Friedman vote brings backlash

Upset that they weren’t consulted when a colleague voted against a nearly $900,000 rebate from an agency that provides most of Glendale’s water, City Council members this week pushed for new guidelines on how regional board decisions are carried out.

Councilwoman Laura Friedman — who cast the vote last week in her role as the city’s representative on the board for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — said she’d support such a policy, so long as her colleagues do not fall prey to knee-jerk reactions.

“I would welcome that sort of input,” Friedman said from New York. “It’s just not something that’s been a set policy.”

She was absent from Tuesday’s council meeting when the proposal was broached.
While it wasn’t clear what would trigger input on decisions council members make on regional boards, Mayor Dave Weaver said for him, it’s simple: money.

That was the crux of Friedman’s vote last week: to let Metropolitan — which provides more than 60% of Glendale’s imported water — keep all of its $75 million in excess revenue. The San Diego County Water Authority, also an importer, had lobbied for Metropolitan’s board of directors to send the reserves back to participating agencies and roll back a rate hike planned for Jan. 1 from 5% to 3%.

Glendale Water & Power increased water rates last year partially because of the rising wholesale rates charged by Metropolitan.

Under the San Diego County Water Authority’s proposal, Glendale stood to gain about $900,000, and even more if the wholesale rate hike had been reduced. San Diego was poised to net $16.4 million.

But Friedman said it was more fiscally responsible to let Metropolitan use the extra revenues to pay down unfunded employee liabilities and initiate long-delayed capital improvements.

“You can get a little money back now, and if you do, you have to pay a lot more later,” she said, referring to the fact that Metropolitan’s rising employee pension liabilities and capital costs typically get passed on to customers through higher wholesale rates.

Friedman also noted that she made her decision after consulting with Glendale staff.

City Manager Scott Ochoa said this week at the City Council meeting that the final vote will have a bigger impact on Metropolitan’s future costs than it would have had on Glendale Water & Power.

But the change in policy regarding council member decisions on regional boards may have far-reaching consequences. Councilman Ara Najarian serves on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which makes big-ticket decisions on everything from bus lines to railroad improvements. And both Weaver and Councilman Frank Quintero sit on the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.
Najarian, who pushed for the guidelines, said by phone that he’d be open to bringing forward any MTA decisions that deal with money coming into or out of city coffers. But, he said he wouldn’t expect the board members to be bound by the council’s direction.

Just this week he announced that he’d be asking the MTA board to allocate money for a CicLAvia event — in which organizers block entire streets off to vehicle traffic for pedestrians and cyclists — to come through Glendale. That type of decision would be one he would consider worthy of bringing back to his colleagues on the City Council for direction, he said.

“Occasionally, there’s money at stake either coming in or going out and I just think the council, and not just the council, the public as well, should know about,” Najarian said.


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