Michael J. Gage has resigned as chairman of the Metropolitan Water District at the request of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, which critics said could reduce the city’s influence on regional water policy and curtail the powerful agency’s new environmental ethic.
Gage, only the second MWD chairman from Los Angeles in the district’s 65-year history, stepped down after Riordan’s call for the resignation of all eight water district directors who were holdovers from the Administration of Mayor Tom Bradley.
The ascension of Gage to the chairmanship of the agency less than a year ago was billed as a boon for Los Angeles, but Riordan insisted late Tuesday that the city will be better served by a new slate of directors.
The Los Angeles delegation “did not work well together as a group,” he said. “We did a lot of investigation. . . . I did not do this half-cocked.”
Gage could not be reached for comment. But other MWD officials said the outspoken, onetime deputy mayor to Bradley quietly left his final meeting Tuesday without acknowledging that he was stepping down.
William McCarley, Riordan’s chief of staff, said Gage departed amicably. His letter of resignation arrived at the mayor’s office Friday. He had said earlier that he wants to devote more time to his position as head of CALSTART, a nonprofit consortium promoting the manufacture of electric cars and other new transportation products, McCarley said.
It was 11 months ago that Gage engineered his election as chairman of the 51-member panel that governs the vast water agency, which takes in an area stretching from Ventura County to the Mexican border.
Gage championed the search for new sources of water, including reclamation and recycling, in contrast to traditionalists on the panel who focused on the construction of dams and canals to deliver water to the district.
The departure of the forceful chairman will end the city’s dominant role on the board and increase the influence of smaller water districts, several current and former MWD officials said.
Gage had built his support largely with directors from Los Angeles and San Diego, and several MWD officials predicted that the chairmanship will return to a representative from one of many smaller communities that have traditionally controlled the board.
“I don’t know who the (mayor’s) replacements will be,” said Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), a Gage supporter and opponent of Riordan’s in the mayor’s race. “But my concern would be to have a spokesperson and advocate . . . to have environmentally and economically successful alternatives to bringing more water to Southern California.”
Some board members who represented smaller districts chafed under Gage’s leadership and said his environmental compromises could threaten Southern California’s access to water.
“God bless Mayor Riordan for seeing the light,” said Mike Nolan, a former board member who remains active in water issues. “We will all rest easier in the small cities now that we know our water will continue to flow and Mike Gage can’t give it away.”
Riordan said he already has selected his replacements for the board but declined to name them Tuesday.
Times staff writers Rich Connell and Greg Krikorian contributed to this story.