By Deb Murphy
Inyo County’s Board of Supervisors landed some heavy punches during Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s presentation on its revamped commercial lease policies.
Tuesday was Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta’s second round. Monday’s presentation to Bishop City Council was benign in comparison. The Supervisors made it crystal clear that nothing short of transferable leases would be acceptable. The proposed one-time transfer policy, the Board agreed, would decimate the Owens Valley business community.
The City’s Water Commission and Yannotta have stressed the current policies (allowing transfers by the lease holder) are not in compliance with the City Charter, requiring open bids on contracts, or the Charles Brown Act passed to enable a viable business community in Inyo. But, “the Charles Brown Act is silent on transferability,” according to County Counsel Marshall Rudolph. “You don’t have to have an open bid if it’s in the public interest. You’re not prohibited from allowing transfers…. You don’t have to comply with both (the Charter and the Act). The Charles Brown Act overrides the Charter if it’s in the public interest.”
Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio weighed in. “You need to reexamine the premise,” he said. “The Act allows the City to do what it wants to in Owens Valley. Past practices decided transfers were in the public interest. The City Charter exempts LADWP as a proprietary department” from the competitive bid process.
Section 606 of the Charter gives the LADWP Board the power to grant franchises, concessions, permits and licenses up to five years. Thirty-year leases require approval by City Council. Adjustments can be made periodically in intervals no longer than five years. None of the sections pertaining to leases mention open, competitive bids.
Rudolph and Carunchio can expect a call from City Attorneys.
One possibly viable argument for competitive bids on leases beyond the one-time transfer is “that’s the way it’s done in the real world.” Only problem: the Owens Valley business community doesn’t live in the real world; it lives in LADWP land.
During the public comment period, Fred Brown, owner of Sierra View
Mobile Home Park and Frosty’s, said he had sold then took his lease back five years ago making a substantial investment. “The one-time transfer policy makes that investment worthless,” he said.
Mike Allen of Allen’s Outdoors wanted leases longer than five years so business owners could recoup their investments.
Yannotta mentioned the possibility of selling land to lease holders or developing longer leases, but said both would require more hoops to jump through and more time to complete.
Then the Supervisors commented.
“If a young guy wants to buy land and start a business, he’ll run out of time and money before the deal’s done,” said Supervisor Matt Kingsley. “You need to streamline the process.”
Supervisor Rick Pucci wanted both transferable leases and a reasonable evaluation on land available for purchase. “Buying is a blessing and a curse,” he said. ‘You’re a non-profit, you can do this (reasonable evaluations).”
Supervisor Mark Tillemans wanted an array of options for lease holders, longer-term leases and a resolution of unoccupied buildings and empty lots owned by the department.
Chairman Jeff Griffiths leveled both barrels. “This could have the largest impact on Owens Valley since Los Angeles bought the land,” he said. “Why are there no competitive bids on vacant buildings? It’s important to understand how devastating this will be. Do the right thing. You have stories and stories of lawyers on Hope Street.”
Griffiths mentioned the theory that LADWP wants communities in the Valley to just go away. Yannotta said, no, just the opposite. The department wanted a thriving business community.
“Prove it,” said Supervisor Dan Totheroh. “The Charles Brown Act was passed to build a sustainable business community. What’s changed to bring about this change?”
Kingsley ended the comment period with “you have a great opportunity to enhance the economy in Owens Valley.”
A resilient Yannotta thanked the public and the Board. “This has not fallen on deaf ears,” he said.