 8 employees, which dealt with real estate development issues every day, including obtaining water and sewer service.
During my entire tenure on the LVMWD Board, that position was my primary business activity. Now that Im otherwise retired, its my only business and community service activity. Ive seen the water and sanitation industries from both the private and public sector. The Board oversees an over $60 million annual budget. Mine is the experience that matters.
I am an architect, understanding the world of physics, math, listening and trouble-shooting skills, construction & development, and working with government agencies and regulations.
My opponent was asked in public in 2011, “What should people do if they have questions?” His response was, “Don’t call me.” Sadly this symbolizes much that is wrong with the current water district and its inability to properly serve their customers.
My opponent has been asked a number of questions on controversial issues, but has no courtesy to answer, and even attacks members of the community who disagree with him.
I’ll give you the same answer while running, as after being elected. I will seek to make changes to this water district to provide efficiency and openness. Given the complete dysfunction of our water district- I welcome a real change. Don’t you?