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O’Connor Fights Tide of Criticism

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One day after her city was ordered to cut its water use, San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor vowed Friday to fight the restrictions, insisting that her own voluntary program is working and warning that mandatory cutbacks could slow business and cost jobs.

Besides, the mayor said at a news conference, it’s raining, so “we’re possibly at the end of the drought.” She said God “doesn’t want people laid off, nor do I.”

Even an invocation of the deity could not, however, hold back another round of criticism leveled Friday over O’Connor’s nearly religious devotion to voluntary controls. Over the last few weeks, her attitude has drawn the anger of water officials in Los Angeles. On Thursday, Gov. Pete Wilson said while visiting San Diego that her plan for voluntary cuts was not realistic.

This time, though, the criticism came from one of the very members O’Connor had appointed to the San Diego County Water Authority’s board of directors and suggested that, even in San Diego, support has ebbed for the mayor’s program of going it alone with voluntary cuts.

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O’Connor’s refusal to accept mandatory cuts, said Michael Parrish, one of the city’s 10 representatives on the 34-member water authority board, “is criminal negligence.”

And he said, “There ought to be more than one recall election in this town,” a reference to the campaign against City Council member Linda Bernhardt, who faces an April 9 recall vote.

Parrish also called O’Connor’s attitude “public irresponsibility of the greatest magnitude.”

He said: “It’s an embarrassment to the people of San Diego that we have such a vacuum of leadership in the City Council and in the mayor’s office. And you can quote me on that. Why not get a little angry?”

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Despite the opposition, O’Connor’s press secretary Paul Downey said later Friday that the mayor still believes she is doing the right thing.

“Judging from the phone calls and letters we get, we’re on the right track,” Downey said.

Earlier in the day, at her news conference--where the weekend weather forecast was handed out, courtesy of the city’s Emergency Management Office--O’Connor said she wanted the water authority to reconsider the controls it imposed Thursday.

The board’s action was designed to cut water use 50% starting April 1, including prohibitions that ban most sprinkler use and outlaw nearly all other types of outdoor watering.

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It also was intended to send a message “to the rest of California that we’re willing to take some pain in San Diego,” said Board Director Joseph Parker, who represents the city of San Diego, before the vote Thursday night.

O’Connor, however, said Friday that she would ask for an appeal of the board’s action to a five-member panel of water authority directors. Saying that voluntary controls are saving water, she said she will seek City Council support on March 26 for that appeal.

According to the mayor, San Diego residents trimmed water usage by 33.7% over the first 14 days of March, meeting the 30% target she had said would work--if only politicians would ask. That 30% target is for the whole month, which is only half over.

If the appeal fails, she said, she will ask the City Council for authority to demand a second vote from the water board, one that would be weighted in favor of the city, which by far has the most representatives on the board and is the water authority’s biggest customer.

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Even if there were a second vote, said Susan Golding, a San Diego County supervisor and a water board director, the result of a weighted vote would not differ from the first go-round if the ballots ran similar to Thursday’s vote, which was unanimous.

O’Connor said Friday that San Diego residents can voluntarily meet the 50% cut ordered by the Metropolitan Water District, the region’s water wholesaler, even if it means “drawing down the (city’s) reservoirs.” The MWD’s cut, which takes effect April 1, prompted the vote by the water board, which relies upon MWD for 95% of its water.

Downey, the mayor’s spokesman, said the city has an 11-month supply in its own reservoirs, a claim some county water officials have disputed. The City Charter demands a minimum seven-month supply.

Using the reservoirs might enable commercial and industrial users to avoid layoffs, O’Connor said. Commerce and industry are the city’s biggest water users and simply cannot achieve a 50% cut in use, she said.

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“We need flexibility,” she said.

Times staff writer Amy Wallace contributed to this story.


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