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Water wasting by city angers mayor

Responding to Times video of waste at L.A. facilities, Villaraigosa orders regular audits.

August 21, 2008|Rich Connell | Times Staff Writer

Responding to a Times video that showed city agencies wasting water last week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa firmly ordered city officials to conduct ongoing audits of water use by all departments, saying he will publicly release the results, including any violations of the city's new "drought buster" restrictions.

The action came Friday, the day after the mayor signed an ordinance doubling penalties for residents and quadrupling them for business owners who waste water.

Thursday afternoon, The Times posted a website video that caught sprinklers soaking sidewalks during the day at a Venice Beach park and a Department of Water and Power station in Sherman Oaks.

"It's fair to say the mayor was upset with the video," said Matt Szabo, the mayor's press secretary. He confirmed Wednesday that Villaraigosa had summoned about a dozen key department general managers to his office to address the issue.

"The mayor made it clear in no uncertain terms that city departments were to comply with the water directive just like every business and residence," he said. "The mayor was in no mood to hear excuses. He wanted to hear solutions."

With the state gripped by drought, Villaraigosa has made water conservation and a new $1-billion water recycling project key features of a high-profile plan to help wean Los Angeles from distant and increasingly unreliable water sources.

In a series of announcements that began last summer, the mayor has called on residents and businesses to cut water consumption. More recently, he has pushed to fine those who repeatedly violate restrictions on daytime use of lawn sprinklers, allowing water to run over sidewalks and pool in the street.

The signing of the so-called Emergency Water Conservation Ordinance last week was also a milestone in the mayor's campaign to burnish his environmental record.

But resident complaints that the city doesn't faithfully practice what the mayor preaches has dogged the administration's effort. The video, appearing the day the mayor declared that L.A.'s future's depends on "citizens to adopt an ethic of conservation," brought the matter to a head, according to City Hall sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were characterizing internal discussions.

The mayor, clearly angered during his session with agency executives, pressed the DWP, Recreation and Parks, Housing and other major departments to be more cognizant of public appearances when it comes to water use and to ensure all city facilities meet the new requirements, the sources said. Also summoned to the meeting were the mayor's chief of staff, deputy mayors and other senior staff who oversee city agencies.

Under the mayor's directive, the DWP will report back in 90 days -- and then every 60 days -- on all city facilities. Included in the reports will be the total number of complaints received and citations issued for each department. The findings will be posted on his website, the mayor told the general managers. In addition, the city's General Services Department was instructed to conduct a water audit of every city facility.

Also Friday, DWP General Manager H. David Nahai ordered his staff to conduct regular checks on all department sprinklers, irrigation controllers and faucets to ensure that the utility conserves water "in an exemplary manner."

Officials said the waste problems captured in The Times video had been fixed.

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rich.connell@latimes.com

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