By Daniel Pritchett
Last July I wrote an op-ed arguing for LAxit: inspired by Brexit (the British referendum on membership in the European Union), LAxit would be a referendum on Los Angeles exiting the valley while phasing out its dependence on Eastern Sierra water, addressing Native American land and water claims, and protecting existing open space.
I pointed out that the chief obstacle to LAxit was residents holding the view that “If it weren’t for DWP this place would look like [name your favorite ugly sprawled suburban area]”. These residents seem to be frightened at the prospect of a DWP departure. They overlook DWP’s endless environmental abuse of the valley because they credit DWP with the high quality of life here.
Adherents of this “DWP is the savior of the valley” myth may wish to re-consider their
positions. Recent articles in the media have described certain changes to DWP ranch and business leases.
According to the Inyo Register, changes could lead to reduced county services
because they will lead to lower property values and lower tax revenues. According to Bishop City Manager Jim Tatum, impacts could be “devastating”.
Meanwhile, remarkably punitive terms DWP is imposing in the new lease for the Sunland landfill will lead to increased rates for all of us, and increased work and liability for the county… whose resources will be diminished due to declining property tax revenue as a result of DWP ranch and business lease modifications.
And let’s not forget the homeowners in southwest Bishop subjected to hydrologic havoc when DWP changed its management of Bishop Creek in 2013. DWP has never accepted responsibility for the consequences of its actions and Owens Valley residents lost tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars.
The lease issues and Bishop Creek fiasco illustrate that our economic prosperity and quality of life cannot be taken for granted. They are threatened by DWP’s colonial rule just as our environment is. Those fearing a DWP departure should be more fearful of DWP not departing.
County Supervisors do the best they can in defending against DWP’s un-ending attacks, but the time is long overdue for the county to also play offense. Visitors often ask why our county government is so acquiescent to DWP. I tell them it is a reflection of public opinion.
We act as a defeated people.
But, we don’t have to. There are many alternatives to DWP’s colonial rule which would allow us to not just maintain but enhance our quality of life as well as our environment. LAxit would be an important step in rousing us from our collective torpor, and generating political pressure on LA to end its colonial rule and act on its stated goal of reducing its dependence on imported water.
Another step would be for the county to start sending people to speak in public at every meeting of the LA Board of Water and Power Commissioners. In 2011 DWP was reported to be the 13th most hated company in America. With all the anger directed at DWP from its customers in LA, it is easy for Water and Power Commissioners to ignore/forget Owens Valley issues.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease” — the county does not squeak nearly enough in
public in Los Angeles, where it matters. A small part of the $1,000,000 LA pays the county to finance the Inyo County Water Department would be sufficient to fund this project.
An investment in establishing a public presence in Los Angeles could have significant political returns.
LA has alternative water supplies. Its own data show through investment in water recycling, conservation, and storm water capture it could phase out its addiction to Eastern Sierra water and end its colonial rule.
What is lacking is not water, but political will to make the necessary infrastructure investments.
The first step in generating political will in LA is for Owens Valley residents to state clearly what we want. That is the importance of LAxit.