Local water officials hunkered down for two days of reflection this past weekend, reviewing what they did right this past year and finding ways to do things better.
The two-day SCV Water Agency board retreat was a chance to look back over the agency’s first year of operation, checking off obligations it was required to meet under the Senate bill that created it and taking a critical look at itself in the mirror of public opinion.
Senate Bill 634, authored by Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, spelled out a number of tasks the agency was expected to complete in its inaugural year including a pledge to hire veterans to work on $200 million worth of recycled water projects and to hammer out a rate-setting process that includes an advocate for the common SCV ratepayer.
The retreat contingent of 14 board members, a couple of lawyers and agency staffers expressed pride in having fulfilled each of the agency’s SB 634 promises.
With regards to veterans, the board signed the SCV Water Community Workforce Agreement, which prioritized the hiring of veterans and SCV residents.
With regard to a rate-setting process, the board came up with a plan to include an independent ratepayer advocate.
Also on the SB 634 checklist was the pledge to fold Valencia Water Co. — previously a private company — into the SCV Water agency and make it a public agency, which would enable its customers to vote for their representatives. Check, check and check.
The two-day look-back retreat, however, wasn’t meant to be a pep rally for board members to pat each other on the back.
There were some critical moments in which the attendees talked about ways to improve.
Getting a special mention on that front was Gavin Tate, a senior at Valencia High School, who tested the tap water delivered by Los Angeles County Waterworks District 36 and found a number of contaminants.
The contaminants — including such things as arsenic, lead and mercury — were all measured at levels deemed safe according to threshold limits for detectable contaminants defined by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nevertheless, the Tate test struck a chord of concern with board members at a public forum earlier this month, and a struck a similar chord Saturday when Consultant Ed Means led a strategic discussion about “Best-in-Class” organizations.
In his printouts to board members, Means sought to answer the question put to them: What does a Best-in-Class organization look like? What does it do?
Board member Lynne Plambeck offered an answer to the question when she revisited the Tate water test disclosure.
She emphasized how important it was that community members such as Tate find a listening ear on the board.
In Tate’s case, the concerns warranted further testing, she said.
“To me, you don’t start out by saying, ‘No, you don’t have a problem,’ when there’s a sign of cancer and there’s other people on other streets with cancer,” Plambeck said. “I think, Best-in-Class, an agency that listens to the public and understands what the public is saying and then responds in a way that communicates back the concern in a thoughtful way (is something) that helps them.”
SCV Water General Manager Matt Stone responded, saying steps were taken in the Tate case to listen to public concern and then act on it.
“Subsequent to our public meeting, I know that the county has reached out to a number of labs that they don’t normally use,” he said. “I believe they retained a different lab and ran samples on their supply for Waterworks 36.
“And they’ve also communicated the results of those tests to the gentleman (Tate) that brought his concerns to that meeting. Whether that resolves it completely or not, I don’t know.
“But, I just wanted the impression not to be that they’ve done nothing,” he said.
Best-in-Class typically means the highest current performance level in a given industry — the best of its kind. Means, in his Saturday session examining Best-in-Class, looked at specific aspects of SCV Water including: its operations, supply and quality, administration, finance, human resources and outreach to the community.