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Garcetti on UCLA water main break: 'This will not be the last one'

L.A. Mayor @ericgarcetti after UCLA flood: "This will not be the last one"

In the aftermath of the Sunset Boulevard rupture that focused renewed attention on the aging pipes underlying Los Angeles streets, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday that the city had already been "aggressively" focusing on infrastructure on his watch.

At his first press conference after returning from vacation in Michigan, Garcetti said the city had already stepped up maintenance work in recent years, and that his office had been getting monthly reports from Department of Water and Power head Marcie Edwards on power poles and other aging equipment.

“This was not new,” Garcetti said, adding, “This has been job one since she started.”

Garcetti also spotlighted his selection of an infrastructure director — a position he said never existed at the mayor's office before — and the work being done by city earthquake czar Lucy Jones to assess how infrastructure would fare in a quake.

But as the city faces down its overdue maintenance, “This will not be the last one,” Garcetti said of the spectacular water main break that burst through Sunset Boulevard and flooded the UCLA campus last week.

Reacting to criticism that city leaders have been loath to take the unpopular step of hiking rates that could raise revenue for repairs, Garcetti said he had voted for rate increases in the past. However, he stood by his earlier promise to not increase water or electricity rates this year, saying the city first needed to restore trust in the DWP. Leaders of the city-owned utility have been criticized for installing a $59-million customer-service system that sent excessive bills to some ratepayers.

A water-rate increase this year would not have stopped the Tuesday incident, the mayor said, which he attributed to a “poorly engineered” pipe joint dating to the 1950s.

The mayor said the same lack of trust was facing the Bureau of Street Services, one reason he decided that the time wasn’t ripe to ask taxpayers to pay more to repair streets. City leaders put off the idea of a sales tax to fund street and sidewalk repairs earlier this year.

Last week, Controller Ron Galperin released an audit revealing a host of problems at Street Services, including failing to collect or spend hundreds of millions of dollars, keeping shoddy records and not addressing the busiest roads first.

Garcetti pointed out that the Street Services audit focused on the three years just before he became mayor, and said his office had worked since then to examine how it could better use existing resources to pave more streets. He said he was especially troubled to hear that Street Services had failed to collect as much as $190 million in fees from utilities and companies that cut into city streets.

On the streets or underneath them, the question remains of how the city will pay to accelerate any of its neglected repairs. Fixing the worst roads — those with D or F grades — has been estimated to cost nearly $4 billion. Speeding up the repair cycle for city pipes would also take billions in investment, City Councilman Paul Koretz said last week.

The mayor did not spell out a plan for new investment but said Los Angeles had already had successes in addressing some of its infrastructure woes and officials would continue to examine what more it could do.

“We pay for this one way or another,” the mayor said of the repairs, alluding to the steep costs of lawsuits and cleanup after episodes like the Sunset Boulevard rupture.

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