DWP Interim Manager David Freeman worked the crowd masterfully. More than 200 people crowded into the Methodist Church Monday night to hear the 84-year-old chief talk solar power. He made them laugh and he made some mad, but it
was Inyo Supervisor Susan Cash who pushed Freeman against the wall Tuesday with the hard truths about life in the Owens Valley under the thumb of the LADWP.
Freeman is viewed as a man with the personal power to push projects through and manipulate people in the way. Freeman made his case for solar panels on the Owens Dry Lake and east of the river in southern Inyo. Some said yes to Freeman’s plans. Others had questions about impacts, numbers of jobs, a time line. Possibly 2014. Freeman dismissed those with complaints with put-downs and joked with others.
Tamara Cohn asked if Freeman would free up land for housing to accommodate more people for jobs to build the solar array. Freeman said, “Our land is locked up forever. We won’t take beautiful land and turn it into a housing development.” That startling statement caught many off guard. After the meeting, I pressed Freeman about the release of a few acres around towns for badly needed growth:
That point came back to haunt Freeman Tuesday at the Supervisors meeting. He used the same country charm on the Board
and found mostly positive response until Supervisor Susan Cash laid out the colonial failures of DWP to treat the Owens Valley as an equal, to treat people and the land with respect. On Freeman’s land release comments, Cash said, “You closed that door. More conversations need to be had. This is not pristine land here.” Cash let Freeman know that DWP owns many business houses downtown and has deprived business people of ownership and their futures.
Freeman suddenly reversed his stance. He said he didn’t understand the issue. He did say DWP would get on with the sale of 75 acres around Inyo towns, promised in the Water Agreement 13 years ago. He also admitted that DWP has behaved like “an absentee landlord.”
With serious determination, Cash moved on to Haiwee Reservoir which DWP closed to the public five years ago. Why? She asked. Freeman said he would re-visit the issue. Cash kept going. She criticized his statement that the land in the Owens Valley is “pristine”. She said, “When will you make it as pristine as it was in the 80s as promised in the Water Agreement?” Freeman said he didn’t know anything about that even though he was manager of DWP in the 90s.
Cash, unshakable in her message to Freeman, went on to say that while she hopes the solar project is successful, it’s hard to look at any DWP issue without considering all the sins of the past. “I feel like you’re bringing me flowers and won’t show up for the rest of the dates.” Freeman admitted that DWP has a long history of being bad boys.
Cash didn’t stop there. Later she said it was not helpful that Freeman told an LA reporter on KABC that DWP owns Inyo lock, stock and barrel. “Don’t you see that’s offensive?” said Cash. Freeman denied saying it. Cash called his hand on the lie. “I saw you say it on television,” she said.
Freeman reached for an excuse. “I was making a joke.” That didn’t fly with Cash. “The internet words ‘epic fail’ come to mind,” she said. “Some people don’t like our style,” Freeman said.
Cornered by Cash’s barrage of truths about the DWP-Inyo relationship, Freeman agreed to sit down with Inyo officials in the next two months to talk over the real needs of the Owens Valley. “That’s refreshing,” said Cash. “Business owners are strangled by their leases. They want to buy their own property and own their own destinies. Our needs are simple.”