A Balcony View: Poor planning makes customers pay more

I don't know how many of you got to read the open letter that was published about a couple of weeks ago in the Glendale News-Press from Glenn Steiger, Glendale Water & Power's general manager.

It was the softer, gentler way to let us all know that the utility would be ramming a rate hike down our throats. I guess it is true that when you are choking, water — especially more expensive water — helps.

I'm not naive. I know that Glendale Water & Power, like most everything else in our state, is operating on fiscal fumes. My gripe has been and continues to be the way the utility company bungles its business; telling customers they could save money by practicing water conservation and then pulling the rug out from under their feet by intimating those conservation efforts were so effective it lost money and thus, was forced to raise rates. Poor planning and foresight from the top down, as I see it.

It seems very strange that Glendale Water & Power did not have the business sense to forecast the economic impact of such conservation efforts. I am in senior management at a very successful company on the cusp of entering the Fortune 100. Trust me when I tell you that good companies are always forecasting profit and loss when it involves the consumption/usage patterns of its customers.

Either Glendale Water & Power didn't plan well, or they knew and went ahead with a deceptive marketing campaign despite having the facts. Either way, it doesn't bode well.

From the overbilling of its customers to its lame marketing efforts, I've tried to shed a light on Glendale Water & Power's "less-than-stellar" operations. Most recently, I was curious whether or not my own security deposit would be returned without having to move heaven and earth. I am pleased to say that the money was promptly credited. It was treated as a credit on our current bill instead of a refund.

Curiously, it was the highest bill we have ever received, so instead of getting even a token amount returned, we still ended up owing Glendale Water & Power about $10. They owe us money and suddenly our bill is so high we never see a penny returned. Amazing!

Perhaps our deposit went to pay for the not-so-well-known, Rick Caruso/Americana Pavement Hosing Fund? While I can't prove this exists, I have seen the maintenance staff at the Americana hosing down the sidewalks on numerous occasions during my pre-dawn bike rides. In the aforementioned public letter, I had hoped Mr. Steiger might point out that all residents and businesses, including the Americana, should quit hosing down their sidewalks since the letter seemed to imply water conservation was still important.

Well, since the Glendale Water & Power open letter didn't do it, let me: Hey, Caruso! Tell your people to put the water on the plants and not on the pavement. The rest of us in Glendale just took a hit to our water bill. Why don't you be a decent community neighbor and act like you care! Buy your gardeners and maintenance crews some new brooms and tell them to get a clue! Thanks.

Speaking of things going down the drain, I couldn't close this column without at least mentioning Advanced Development and Investment Inc. Initial estimates indicate that ADI may have submitted millions in fraudulent bills to the city of Glendale.

What shocks me is that this massive amount of money siphoned off city coffers was only discovered during the investigation of receipts and other paperwork submitted to Los Angeles County Superior Court as part of the divorce proceedings involving the company's former president, Salim Karimi, and Jannki Mithaiwala, the daughter of company founder Ajit Mithaiwala. Had they not been forced to submit proof of income as part of their divorce papers, there is no telling how much more money could have been misappropriated.

So how is it possible the city of Glendale overlooked this kind of massive fraud? Should someone within City Hall ultimately be held responsible for ADI running wild? Or are city employees so overworked and understaffed that invoices get processed without any checks and balances?

Personally, I'd like to believe the latter rather than assume it was careless and irresponsible. If that is the case, then I would propose the city look seriously at how to prevent future fraud from occurring.

Perhaps the city ought to hire additional people to audit large invoices? If you think about it, the salary and benefits for three people is nothing compared to the millions of dollars they could save the city in fraud — not to mention creating a few jobs, right?

Creating a line item in the city budget for capable auditors to oversee allocation of funds spent on affordable housing would be a wise investment. Spend a pittance to safeguard a fortune. It seems impossible to believe the city cannot afford to add a few staff positions for this exact purpose. After all, the city was able to payout $33 million to ADI for what could be inflated housing projects.

It's not a revelation in business practices. It just makes more sense than looking solely for other affordable housing alternatives, like the renovation of existing properties, as Mayor Ara Najarian recently suggested.

Fraud can occur in any scenario if there's nothing in place to identify it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies out there looking to steal their piece of the pie.

If our only safeguard is the discovery of questionable income evidence in divorce court, we are playing with fire. And as we all know, we can't afford the water to put it out.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at gh@garyhuerta.com.

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