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L.A. doubles water waster fines

Penalties for large DWP customers are quadrupled; lawn sprinkling is limited.

August 15, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed an ordinance Thursday that doubles fines for residents who repeatedly violate the city's "drought buster" rules, including a reworked ban on watering lawns between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The measure bars restaurants from serving water to customers unless it is specifically requested. And the ordinance will quadruple fines for large customers of the Department of Water and Power, mainly businesses, that break the city's water-waster law.

"L.A.'s future depends on our citizens to adopt an ethic of conservation," Villaraigosa said.

The anti-drought initiative has coincided with efforts by Villaraigosa to keep his top appointee at the DWP, Commission President Nick Patsaouras, from quitting his post. Perhaps the utility's most aggressive watchdog on spending issues, Patsaouras sent a resignation e-mail Monday, but the mayor refused to accept it.

Villaraigosa said his appointee had repeatedly talked about leaving the volunteer post and about being "overworked." Patsaouras serves on a panel overseeing construction of the new $454-million police headquarters.

"He's talked to me about resigning more than a few times. Each time, I get him to realize that we need him," Villaraigosa said.

Patsaouras would not discuss his conversation with the mayor but sent a brief text message to The Times saying he would stay put "to fulfill the mayor's vision."

Villaraigosa discussed his appointee as he stood near two of the city's 16 "drought busters," inspectors who will issue fines to those caught violating the new rules two or more times. The team will look for various violations, such as washing cars with a hose that lacks a shut-off device.

One resident questioned whether the city was being fastidious about its own water usage. West Los Angeles resident Eric Shabsis said he had seen sprinklers running during the day outside the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center and a city facility in Palms.

"If residents are being asked not to water their lawns between 9 and 4, shouldn't the city follow the same policy?" asked Shabsis, a onetime aide to former Mayor James K. Hahn.

A Times video posted Thursday shows water waste at Venice Beach and at a DWP facility in the San Fernando Valley. DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said city officials would fix the problems.

"Clearly, there's work to be done," Ramallo said, adding that the agency switchboard was "flooded with calls about all kinds of potential violations."

Under the new rules, DWP customers are prohibited from using hoses to wash down their sidewalks and driveways, unless there is a public safety issue or a pressure washer involved. The law also bars residents from watering their lawns when it rains.

Anyone who sees a violation may call (800) DIAL-DWP. The hotline has received 2,400 complaints since last summer, Ramallo said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.

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