By Deb Murphy
For the last 100 or so years, an oversight on the part of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has allowed commercial lessees to sell their businesses with the assurance the lease would be part of that sale.
The department’s Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta had the unenviable task of explaining that to the Bishop City Council at Monday’s meeting.
“We have a legal requirement to change the lease policy,” he said. “We have to reconcile the policies in the City Charter with the Charles Brown Act.”
The charter requires competitive bids. The Act, passed in 1945 specifically for Inyo County’s unique situation,  “requires a local agency owning in excess of 50 percent of private land in a county, first give  the existing lessee an opportunity to buy or lease the property at a reasonable charge,” according to the Los Angeles Water Commission’s board packet from its October 25 meeting.
The Act also allows, if found to be in the public interest, “LADWP may sell or lease the property without advertising or calling for bids.” Somehow, the department is using this “public interest” clause to change its policy from lease transfer to new ownership to family transfer or a one-time transfer of the lease to new ownership.
Councilmember Karen Schwartz asked how divesting LA property would work, allowing lessees to purchase the land under their businesses.
According to Yannotta, the department can sell land if there is no operating need, which could include watershed protection. “It’s an involved process,” he said, but something the department could consider.
Mayor Laura Smith mentioned past auctions of LADWP lands, but Councilmember Pat Gardner reminded those present that past auctions were not very successful, “whether it was timing or pricing. You have to look at the appraisals….the values in Inyo County not Los Angeles.”
Yannotta said the appraisals would be realistic, but couldn’t go against City policies. “If Lessees want to buy, we’ll do our best to make that happen.”
In terms of water availability, water rights don’t go with either sales or leases. Yannotta’s assumption was that lessees would have their wells metered.
The department will meet with lessees November 22, 1 p.m. at Tri-County Fairgrounds. “We want to hear lessee concerns so we can navigate” the new lease policy, Yannotta said.
Yannotta will make a similar presentation at today’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting as an 11:30 a.m. timed item.

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