Bureaucrat Beat: Building Trust with DWP? and Postal Fears

Most of the audience at the ALIMAR awards dinner in Mammoth Lakes recently had not felt the heavy hand of Los Angeles in their daily affairs. So, when we published reports on DWP General Manager David Nahai’s wish for trust and good relations and the applause he won at the dinner, the skeptics in the Owens Valley spoke up.

Mr. Nahai said, “I’ve learned in my life that you can disagree from time to time with somebody you trust, but you can never agree with somebody you distrust.” As Mr. Nahai noted, a century-old suspicion pervades relations here. What will he and others do about it? The old salts of the Owens Valley say, “Show me.”

Jon Boyer, who grew up in the Owens Valley and recently retired from the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, filed a comment on the story about Mr. Nahai. He said, “It will take at least 100 years to build the trust he speaks of. If the past is any indication, it will take at least that long to develop a water plan. I recall a previous LA mayor claiming that LA was ‘on the cutting edge’ of water conservation. That comment came during a previous drought. LA officials are masters of stall tactics. I’ll keep my trust to myself. Right now I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.”

As in any colony of a super power, the Eastern Sierra holds residents who have profited from silence about LADWP and those who have had nothing to lose so they tell it like it is. In neither case is trust the cement of the relationship. We in the Bureaucrat Beat newsroom conferred over what it would take to build trust between the century-old enemies. We decided to call Mr. Nahai to ask him what he thinks it will take.

The fact that he talks to us is notable in itself. Nahai remains almost immediately available for all news calls. He makes personal visits. He will return this week for a Lower Owens River event and the following week to talk to Eastern Sierra DWP workers.

Nahai says more frequent visits, contacts and dialogue will help relations. He said he would not have accepted the invitation to speak at the ALIMAR event if he had not wanted to foster trust. “No doubt we will find disagreements as things come up,” said the DWP CEO, “but we can find easier ways to resolve and reconcile if we are not dogged by suspicion.” He points to the Owens Dry Lake fix, the Lower Owens River, and Mono Lake as good faith efforts. It did take lawsuits to get LA there, however.

To show that LA has worked to develop water supplies other than the Eastern Sierra, Nahai said that over the past 25 years, LADWP has done some remarkable water conservation, with a growth of 1 million more people and very little more water use.

“We will increase recycling by 6-fold and we are looking at strategies to capture rain fall. We will treat your water with respect, and we won’t waste it.” Nahai said that after 100 years, Owens Valley people need to know that their water supports the lives of 4 million people in LA. “We need to come together as allies,” he said. “We can’t go our separate ways.”

Speaking from his LA office, Nahai said he sees water as a precious commodity:

On groundwater pumping, Nahai said there is room to consider protection of the environment. He also said he will talk about land issues here.

We conferred over the Bureaucrat Beat newsroom table and decided that in spite of decades of bad treatment, we will keep an open mind and a sharp eye – hey, why not?

Out of Southern California and back to Washington and the Postal Service. In May, we will apparently receive tax refunds from the pols in D.C. This alleged economic stimulus package screams, “It’s election time, throw money at the voters.” The move also screams, “This will fix nothing, then what?”

Some pundits say a nationwide fix-the-infrastructure program would create jobs, a better country and hope to boot. Worthy of thought.

The other thought – put the clamps on big corporations. They’re the ones that eliminate jobs, production in our own nation and hope for workers.

Back to the tax refunds. Of course, no one will turn down free money, and can use it for something. But, what if the feds don’t use your p.o. box and the local postmaster sends your check back to Washington? Yes, it can happen.

Local residents of Big Pine told us that they have not received tax refunds in the past due to a lack of a p.o.box address. We called Big Pine Postmaster Lupita Mahoney to ask her what she’ll do when the new tax refunds arrive. She didn’t much appreciate the phone call. In fact, she hung up on me.

Mahoney said, “If we deliver mail as addressed, if it’s not correct, we can’t just give mail to anybody.” Then she said, as if the news media has no right to stick its nose into the postal service, “If somebody has a concern, they can see me.” Okay, people, go see her!

Then, she tried like heck to get me to feel personally about the whole thing. “You don’t live in Big Pine, do you?” Mahoney snarled. “Well, no, Ms. Mahoney, I don’t, but then this is a news matter that applies to the public, not my personal p.o. box.”

“It’s not our job to guess where mail goes,” she asserted. “You can talk to the postal media relations about your personal problems with the post office,” Mahoney snapped, and with that she slammed down the phone.

Will some testy postmasters send your stimulus package back to Washington? Possibly. Oh, also, Lupita, if customers call with their fears, maybe it’s a good idea not to hang up on them. Just a thought.

And, now, for a positive postal message. Walt Sharer wrote a comment to Bureaucrat Beat on our website that said, “I wanted to add my praise for the efficient and courteous way the Bishop Post Office staff handled the Passport Fair.”

Thanks for that.

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