Las Virgenes Municipal Water District elections have never received the media attention that the November 6, 2014. Maybe because we're in drought, maybe because irrigation restrictions have gone into effect Sept. 1, water is on everyone's mind.
When searching for facts about the candidate positions on the controversial $13M water tank in Westlake Village (candidate Jay Lewitt supports, Barry Steinhardt opposes) they were hard to find. Instead, the rumors and accusations sound like a Chinatown sequel. We do know, that three present Board of Directors membere (Caspary, Peterson, and Renger) have been reprimanded by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office for approving the construction of the tank in a meeting that violated the Brown Act requiring a public forum on the matter.
Rather than vote for the candidate that has the most and/or the loudest friends, I asked one question of each:
Q: How would you reconcile the notion that the water district thrives by selling the most water possible, with the need to conserve?
A: (Jay Lewitt): "Conservation and a thriving Water District are not mutually exclusive ideas. I believe in continuing to lead the way in conservation, and to consistently improve District operations by working with staff. As a Board Member I will be a reasonable voice looking at ways to make sure the Board is run well and representing the interests of the rate payers in the short and long run. LVMWD provides multiple services, including sewage treatment and reclaimed water services to businesses. Our community thrives when we plan for long term water stability in our region, including increasing potable water storage. We need leaders who are willing to work together and do their homework when it comes to planning and overseeing the operations of the water district." ---Jay Lewitt
A: (Barry Steinhardt): "Our water district should not thrive by sales, but by serving the community. There are three
criteria I use to do this: safety, reliability, and cost. Note that none of those include size of
our budget, sales, or profits — because that’s not our job. While our Board majority, and my
opponent, want to focus on building out to focus on water usage growth such as the tank and rate
increases, my focus is on safe water, reliability of system, conservation, and lower bills.
How do we get there? Simple.
Our overhead is way too high.
Yes, I’ve been able to make progress in the last four years, despite opposition from the majority
of the board and staff, but we have a lot farther to go. To give you just a few ideas. We need
to look at assets sitting idly (like our old HQ building that still sits empty years after we moved
out). We need to install modern technology to make it easier for us to run the District with
fewer employees — and continue the attrition of our head count to phase those savings in. We
need to have a real competitive bidding process, rather than using the same vendors just because
it’s easier on our staff. The list goes on and on, but none of these things can happen so long as
we continue to have a Board majority that brakes the law, and refuses to discuss items in the
open. And, it certainly won’t happen if my opponent, who supports those that the DA has found
in violation of the Brown Act, if elected.
Lower usage means we don’t need projects
When we build, build, build as we have been for years — with even more on the horizon — it
increases our total costs to deliver water. We need to only build projects that are vetted, and
shown to be needed. And, we need to think about them strategically — not just because our staff
wants to keep building. $650 for every household to build the tank in Westlake Village. And,
there’s another $3000 per household of projects on the horizon. Whether that money was
collected in the past, or in the future, it’s your money — and it’s money that can be saved, or put
to better use.
We’re spending in the wrong place.
Our District was asked by the community to invest in easy-to-implement, conservation
measures. Unfortunately, our District does not have ANY conservation programs of its
own. We only use the regionally available ones, and unlike other water districts, we don’t even
supplement those with additional incentives.
A lot of people like their grass. That’s why what the District calls “a lot of interest” in the Mow-
No-Mow program actually is only about 1% of our customers. Now, we should continue to offer
programs like this, but we need to add incentives to them. And, we need to also make it super
easy for our customers to add moisture sensors if they do want to keep their grass. In the end, we
could see substantial water savings, not the minimal amount that we have.
Real conservation equals real savings on our water bill. Even if the “per gallon” price goes up,
we’ll be able to make the actual dollars paid by residents go down ... but not if we keep going on
the path our Board majority and my opposition wants to see.
I could go on.
I don’t want this to be too long an answer — and I could go on and on with additional
ideas. The take away message is this. Our water bills have almost DOUBLED in the last ten
years. Inflation only accounts for 25% of that. If you don't like that trend, then I need your help
to continue my fight against rate increases, overspending, overbuilding and what amounts to be
ridiculous government waste.
Don’t be swayed by the spin doctors. Any resident that has questions is welcome to reach out to
me — happy to provide you with real facts." - Barry Steinhardt
Maybe the above answers will help at least one voter decide.