CIVIC CENTER -- Burbank’s crusade against the Metropolitan Water
District kicked into high gear Monday when city officials grilled the
agency’s brass about their spending policies in a closed-door meeting at
Councilman Bob Kramer, who has been leading the charge, had previously
asked MWD officials to attend a council meeting to explain how the agency
paid for its $182-million headquarters building in downtown Los Angeles.
He said he would ask the council to approve an independent audit of the
During Monday’s meeting, MWD General Manager Ron Gastelum agreed to
Kramer’s request to attend a council meeting to discuss the agency’s
finances but he defended its record in managing the public’s money.
Kramer, however, remained unconvinced.
“Obviously, it’s going to be prudent to move forward with the audit,”
In addition to Kramer and Gastelum, Monday’s meeting was attended by
MWD Assistant Chief Financial Officer Antoinette Christovale, Assistant
City Manager Steve Helvey, Public Service Department Director Ron Davis
and former Mayor George Battey, Burbank’s appointee to the MWD board.
Burbank, one of the 11 cities that founded the water agency in 1928,
has one representative on the 51-member board. MWD provides drinking
water to 27 cities and water districts in Southern California.
Approximately 50% of Burbank’s water comes from the agency, Davis
In two recent columns in The Leader, Kramer accused the agency of
raiding its Water Rate Stabilization Fund -- a buffer to prevent rate
increases during drought years -- to pay for the building.
On Monday, Kramer asked Gastelum to explain the financing of the
The councilman cited an April 23 MWD staff report he said supported
his claim that the MWD has spent approximately $90 million out of the
rate stabilization fund on the headquarters.
“We’ll be able to track how much we spent,” Gastelum said. “It wasn’t
anywhere near that much.”
On Tuesday, the council is scheduled to consider a second independent
audit of the water agency. In 1996, a firm hired by Burbank found that
the MWD had more than $500 million in cash on hand. That report resulted
in a $700,000 refund to the city. The audit would cost approximately
$27,500, Davis said.
Recent written requests from Burbank to the agency for more
information about the headquarters’ financing have frustrated city
officials. Helvey said letters from the MWD had been evasive.
“They tried to brush us off and they were less than forthright,”
Kramer said of the agency’s letters. “We’re going to be looking at their