I am convinced that most of you – at one time or another – have called a customer service hotline, only to have a conversation which made you think it might have done just as much good to have shared your concern with a wall. Plus, it wouldn’t matter if it is a stone wall, a block wall, a wood wall or drywall, because no matter how much you share your story, concern and frustration, you will never hear anything in return.
The most humorous time I experienced with a customer service call was after assuming responsibility for paying my 98-year-young mother’s bills. I called one company wanting to settle an account and just needed to know the outstanding balance. I could answer all the security questions, but was told they could not talk to me, which made me wonder; how many times do they reject talking to someone who just wants to send them money?
Fortunately, it is somewhat better when asking questions at City Hall. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution gives “people the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Yet, many times, our residents address the city council simply to ask a question or obtain further clarification. If you choose to attend a city council meeting, you will find copies of the meeting agenda with a special cover sheet attached. Quoting from the section “Your City Government,” it reads, “The regular meeting of your City Council is a vital part of the democratic process … The Council appreciates your interest and urges participation in government affairs.” On the back of the cover sheet, under “Public Participation,” it further states, “When addressing the Council, please state your name and city … before you begin your comments. The Council will take no action other than referring the issue to staff.”
While it is important the council knows who is speaking to them, make no mistake; they reserve the right not to answer questions you ask, or even acknowledge they heard what was put before them. As an example, a few city council meetings ago, I addressed the council on the Sanitation District’s decision to stop work on the Recycled Water EIR. Since the SCV Sanitation District Board is comprised of a majority of Santa Clarita City Council members, I asked that they agendize the issue to discuss sending a recommendation on recycled water to the Sanitation District. Councilmember Weste replied that the Sanitation District was waiting for California Fish and Game to get back to them and describe how much of the 20 million gallons a day could be diverted to supply recycled water.
After the meeting, I did some more research, made a few phone calls and obtained a copy of Fish and Game’s letter to Sanitation District staff. As it turns out, the letter indicated what Fish and Game expected to see addressed in the Sanitation District EIR and did not indicate that they themselves were doing any further analysis. At a subsequent meeting, I was made aware that SCV Water already had a contract with the Sanitation District to supply 1,600 acre-feet of water per year to be used for landscaping irrigation. I wondered why the contractually available maximum could not be increased with new Sanitation District customers coming on line. Therefore, I went back to the podium at the last city council meeting and asked if they could agendize a discussion relating to a recommendation on increasing the size of SCV Water’s contract as new Sanitation District customers connect to the system. The silence was deafening, as no answer came forth from the dais.
I know Santa Clarita residents are sharp and must have been aware that I was asking the city council members to basically have a discussion and come up with a recommendation for the two Sanitation District’s assigned city council members to follow. That could make them uncomfortable, but we are talking about a decision which should be in the best interest of the city as a whole. So, last week I shared the recycled water story in more detail in my column, and guess what? Up pops a “Clarification from the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.” I don’t mind if the city, the Sanitation District, or anyone else comments on what I write. I don’t expect everyone will agree with every one of my columns, and good dialog is important if we are to come up with solutions which work for us all. But, at the same time, putting in a “Clarification” without the author attaching their name is unethical and cowardly.
To start, the “Clarification” author did catch a mistake in my column. When I included it would “cost $100 million a year to operate,” I should not have fat-fingered in “a year.” What I intended to portray was the amount required to operate over the first 20 years of the project. Why 20 years? Because when the project was first proposed, it was the timeframe the Sanitation District staff projected necessary to pay off the construction loan and the duration shown in the overall financial analysis. When I saw the author’s statement indicating, “the chloride compliance project (operating cost) is estimated at $5.9 million per year,” it would have been productive if I could have called the author and asked where that estimate came from. Why? Because $5.9 million per year over 20 years equals $118 million, which is 18 percent higher than the estimate I used. Plus, $118 million does not include inflation, so the actuals will cost taxpayers even more. Hopefully, the “Clarification” author will “come out from behind the curtain” this week and explain why the cost of operation is escalating and provide a budget projection over 20 years which includes the additional amount caused by inflation.
Looking at the 2019-2020 SCV Sanitation District Budget straight from the SCV Sanitation District’s website, it shows our residents will be paying $36.4 million in service charges on this year’s property tax bills, and $10.6 million in other Taxes and Grants, which simply comes out of their other taxed pocket. All while the SCV Sanitation District reserves will increase from $118.4 million to $141.9 million this coming year, indicating their revenues are exceeding their Operational and Capital needs. A clarification in this area would be helpful also.
Meaningful, polite and open dialog is important. I firmly believe we will never learn anything by only having conversations with people who share our same views. The Gazette and I are asking for your opinion. “We encourage our readers to write, email and share their thoughts, concerns and criticisms.” Plus, I will take it one step further. Feel free to contact me anytime. My cell number is 661-713-9344. Now I will admit, with all the spam phone calls we are getting as of late, I do not directly answer calls from numbers I do not recognize, so text me or leave a voice mail with your name and number and I will call you back. You will not be talking to a wall, and when we share what we know, we will all profit from the experience.