Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Mike Roos, who has allied himself with Los Angeles residents fighting a proposal to cover 10 open reservoirs and build filtration plants at five others, is eloquent on the subject of the city's artificial lakes.
Roos (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill designed to block the city's plans because the reservoirs are "more than a part of the water system," he said. "This is the heartbeat of a community, where people chose to live because of that heartbeat."
He has firsthand experience to back him up. Roos is planning to build a 2,700-square-foot home on an ivy-covered hillside with a commanding view of Silver Lake, where the water department may build a filtration plant on four to six acres along the shore.
County land records show Roos bought the land in August of 1988 for $164,000. He has told neighbors he wants to build a Mediterranean-style house for his family there. Periodically, he visits the property and inspects the panorama.
"You could think, 'Gee, that's a coincidence,' " said Sam White, who lives across the street from Roos' lot. "Or you could think he's trying to help the whole district."
Roos said Tuesday, after the bill passed its first Assembly committee hearing, that he "thought long and hard" about introducing a measure that could benefit the value of his property. "I live in Silver Lake very much because of the way the lake is now," he said.
Roos said that in January, about six weeks before he introduced the bill, he obtained a legislative counsel's opinion that he would not face a conflict-of-interest charge with such a bill because he would not have any greater advantage than other residents near reservoirs.
"I've lived in that community 20 years," said Roos, who lives in a condominium over a hill from the reservoir. "I haven't had a view of the lake. But the lake has been a part of my pulse. I'm not a Johnny-come-lately."
Officials from the city Department of Water and Power say the covers and filtration plants are needed to keep trash, animal waste and carcinogens from the water supply.
But the reservoir proposals have drawn fire from Pacific Palisades to Elysian Park. Homeowners' groups, including the Silver Lake Residents Assn., have formed a coalition to fight the plans. Residents who live near the reservoirs say that covers could ruin their views and attract vandals, while filtration plants could be ugly and noisy.
Critics say the water department has not considered alternative measures that might have less drastic impact on the nature of their neighborhoods. And they question the need for such measures, because water officials have said the city's water is safe to drink now, though it may not meet new state and federal standards expected to be issued later in the year.
Roos' bill would name all public open reservoirs a "public resource" and require that any alteration or addition "should preserve the recreational and the scenic and aesthetic values of the reservoir."
The director of the state Department of Health Services would also be prohibited from ordering that any public reservoir be drained or covered "unless no other alternative . . . is technically feasible."
The bill was approved Tuesday on a 7-2 vote by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. The Ways and Means Committee also must consider the bill before it reaches the Assembly floor. Roos did not mention his property at the hearing.
No opponents testified at the hearing, though a city water department lobbyist said the department may raise concerns at later discussions of the bill. Ellen Stern Harris, executive director of the Fund for the Environment and an activist on water issues, spoke in support of the measure, saying, "We need not choose between clean water and a beautiful environment."
Ronald McCoy, assistant chief engineer for the water system, said department representatives have met several times with Roos staffers on the reservoir issue. Roos also called a press conference last week at Silver Lake to discuss his bill, against a backdrop of residents wearing aqua-colored ribbons that they said stood for "blue water."
Told of Roos' plans for a house overlooking Silver Lake, McCoy burst into laughter. "I didn't know that," he said. "I was not aware of that."
One other state legislator, Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), has become involved in the issue. Polanco has delayed hearings on a bill he authored that would require the water department to compile a citywide environmental impact report, rather than individual reports on each reservoir. McCoy said department officials would like to do just that, but must first discuss it with the Board of Water and Power Commissioners.
Polanco's district includes Elysian Reservoir, which is in Elysian Park. The water department would like to install a metal roof over the reservoir there.
Pasternak reported from Los Angeles and Wilson from Sacramento.