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Ron Kaye: Water provides a lesson in government

June 14, 2013
  • Ron Kaye
Ron Kaye

Many government meetings are broadcast live and archived with a vast array of official records posted online. Mainstream media may be on financial life support, but more than half the adult population still reads a newspaper daily, in print or digital form, as part of their news overload from radio and TV and their blogosphere favorites.

We've never been so well-informed — or so cynical about our government and society.

Evidence of this is the long-term decline in voting, even with mail-in ballots. Polls show the vast majority of voters are unhappy with the endless political wars and the sense that they are working for the government, rather than the other way around.

A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but it appears a lot of knowledge is even worse, as Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina argues in a new book titled, "Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics."

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I bring this up in the context of one of the longest-running political conflicts in Southern California — the water wars.

No subject is drier for most people than water, but the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — which supplies much of the water to nearly 20 million people across six counties — has a long history of interesting battles, mostly in recent decades between its two largest customers, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the San Diego County Water Authority.

San Diego harbors deep-seated grievances backed by lawsuits over the high price Metropolitan charges to pipe its allotment of water out of Imperial County and circuitously supply its communities — battles it nearly always loses, thanks to the clout L.A. has regionally.

The latest round last Tuesday was no different.

It seems that Metropolitan is awash with a $549 million surplus — 60% of that coming over the last two years — and with more than a $100 million in excess revenue expected next year. Not too bad for an agency selling 20% less water than in 2008 because of conservation programs and additional local supplies.

The surplus includes $75 million more than Metropolitan rules allow as the maximum for unrestricted reserves, so as bureaucrats suggested what comes naturally — spend it. They proposed using a third for capital costs, a third to pay down future unfunded liability for employee health care, and a third to be determined later.

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