Zev Yaroslavsky and the four other Los Angeles County supervisors sip from… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)
Would water with any other label taste as sweet? Los Angeles County supervisors aren't saying.
Every week, a college student who earns $9.92 an hour for a range of tasks peels the labels off water bottles, uses a computer to print out new ones emblazoned with the county seal and slaps them on. The customized bottles are waiting for the five supervisors as they take on the official business of the nation's most populous county.
No one remembers exactly when the county labels first appeared, but they were able to say why: to avoid giving free advertising to the original bottler on public-access television broadcasts. (Sources say the company is Arrowhead, but they declined to speak on the record).
Admittedly, the perk -- which has been in place for years -- is minor compared with the supervisors' option to buy a luxury vehicle and hire an armed chauffeur, included in a benefits package that is one of the region's most generous.
County officials say the cost is negligible and the labor takes just a minute.
The county isn't alone in its questionable water habits. An audit released this month by Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick found that city spending on bottled water had doubled, from $89,000 to $189,000, in the three years since Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told employees to buy their own.
Despite months spent focusing on the county's darkening budget picture, the supervisors were not eager to discuss their water labels. They let aides do the talking.
"Don did not want to comment," an aide to Supervisor Don Knabe wrote in an e-mail titled "Water Water everywhere."
"Zev doesn't want to talk about it," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's aide.
There was no comment from the offices of Supervisors Gloria Molina or Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Only the spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich offered up a (somewhat) refreshing response. Said Tony Bell: "My boss prefers green tea."