The future of Alhambra's city manager — and Alhambra Place

After more than 20 years at Alhambra’s top job, City Manager Julio Fuentes will be leaving to take the same position in Santa Clara. Fuentes’s job is similar to a CEO, rather instead of managing a corporation he considers how to bring in revenue for the city and oversees all of Alhambra’s departments, from police and fire to the library and community services. Fuentes sat down with Alhambra Source at City Hall last month and told us about the accomplishments that have made him proudest over the decades, including developing Main Street and the new public library. He also answered the question many of our readers have asked: “What’s going on with Alhambra Place?,” and shared why he will miss this city and its residents.

Julio Fuentes, left, with members of his staff.

What are the three accomplishments of which you’re most proud during your time as city manager?

Probably number one is economic development, specifically a lot of the work in the Downtown. We’ve done some retail, restaurant, and entertainment work, as well as housing development. The Downtown has to a certain degree been revitalized.

Number two would have to be the library project next door. We’ve had well over a million people visit the library so far. The patron use and educational opportunities offered to the community are just incredible. We’re really proud of that project.

And finally, we built a water treatment facility a few years ago. We run most of our well water through the facility and the water gets treated. It gives us more than a level of assurance that the water quality that we’re sending out to the customers —residents and the business people in Alhambra — is very outstanding.

Alhambra Place has been almost empty since 2009, when Mervyn’s closed in the plaza on Main Street and Garfield Avenue. Many of our readers have complained about the vacancies and called the area a “eye sore” in Alhambra. What’s next for Alhambra Place?

I wish I knew at this point. The issue right now is that the property is for sale, but what the owners want in terms of property value is much different than what the retail development communities are willing to pay.

It isn’t because the city hasn’t done anything to move the project forward. I can’t tell you how many phone calls, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dealt with the brokers, and now I’m dealing with the owner himself. I was on a call this morning with a very well known developer in California who’s trying to buy the property.  The city was even looking at contributing some money towards the sale and we have not been able to curb that gap. It may be a little too significant at this point. So I don’t know what will happen. Something has to give.

In the old days we had redevelopment. Let’s say the property owner wanted $200 a foot for his property and the market would only pay $150 a foot for the property. The Redevelopment Agency would make up that $50 difference. Well the agency doesn’t exist anymore. You’re going to start to see a reduction in development opportunities just because of that. And we’re facing that right now with Alhambra Place.

What are you looking forward to accomplishing in Santa Clara?

Santa Clara is an incredible community. They’re very strong in their development and they’re very business friendly and proactive. I think I was attracted to it because the way they do business and operate is very consistent with what Alhambra has done for many years. I always said if I were going to leave Alhambra, it would have to be for something that was equally good or possibly better. I’m lucky to have worked in Alhambra and be leaving for another community that is very conscientious about their residents and businesses.

Fuentes speaks with a resident.

You are receiving a significant pay raise at your new job and will be earning a base salary of $290,000 a year, making you one of the top 10 paid city managers in the country. What do you think is an appropriate salary for a city manager and why?

A lot of it is based on the market, level of experience, and level of accomplishment. I’ve been a city manager for 25 years. My background and accomplishments — the fiscal balance of this city, economic development, and capital work that we’ve done not only here but also in the other cities I’ve managed, Pomona and Azusa — basically set what I am ultimately going to receive at my next opportunity.

What Santa Clara has offered me is in line with what the former manager was earning. She was outstanding and achieved a lot for the community.

There have been a lot of retirements in our industry.  A lot of people with a lot of experience have decided to go fishing, play tennis, golf, and relax because they’ve worked hard and they’ve earned it. But I have elected not to do that. So I’m probably one of the more experienced managers in California. That puts me into a higher salary category.

I’m thankful for what I earned in Alhambra and I’m grateful for what Santa Clara is going to pay me. But I guarantee you, they’re going to expect me to be successful and deliver. That’s ok, that’s exactly how I work. I don’t go anywhere and watch the grass grow. I am very proactive.

Fuentes during his last City Council meeting | Photo by Albert LuWhat is your favorite place in Alhambra and what will you miss the most?

I love everything about this city. Where do I begin?

I like going down to the Downtown on a Friday night and watching people who come into the city. I see a lot of my neighbors or people I know. My wife and I were down at Charlie’s Trio on a recent Friday for dinner and I could just feel the energy and the vibe. People were walking around and they were having a great time.

When I first came here in 1992, I went to the corner for lunch. There was a little restaurant called Rosa’s. You could buy a homemade hamburger, bag of potato chips, and soft drink for I don’t know, two bucks. I bought the burger, sat down, and looked out the window.

Across the street, where Starbucks is now, was an abandoned hardware store. I looked over to the right and I saw this vacant household finance building. Then I looked over to the left a bit and I could see two or three buildings, and there was no one in those buildings. It was like a ghost town. I kind of scratched my head and wondered, “Wow, I really have my work cut out for me.”

Twenty years later, as I’m sitting there with my wife, I look around and see all of these wonderful people having a great time. It’s come alive. And I’d like to think that we’ve had a big part of that.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or tell the residents of Alhambra?

I would say to the residents that they are going to be in excellent hands. The staff here is outstanding and they’re going to continue the good work that the city has been doing. Sometimes not everyone agrees with what City Hall does. But in the end, everything is for the benefit of the community.

I would like to thank the residents for giving me an opportunity. Twenty years is a long time. I’m really thankful. When I came here, my children were very little. They were raised in the community. They were in Little League, participated in everything around here. We were very involved in a lot of the different things in the city. But the residents gave me an opportunity. I’ll always be grateful for that.  

This interview has been edited and condensed.  

41 thoughts on “The future of Alhambra's city manager — and Alhambra Place”

  1. State Department of Water Resources finds that the questionable water sales by Alhambra were indeed illegal.

    For the record:  The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has determined, in response to our inquiry, that the city of Alhambra et al. had indeed acted in violation of their contract with the state. DWR has made inquiries to the parties in violation and ordered that the practice be stopped. This places Alhambra in a precarious position: if those that were on the receiving end of this deal were to file suit, DWR would be forced to take appropriate measures. Furthermore, it puts the city at a disadvantage when they will inevitably be asking those on the receiving end (MWD) for the favor of using their water delivery infrastructure in times of need. Given that Alhambra's storage capacity is largely unavailable due to ground contamination, that time may be coming sooner rather than later.

    1. Thanks for following-up Eric. Have you seen any of the letters from DWR to the City of Alhambra? I don’t see any public statements from the agency.

      1. Hi, Dan,

        I received word on this during a telecon I had with DWR, and I have not yet seen any letters to the city.  But I think any written statement from them would be addressed to the San Gabriel Main Basin Watermaster, since they are supposed to be responsible for ajudicating water usage.   My inquiry was funneled up the chain to DWR's Chief of Project Water Management.  It then went up to what sounded like a high-level set of their lawyers.  Please email me at eric@sgvog.org if you would like contact information for them.  The more we get this out in the open, the better.  From what it sounded like, their laywers will only take action if they receive a complaint from MWD.  This may be due to a lack of resources on their part or some sort of warm fuzzy they got once Watermaster told them that this will never happen again.  One of the many problems with this is it just begs for a quid pro quo scenario.

        Eric

  2. We asked you a simple question… Please explain how the $50,000 government grant you received was spent. We never asked what your “Group” did or about “public outreach”. Instead of actually answering the question you wrote six paragraphs on what you wanted to say to distract from the question. In one paragraph you almost got to the point went you stated that you “selected” an out of state consultant… selected does not mean hired… So again, where did the money go? If you did hire this consultant, where is this report? The comment period closed long ago, yet we see no report. This seems very fishy, one may even say “unethical”… Is it possible that you used the money for your own benefit? Or did you just tie up $50,000 of grant funding that could have been better used for actual clean-up efforts. .
    And by the way quit saying “we” when you know the entire “Group” is just you, so the correct term would be “I”.

    1. Wow! Sunada answers your questions and then you throw some wild charges of misuse of funds just to divert the attention away from the water use issues. It should be obvious to the readers that this is a very sensitive area that Mr. Sunada has brought to light and city officials or at the very least city surrogates have felt to go on the attack in a very scurrilous manner. Gadfly and Tom2 if not the same person surely represent the powerful forces within Alhambra that have acted without much public participation for so long in our city. Intelligent dialogue and transparancy is not welcomed within this group. I for one am pleased that the Source has provided a platform for dialogue about issues that are important to all of the residents. Gadfly, talk about the issues and drop the personal attacks. You will be a better man for it.

      1. Oh really Tom? So perhaps you might be thinking that I and Gadfly are the same person? Perhaps you might also believe (just like Mr. Sunada) that perhaps Gadfly (a.k.a me, Tom2) “works” for the city as well.

        I am not Gadfly. You can think whatever you like.

        In my opinion however, Gadfly poses a legitimate question because he is pointing out the specific details omitted in Mr. Sunada’s response, contrary to the specific details given in the Oversight report used to attack the city’s so-called “unethical” practices. Listen, if we are to hear both sides, it is important to understand all the relevant information regarding this issue, not just the ones used to substantiate a claim.

        Mr. Sunada’s report shows a simplified account of the city’s profits on a yearly basis from 2009 to 2012. Why can’t he give a simplified break-down of his $50,000 grant? I’m sure Eric will have no problem doing so, and likewise, there should be no problem having Gadfly ask for this. The problem I see are the obvious ommissions in the Oversight report that doesn’t present all the pertinent information. Thus, an uninformed person can easily be persuaded into believing what Mr. Sunada is saying true. For me, I see lots of facts and opinions. It’s a slick way for residents who don’t completely understand government matters to believe the issue is much more simpler than it really is. Actually, the more information we get, the more we can understand the issue and believe me, it’s not easy. Just look at the question I asked regarding Section 27. Mr. Sunada believes that this regulation further demonstrates Alhambra’s wrongdoing. If that is so true, why wasn’t this mentioned in the report? The way I see it, the suspension of Section 27 tells me alot more of what was going on at the time, such as the drought conditions and water conservation issues at the time. To what effect does this have on supply and demand? Remember, MWD water WAS NOT AVAILABLE during the suspension. And to be fair, Mr. Sunada is right about Section 27 being exempt by the Watermaster, not SGVWMD. This only goes to show however, the various governing bodies and complexity involved in this matter.

        So yes, let us keep asking questions!

      2. Very well put Tom2, you are definitely much more eloquent than myself. One wonders how “Tom” may have come to such a conclusion…. Perhaps “Tom” is Mr Sunda’s nom de plume and he is actually the one pretending to be two different people in a futile attempt to bolster his position.
        Simply because one disagrees with something doesn’t give them the right to call Watermaster, San Gabriel MWD, and all of the City employees “unethical” and claim that they done something wrong, when clearly all of the rules and regulatory statutes have been followed. I’m sure that if any rational person had any issue with the transfers it would have been brought to light long ago, since by Mr. Sunada’s own writings this has been in practice since at least 2009. Furthermore, through my research I have learned that leasing of water rights is a very common place activity, the leases are approved by a Board of Directors in meetings that are open to the public. So why is there no public outcry… because according to both Watermaster and the San Gabriel MWD all of the rules and regulations have been followed.

      3. TOM2 and GADFLY, although you are distracting the discussion and making personal attacks, I re-post our work and status of the grant funding.  I need to finish updating our new website and this will prompt me to get to at least this portion.  I think you will be shocked to see how little of the funds we have spent over the years (most of it still hasn't been drawn down from the EPA).  Note that it will also show in comparison how little has been done by our own city to educate the public on our Superfund site, so it's not going to be good for them.  Full audit reports can be obtained from the EPA. Note that reports and our set of charts for previous information sessions were on our original website, and hasn't been yet been updated on our new site.

        You can go to the old site for a technical advisors report here: http://www.sgvog.org/images/CadmusMemo_Sunada_V2.pdf

        And an example of our slides for community education and discussions here:
        http://www.sgvog.org/images/Fact_Sheet_1_Seminar_Charts.ppt

        And there is a factsheet that can be found here:
        http://www.sgvog.org/_assets/SGVOG_Area3_Factsheet.pdf

        If you email your information to me, I will gladly give you the phone number of our EPA Coordinator and Project Manager, as well.

         

      4. Distraction? So because you are being questioned and making it seem like we don’t know anything (despite the complexities of the issues), you are claiming we are making “personal” attacks? So what have you been doing all along when making your claims against others like the city staff, the council members, the city manager, and now the Watermaster (a board of nine members, with one member sitting in on the SGVMWD board)? Gee, looks more like a SYSTEMIC problem here, doesn’t it?

        I think you need to consider the broader scope of this issue instead of internalizing only key specific aspects that you believe are in violation.

        By the way, thanks for letting us know about that it EXEMPTS groundwater sales from “being tracked fiscally”. To you it may hurt Alhambra even more, but we haven’t even discussed all the rules of Section 27 yet, how the rules of overproduction are calculated, recognition of cross district leases, specific details of MWD drought allocations and its effects on customers, cities leasing their rights and not State Project Water, the penalties for violating water conservation requirements (price increases), etc. etc. They all fall into the play on how the system works and why these things can happen.

        As for my questions about supply and demand amid water conservation efforts and its effects on prices, I will leave it up to the readers to bring this into consideration when listening to your side of the story. My point being that you oversimplify water management bureaucracy way too much with your opinions.

  3. In light of recent comments posted on this article, I wanted to remind readers that that our terms of use policy prohibits personal attacks toward anyone on the site. Alhambra Source expects all of its users to be respectful of others. If you notice any violation of this policy, or other unacceptable behavior by any user, please report it to info@alhambrasource.org. We welcome your participation. Thank you,

    Daniela Gerson, editor@alhambrasource.org

  4. Eric,

    I agree with Robert that your comments need to be put into a more succinct article that can be fit for print. For example, you should interview and include the opinions of qualified experts who can give their independent opinion, as well as those who hold opposing view points.

    You make a number of good points, but do I disagree with your end argument that the water transfers are legally questionable or ethical.

    On more than one occasion, the California Supreme Court has noted that “[t]he scope and technical complexity of issues concerning water resource management are unequalled by virtually any other type of activity presented to the courts.” Water in Alhambra likely is just as complex.

    Just the water contracts between the State Department of Water Resources (State Water Project) and the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District is complex. It is over 200 pages of terms, as well as fifty years worth of addendums and revisions (I also uploaded it to Google Drive to make it searchable).

    According to that contract, water can be delivered outside the district boundaries — it just needs “the prior written consent of the State.” State water law and policy actually encourages both short and long-term water transfers so I doubt there is much trouble in getting that written consent.

    While it may seem odd that the city can profit from its water sales, it would seem just as odd for the city to not receive a reasonable amount (based on fair market value) for the water it transfers to other cities. Should the city be penalized for the foresight of its former leaders to ensure future water provisions? Moreover, it may be less ethical for a city to develop when it lacks long-term water to sustain that development.

    1. Dan and Robert,

      A more readable version with references can be found here:  http://www.sgvog.org/unethical_water_sales.html .  The PDF is much more readable, and I recommend downloading it.

      Water transfers happen all the time.  And you are correct that we are sometimes encouraged to do this, especially when it helps to optimize storage and is between fellow state water contractors within the same service area.  But what the city is doing is unethical at best for several reasons.  From the water contract perspective that you mention, it is unethical becuase it is explicitly prohibited by the contract with the State.  You are incorrect in assuming that they would have little trouble getting that consent from the State, and indeed they have not.  The reason is due to the need for equitable payment.  As this case shows, by taking advantage of price differences in water, a lot of money can be made.  This water is not part of Alhambra's groundwater pumping rights.  It is imported water for which the lower price is due to many factors, very little having to do with any contribution from Alhambra (other than it benefits from belonging to the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District).

      There's no question these sales are prohibited by law.  Otherwise, the city would have been making these sales for the past 30+ years instead of only the last four.  It was because the basin was at very low levels about 5 years ago such that they made an exception to allow these transfers to help get water to those who need it.  But the basin recovered within the next 1 to 2 years and still the water sales continued.  And there's no question that the sales were unethical because they made huge profits from this transaction instead of selling to cover for their costs.  Actually, the correct thing for them to do was to transact this in terms of in lieu pumping (I can explain more upon request).  In my conversations with Watermaster, the water basin's adjudicator, they did not receive permission from the State to do this.

      While I was a board member of the SGVMWD, we had the same situation occur with the city of Azusa back around 2002.  It was a big deal and was immediatly put to a halt once it was found out.  There were very serious implications and luckily it was put to a stop before it blew out of control.

      With regard to your statement that the city should receive a resonable amount based on fair market value… The water rights that belong to the city are a different matter.  Their groundwater pumping rights may be sold for what the market will bear.  This is a different beast.  On the other hand, the low-cost imported water that they are selling is to be used in the city's own time of need (or stored for future times of need).  The forefathers you speak of had this vision and agreement.  What previous posters and yourself don't seem to appreciate is that this water is not Alhambra's to sell.  It is a separate entity that is not part of the city's infrastucture and cannot be rationalized as a part of doing businesses to help balance its books, as previous posters seem to be hung up on.

      In my conversations and correspondence with the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District management, they are clearly staying out of this.  They state they have no control over their member cities when it comes to this.  They are effectively a middleman between Watermaster and the cities and are too wise to get caught up in this.  They also have board members who represent the city, and the district manager serves at the pleasure of the board.  Bottom line is that the SGVMWD is in a tough spot

      This is not a flippant statement that I am making that has not been researched.  I applaud and encourage any efforts that the Source or any other media could put into verifying and researching this. Notes and references are open to anyone who wants them. 

      In fact, I would appreciate it if the Source would take the time to look into it rather than have people weigh in without putting in the effort.

      1. So even after more than 10 years from the Azusa situation this problem is still occuring? What should we tell our forefathers now?

        You were a board member of SGVMWD, so what does that tell you about the entire system instead of one city (now with the Azusa story, make that two cities)?

        What else has been ommitted by all your comments? The readers here have a right to know, especially Alhambra Source, since you are asking for their help.

        Let me help our readers…You talk about the low water levels in the basin, care to talk about the temporary suspension of Section 27? But more important, tell all of us when it was temporarily suspended and when it was reinstated. The timelines all fits in to your nice argument that you don’t seem to care to share with us.

        People weigh in without putting in the effort? People you don’t know put in effort everyday. It would be nice if you put in the effort to tell us everything because it seems like you are not.

      2. Tom2,

        I am finding the discussion very interesting and am trying to sort it out. Both Eric and Dan have used real names and are verified. To lead credence to your argument please let the readers know who you are and tell us you background and experience in water district issues.

        Thank you.

      3. I am just a resident and frankly the issue here is about Mr. Sunada’s claims. I am not saying he is completely wrong, it is that he is not fairly portraying the whole picture.

        As far as experience in water district issues, I don’t work for the industry. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t know people in the industry or that I don’t know how government administration is done. I have experience in those and my identity doesn’t have any relevance in that. If you want me to justify my claims, let’s just say I’m merely stating my views just like Sunada is.

        I really do hope you, Eric, and Dan make something of this. At the end of the day however, the truth will speak out and all these claims by Mr. Sunada isn’t entirely what it’s made out to be. It will be a learning lesson for all of you guys as well. The bigger problem I see is the system itself, and I will let time prove that as Mr. Sunada continues his agenda. And don’t worry Greg, I won’t be asking for your identity.

        The real identities only need to come out when Mr. Sunada is really ready to file a claim instead of roaming around looking for supporters. And if he’s that ANGRY, he should! For now, I just see this as a social media effort that although has proven effective at times, doesn’t understand the complexities involved. Mr. Sunada understands (from his perspective), but do you?

        He is better off working within the system and changing it from the inside, than working on the outside where the real change-agents are more difficult to find. That’s from my experience…

      4. Please keep the questions coming because it only helps to arrive at the truth and, hopefully, promote community involvement.  Section 27 further isolates Alhambra on the side of wrongdoing.  Here's why…

        Section 27 is the Watermaster (Watermaster = water basin adjudicator) provision which requires that overproduction (i.e., over pumping) of groundwater be fiscally tracked based on where the overproduction occurred.  Without it, water rights which were leased (i.e., water sold) across water district boundaries (SGVMWD and MWD boundaries) by different member cities would not be traceable and any difference in fees would not be accounted for.  These are fees associated with overall, regional and state costs that are not paid for by the cities.  Without Section 27 in place, there could be significant profiting by cities, especially those with access to both SGVMWD and MWD water sources.

        Because the groundwater basin had reached very low levels by 2009, combined with unusually low limits for imported water that was imposed on and by MWD, Watermaster tried to help the situation by lifting Section 27 in 2009 to allow cities that had extra water to get it to those who needed it.  Watermaster essentially made the decision to take one for the team by eating any fees that would not be collected through cross-district leases in an effort to encourage cities to share resources.

        Notice that Section 27 and all of Watermaster's work was based on groundwater and not imported water.  The cross-district sales that Alhambra executed were all posed as being sales of groundwater pumping rights, not imported water.  Again, there is no question that it is against the state contract for any city to take it upon themselves to sell its imported water.  I'm glad you brought up Section 27 because it drives this point home further.  The fact that Alhambra couched the transaction as a sale of its groundwater is unethical because it was really just a pass through and a way for it to sell its imported water.  This is why when city staff presents the deal for approval at council meetings they pose it as a transaction involving both groundwater and imported water and it is summed up as a net profit of x millions of dollars.  [The use of “net profit” is actually the city staff's term and not mine.]

        In addition to Watermaster taking one for the team, the SGVMWD also took one for the team in an effort to help the overall cause:  Because Alhambra sold all their groundwater, they then needed to get their imported water or else they wouldn't have any.  The SGVMWD agreed to deliver their imported water to them, but they did this at a loss.  The $130/AF that they charge Alhambra is below what it costs the SGVMWD.

        The one party that is benefitting from all this is Alhambra, upwards of $10 million to date.

        Here's a direct analogy that may make it easier for the public to understand:  Say there was a natural disaster and basic supplies were hard to obtain by the community.  In an effort to help, an overseeing agency (read:  Watermaster) decides to eat the costs for extra fees and transaction taxes in order to make it easier to send bottles of drinking water to stores.  The distributor (read: SGWMD) also chips in by subsidizing their costs to get the water to the stores.  But then we have a corner convenience store owner (read:  Alhambra) who decides to sell that water for whatever the market will bear.  If he can sell it for high costs because it is in short supply, he does so.  And he rationalizes it by saying that it's his water and he's going to take advantage of it to help recover from years of his own unsustainable management practices.

        As I mentioned in a previous post, Watermaster has assured me this will not occur again.  (The reason they feel this way is because they reinstated Section 27 last summer.) The problem is that it doesn't go far enough since Alhambra can't be trusted anymore on this matter.  Furthermore, the SGVMWD is put in a tough spot because they serve at the pleasure of the board of directors.  And the board is composed of representatives from the city.  That's why is so important to maintain the trust that the leaders will do the right thing, because it really all hinges on it.  No amount of oversight will prevent unethical behavior without it.

        Getting back to the whole point is that things aren't as rosy as the city manager would have the public think.  What's worse is the lack of trust that city leadership will do the right thing.  Keep the questions coming because it helps for transparency and the more knowledge the people have the better.

        Note:  The situation with the city of Azusa was discovered and corrected during that same fiscal year after the books didn't balance.  Reprimands were given and everyone had to contribute to making up for the shortfall.  It was a one time occurrence and was not repeated again until Alhambra started its unethical practice in 2009.

        The forefathers you refer to are the ones that helped maintain the ethical path over the entire history of the SGVMWD and city of Alhambra.  It's because we don't have people of like knowledge and ethical standards  is the reason why we are now going to pay the price in the coming years.

         

      5. Yes, let’s keep the questions coming, because we need to see the WHOLE context of the issue instead of relegating it to the so-called “truths” by Mr. Sunada, which I find very vague, mixed with facts and his opinions.

        I’m glad that you’re glad I mentioned Section 27. No one else here did. Which brings up my point about the complexity of the issues I brought up earlier, especially about regulation. Just curious why you never even bothered to mention this in your report?

        So what we have here is a temporary regulatory exemption during the time between 2009 and 2012. That tells me alot more to the story. And this regulatory exemption was from SGVMWD.

        Yes, it’s good to ask questions, but it’s also important to ask the RIGHT questions.

        Mr. Sunada, can you explain more about the declared drought allocations from MWD during this time period?

      6. You do realize that the explanation of Section 27 spotlights Alhambra's misdeeds to a greater extent, don't you?  It basically gives Watermaster a free pass and isolates Alhambra as the sole wrongdoer.  It was referred to in my paper, but to go into it by name with details only makes it worse (as shown in my previous post in response to your name dropping).

        Section 27 is not a regulatory exemption and it doesn't permit sales of state water.  Again, what it does is allow pumped water not be fiscally tracked based on location.  This gives Watermaster a vehicle to help get the water where it needs to go.

        And your statement is wrong when you say its an “exemption” from the SGVMWD.  They do not have the authority to do this, nor would they.  It's from Watermaster.  (Who's telling you this stuff?)

        And the drought condition (which was detailed in the original write-up) is the reason why Watermaster and the SGVMWD did what they did to help.  It's Alhambra that was the bad apple here (as detailed in my previous post).

        I'm sorry, but whoever you are pinging for information needs to get it correct and really understand the situation.  If it is someone from the city, or worse yet, the city's representative on the SGVMWD, his ignorance (I hope it wasn't intentional) is what contributed to this fiasco.  If it's Watermaster who you are getting your information from, what they are saying is correct with regards to Watermaster because Section 27 basicaly indemnifies them from any wrongdoing.  But you see it makes it even worse for Alhambra because it then makes all this wrongdoing theirs only.

        Again keep asking the questions, and I will answer them.  Be advised that it will only get worse for Alhambra.  And please do not put out incorrect statements because it's looking like subterfuge.

        I'm re-posting the analogy for those folks following along to help better understand what Alhambra essentially did:

        Here's a direct analogy that may make it easier for the public to understand:  Say there was a natural disaster and basic supplies were hard to obtain by the community.  In an effort to help, an overseeing agency (read:  Watermaster) decides to eat the costs for extra fees and transaction taxes in order to make it easier to send bottles of drinking water to stores.  The distributor (read: SGWMD) also chips in by subsidizing their costs to get the water to the stores.  But then we have a corner convenience store owner (read:  Alhambra) who decides to sell that water for whatever the market will bear.  If he can sell it for high costs because it is in short supply, he does so.  And he rationalizes it by saying that it's his water and he's going to take advantage of it to help recover from years of his own unsustainable management practices.

         

         

      7. Oh yes, I will keep asking all right Eric. And by the way, when I say regulatory exemption I was referring to the TEMPORARY SUSPENSION of Section 27, which was definitely EXEMPT during that time period. Perhaps you will also disagree with me that Alhambra is not a “retailer”?

        As for pinging? No Mr. Sunada, it’s called bureacracy and there is alot of public information out there. If you think I’m getting information from the city, you are more than welcome to think whatever you want to believe in.

        I noticed you didn’t answer my last question. If Section 27 spotlights the city’s misdeeds to such a greater extent, then why didn’t you mention that in your original Oversight report? This is highly relevant. You also failed to discuss in more “detail” the overall drought conditions at the time and MWD’s allocation restrictions.

        In addition, what ramifications does this entail for supply and demand of water during drought conditions? For the prices? Amid a strong push for water conservation (ever receive one of those water conservation kits at the library or Almansor Park)? There is so much more to be looked into. Yet, you seem to simplify it all so well to fit your argument.

        Yes, let’s keep the questions coming Mr. Sunada…

      8. So what is your point when you highlight EXEMPT?  You do realize that it EXEMPTS groundwater sales from being tracked fiscally and does not permit sales of imported water, don't you?  In other words, it exempts everyone except those who sold imported water (Alhambra).  And again, Alhambra can sell/lease their pumping rights but not imported water, so you seem to be digressing again about “retailer.”

        Again, Section 27 would have made Alhambra look even worse, which wasn't really necessary was it?  Section 27 also gives a free pass to Watermaster, which isn't quite fair either since they should have arguably done more to ensure that unethical practices like those executed by Alhambra would not occur.  And Watermaster also left it in place too long, beyond the drought conditions–so it can arguably said that they also share some of the responsibility here too.

        The relevant portion of Section 27 is the drought condition.  This was highlighted in the paper with historical data on the drought condition, so I vehemently disagree with you that it wasn't mentioned:  it was highlighted.

        In terms of your ramifications about what this entails for water prices and supply and demand, please explain where you're going with this. We can get into that discussion too.  One of the problems with Alhambra's actions is that it violated the trust needed during such times of drought.  The ramifications are significant to the future you refer to.

  5. The unethical revenue generation through the quick flipping of imported water pales in comparison to the treatment given to the city's working poor…

    Moving on with more questions for the city:  The picture is not as rosy as the the council, city management, and the Chamber would have the residents think.  While they spend countless hours in speech and columns of press highlighting a free movie night or the like, what they don't tell you is the tens of millions of dollars that are funneled to the business lobby through mis-direcdtion of grant funding or pilfering of the affordable housing fund.  This is funding that could have been used to affect sustainable change for the community.

  6. Wow, so do you always see everyone opposing your views as “working for the city”? Gee…now we all know why you’re often ignored at City Hall and with the city staff. By the way, I don’t work for the city.

    Circular Rationalizations? Let’s see… you’re whole message about Alhambra’s ethics is –

    Cheap water is a global right, therefore we should have the right to cheap water…Oh and by the way, since Alhambra’s the middle man he’s obviously the bad guy…

    So tell us Eric, how long do you want to keep this up? Tell us what the rates SHOULD be? What is the exact amount that meets the definition of “ethical”?

    In my opinion, if you want people to support your cause then be more transparent about it. Otherwise, you’re just like the city you so much despise. For that $10 million GROSS profit spread out over several years, what are the expenses involved? Break it down! Let’s see the full balance sheet instead of only YOUR SHEET!!!

    And that food voucher/grocery market analogy you made is mainly a smokescreen to conceal your agenda. Unfortunately, you fail to describe the general water distribution system, how it works, how it’s managed, its historically precedence (especially from USGVMW, Plaintiff, vs. City of Alhambra, et al., Defendants in 1968), and the management/adjudication of water rights.

    Piece of cake for you right? Well, tell that to a public who may or may not all have the general background information necessary to make a proper assessment of your case.

    Let’s take a scenario, what if I complained about the Government buying $1,000 toilet seats. The people selling them (the suppliers) will make a killing in profits right? I mean, how can toilet seats cost more than a couple hundred bucks (unless it’s partially made out of gold or something)? What if I failed to mention contract requirements. What if there is a higher quality requirement for all bidding suppliers? Now, there is a ISO quality certification standard a supplier must have. What if I failed to calculate that into the toilet seat cost? And by the way, regular certifications by third-part auditors don’t come cheap. How about the regulatory requirements? Ever heard of the BUY AMERICAN ACT? What if that clause is invoked in the contract? If Kohl’s, Kmart, Sears, Target, etc. sells toilet seats but almost all of them are made in CHINA (with less than 50% of manufacturing/raw materials from the USA), then guess what? The availability of suppliers is going to be MUCH LESS! And guess what, the cost of toilet seats from limited suppliers meeting those requirements is going to be MUCH MORE. Cost is related to more than just availability and/or source – It’s about supply chains, regulatory requirements, complex laws, and how the system is comprehensively structured.

    Do you get it?! Why blame one party? You need to bring up all the other key players as well, why be so ignorant of how systems work? Everytime you talk I see right through all your technical verbage. It’s obvious you talk the talk but you’re not the only guy in the room. So please, go file a claim or lawsuit.

    Sorry Eric, your case may have a few points I might actually agree with, but you won’t get nowhere complaining here if you’re that serious about it. Perhaps you’re trying to corral a few Alhambra Source supporters to join you. Best of luck!

    You can call all my comments as a diatribe, irrelevant, circular, caving-in, or whatever. In the end, it’s your own endless frustration of the city that will ultimately defeat you…

  7. It is well known that Alhambra is a retail water supplier and a local water purveyor. Do you think a city should invest, maintain, and operate a water system for FREE, for the sake of global rights?

    As a matter of fact, Alhambra contributes to the efficient distribution of local water. Perhaps Mr. Sunada would want all water shortages from other cities be addressed by the LA Dept. of Water and Power instead. Let’s suck up the Colorado River, bypass Alhambra, don’t buy from those greedy folks!

    You throw in so much data but its only YOUR data. It’s also interesting that we have droughts here often and yet the best way to address this is “cheap” water. Yeah, cheap water, a global “right”…

    1. There's so many wrong statements in your post that I honestly wonder if this is actually city staff talking.  First of all, Alhamba is a producer, not a retailer.  It does run an enterprise fund which needs to be self-sustaining.  But it is NOT a retailer when it comes to water it doesn't own.  It is free to sell pumping rights for water it owns, such as it does in the Raymond basin.  But it has no right to turn a profit on water it does not own (State Water Project water), adds no value to, and violates their contract with the State.

      And don't you get it?  If other cities are in need, we should all pitch in to help.  If Watermaster tries to justify the use of inter-agency transfers because they can't recharge the groundwater below a certain area, that doesn't mean that we should engage in unethical water sales.

      What data are you referring to with regard to “YOUR” data.  Sadly, all the data is directly from the city or local water district.

      1. It is you who has all the wrong statements. NOT a retailer when it comes to water it doesn’t own? Who said anything about “owning” water besides your own definition of a “retailer”! Speaking of a 10 million dollar profit, are those gross profits or net profits? Why don’t you list the expenses the city has to incur as well? There is so much more general statements you make that is so vague. Or is it better to omit such detail to fit your own argument?

        Of course I get it, so let’s all pitch in and help. But your approach to some utopian water-rate (whatever that is, perhaps ANYTHING UNDER the $130 acre-foot cost?) is just outright fanatical! Alhambra has a city attorney and has been working with many local/state water regulatory agencies for years! It costs money to manage water systems. Please share us your knowledge on what the appropriate breakdown in expenses should? And please, go to a State lawyer and file a lawsuit or something if it is hurting you so much. I think you are getting too lonely in your Oversight group…

      2. Feel like the walls caving in?  Don't make it worse than it already is by rationalizing what you've done.  Stop whining and take a hard look at your and your colleagues' actions.  Get up to speed on the gory details and improve the department.  You're essentially saying that “time are tough and because of this it's okay to generate revenue way we can” –even if it's unethical at best.”

        You're diatribe about things such as a “utopian rate of $130/AF” is irrelevant. But now that you mention it:  you do realize how ironic it is that you are buying at the untreated price of $130/AF but selling at the treated rate.  Get it?

      3. WATER CODE SECTION 10617: “…An urban water supplier includes a supplier or contractor for water, regardless of the basis of right, which distributes or sells FOR ULTIMATE RESALE to customers”.

        Alhambra isn’t just a producer, it’s a water supplier to the surrounding cities as well.

        Enough of this non-sense! Again, why don’t you explain EVERYTHING so we can create a broader picture instead of only YOUR DATA. Oh, wait, perhaps you’ll only explain further as you get challenged along…

        No wonder why you seem to get thwarted all the time, your approach is all wrong. You sound like a very smart man with all your data and stuff, but you throw out too much info. with glaring omissions to only suit your argument. But of course how would uninformed citizens who hold other full-time jobs know? I mean, really, how many folks know what it means when you say “we do take imported water from MWD via USG-5”. As a matter of fact, you don’t even mention this as a cooperative exchange with local water authories and importing from MWD USG-5 limits Alhambra’s use of the Alhambra Punping Hole (APH) as a conservation mitigation measure. There’s too much to know to run a city, and yet you expect your captive audience to be experts to understand your biased views?

        Yeah, sorry if Claudine or Mary didn’t help you at the city office, but you aren’t helping us with your one-sided story either…

      4. This is really sad… you need to channel your angst into improving your skill set so that you can better serve the city.  Trust me, you need to get a better understanding of what you guys have been doing before it causes irreparable harm.  Now I'm going to use some terms here that I think you are somewhat familiar with since you brought them up and you evidently work for the city:

        Your explanation of what a water retailer is and your verbage on the costs of running the city are not relevant to the wrong you have been incurring.  You are not presenting any facts and you're making circular rationalizations.  The data I have used to prove my point is taken directly from the city and water districts.  Save yourself some energy here.  Besides being a breach of the State water contract by selling that water for profit, you are undercutting the MWD by selling to their customers.   This puts your Cooperative Water Exchange Agreement at risk–an agreement that has been historically precarious.  The importance of the CWEA cannot be understated with regards to Alhambra.  It is the only way you can recharge the APH and is more than just a conservation measure–it's really your lifeline.  But by undercutting MWD, you give them just another excuse to threaten a re-negotiation, or worse yet, a consolidation with the SGVMWD.  So even if you disregard and rationalize the uethical behavior of your department (which is unbelievable egregious), you really need to make ammends for the sake of the city and your water district (SGVMWD)–you have put them in a bad spot as well.

        Do you honestly think I enjoy doing this?  Trust me that I've got far more things I'd rather be doing?   No, it's analogous to this:  it's like witnessing a car wreck and now I'm obligated to help.  This isn't some trivial gray area that you seem to consider it as.  It's a big deal with millions of dollars at stake.

        I'm hoping you take the time to research the real issues to not let this happen again.  (Watermaster has ensured me that it's no longer going to be allowed, but somehow I think it's not a done deal, is it?)  Someone there needs to really understand the history and forces behind water issues and not just rely on the city attorney to say it's ok, especially since he's clueless when it comes to water law.  That's a train wreck in itself.

  8. Dear Mr. Sunada,

    How is anyone to believe your point of view when it appears as if you have issues of your own. Lets look into the San Gabriel Oversight Group, it appears to be a group only one, youself. Back in 2007 you recieved an EPA Technical Assistance Grant (TAG)of $50,000. The purpose of the funding was to initiate an independent review and assessment of groundwater contamination data collected in the west San Gabriel Valley, with the findings and assessments then being disseminated to the community. To date I see no record of a review being completed. Would you care to explain how this money was spent.

    1. Gadfly,
      I asked Mr. Sunada to explain his statements about Alhambra’s sale of water to other communities. He did do this in detail. I am perplexed why you would not discuss the issues he raised, but felt it necessary to attack him and his use of the grant money. I visited his website and was impressed with the amount of information he has gathered for public review. Certainly you must respect that he is quite serious in his effort to bring information to the residents of the San Gabriel Valley.

      If you represent the city or other interests, then you should say so. I see no cause for a personal attack in this discussion.

    2. What our organization does in that regard is to provide oversight on the groundwater cleanup (or lack thereof) in the region below Alhambra and other neighboring cities.  There are many toxic chemicals that have penetrated our groundwater system, so much so that the EPA designated us a Superfund site more than 30 years ago.  We monitor the data collected by the EPA and others and provide an independent set of eyes to ask the tough questions:  Where did this pollution come from?  Where is the contaminant plume flowing and will it affect even more of our groundwater supply?  What are the health effects?  Who’s going to pay for the cleanup costs?  And when is it finally going to get cleaned-up?

      We work with the EPA to review their reports prior to release and press for the addressing of the community’s concerns.  We translate technical jargon into layman’s terms so it is easier to understand and then we provide outreach through fact sheets and public information sessions.  We completed our review of the Remedial Investigation report more than two years ago and we are awaiting the draft Proposed Plan (delays are not ours).  I encourage you to call the EPA, learn the facts, and get involved.  Even our own city takes almost no interest in this.  I kid you not that the extent of the city's comments to a draft Feasibility Report was just that the word “Alhambra” be removed from the official contamination site name (read:  bad for business and marketing).

      But if you feel this work is frivolous and unimportant, not to worry—we do this entirely pro bono.  Not only do we not get paid for what we do, we do not get reimbursed for any expenses.  In other words, we are putting our own time and money into this.  This is not a boast, it’s just the facts and you asked.

      We are indeed just a small group.  I actually take pride in that we can accomplish what we have to date with just a few.  It’s not a stretch to say that we are not much more than a laptop and letterhead.  And that’s fine, because the overhead I little too.  And just think what we could do with even more people.

      But in terms of the grant funding, the EPA treats us no different than a large organization with grants 10x the size as ours.  And with it goes all the scrutiny, including audits and strict regulations.  Not an easy task for a small group, but it gets done without any compensation.  And again not to worry:  the grant funding is not allowed to be used by our organization directly.  It can only be used to hire a technical consultant to help interpret the data.  You see, we do not pretend to be hydrology experts nor are we qualified to make health effects assessments against the contaminants found in our groundwater.  Rather, we hire independent consultants to provide this assessment and help interpret data.  They are also with us during teleconferences with the EPA to question data when necessary.  The selection of the consultant goes through a rigorous RFP process overseen by the EPA coordinator.  To go a step further, we selected a consultant who was out of state in order to ensure no conflicts of interest or ties to the local bureaucracy:  water politics cannot be underestimated.

      In terms of actual public outreach (again, you asked), not only do we not get any assistance, in-kind or otherwise, from the city.  But are efforts are actually thwarted.  At a community outreach meeting held at the city library, two city representatives from the water department were there to interject objections to our presentation.  But it was clear they knew far less than us and hopefully they got an education.  (If you are writing from within city hall, take a walk over to Claudine’s office and remind her that yes, we do take imported water from MWD via USG-5.)  If you’d like a copy of our presentation packages, fact sheets, and technical consultant reports, let me know.  (Again, if you are writing from within city hall, Mary should have a copy of our factsheets, unless she threw it away—I never received any response from her in the years we tried to engage the city).

      1. We asked you a simple question… Please explain how the $50,000 government grant you received was spent. We never asked what your “Group” did or about “public outreach”. Instead of actually answering the question you wrote six paragraphs on what you wanted to say to distract from the real question. In one paragraph you almost got to the point went you stated that you “selected” an out of state consultant… selected does not mean hired… So again, where did the money go? If you did hire this consultant, where is this report? The comment period closed long ago, yet we see no report. This seems very fishy, one may even say “unethical”… Is it possible that you used the money for your own benefit? Or did you simply tie up $50,000 of grant funding that could have been better used for actual clean-up efforts. .
        And by the way quit saying “we” when you know the entire “Group” is just you, so the correct term would be “I”.

  9. In regards to China Eastern Airlines, I have seen these flight stewardesses outside in their uniforms checking out of Alhambra Inn & Suites at 2451 W. Main St. This was several years ago.

    Eric’s story tells us one thing – WE NEED MORE HOTELS IN ALHAMBRA! But oh yeah, with no redevelopment money, perhaps we can stick to personal residences. Stopping the greedy city from working with greedy developers is much more important than our neighborhoods…

    1. Your argument is so backward that I'm sure the current city leadership would love to have you on their team.  Give them a call, they'll probably make you a Planning Commissioner.

      Let me get this right… you are saying that an Airlines that engaged in illegal cost savings by buying an apartment complex and using it illegally as a hotel is to be felt sorry for because they were finally caught and kicked out?  This has nothing to do with whether or not we need more hotels.  In fact, it looks like we don't since they are now staying in one.  If you are going to state something like “we need more hotels in Alhambra,” you need to back this up with unbiased data.

      1. @ Eric,

        You’re the one obviously biased. And it seems like all your whining is the one making you look like the backwards person…

  10. Eric -You make charges about “unethical water sales”. Who did the city sell water to? Why was it unethical? Please provide facts to back up your charges.

    1. Facts to back up the charges on unethical water sales:

      From June 2009 onward, the city of Alhambra has acted as a water retailer and has logged over $10 million in profits to date.  Given that Alhambra, like other cities, does not have an abundance of extra water to sell after serving its own residents, the business model is puzzling.  It would also mean that the city is producing water at costs substantially lower than its selling price to neighboring cities.  Upon closer examination, the city was found to be engaged in the unethical practice of selling imported water to its neighboring cities at rates as high as four times it purchase price while adding no value to that water.

      It is often said that access to safe, affordable drinking water is a global right.  The state of California has established several water districts throughout the region to help ensure this right. The local cooperatives charged with this responsibility in the West San Gabriel Valley are the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (SGVMWD) and the Metropolitan Water District (MWD).  These cooperatives work to ensure sufficient water supplies are available for their member cities throughout the valley, the city of Alhambra being one of them.  It works this way:  Each year the city has a certain amount of water rights for which it is allowed to pump out of the ground for their community.  It is their water and is the cheapest option:  the only costs are those associated with pumping it, treating it, and a small assessment fee.  But the available groundwater supply below the city is never sufficient to meet demand. So the cooperatives work to import water from Northern California and the Colorado River to meet a city’s needs.

      Alhambra has managed to take advantage of differences in the cost of imported water between districts to turn a healthy profit.  As a member of the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, it is allowed to purchase imported water at a rate of $130 per acre-foot.[i] It then sells this water to nearby cities that, as members of the other cooperative, the Metropolitan Water District, have rates that are up to 4 times higher[ii].  The bottom line is that Alhambra buys water at $130 per acre-foot and sells it to its neighboring cities at prices as high as $528 per acre-foot.

      There are several reasons why this is unethical at best.  First, the city is effectively acting as a water retailer using imported water intended for their specific use only in times of need.  That is, it is acting as a middleman by taking water that does not directly belong to them and selling it to others for a profit.  And it does this while adding no value to that water.

      Take this hypothetical scenario:  Say the state decided to distribute food vouchers to a given city for use by its residents only.  And the city would only be allowed to distribute the vouchers once its own food supplies were depleted.  But instead the city decides to sell its own supply of food to a neighboring city that did not have this benefit.  It is able to sell it because it slightly undercuts the prices at the local supermarket.  The city then uses the vouchers to buy food for its own residents, claiming that they did not sell the vouchers.  The city claims that the neighboring city benefited because it got its food at a slightly lower price.  It claims the region benefited because it brought needed food into the area.  And that it benefited itself by making a healthy profit.

      This is analogous to what is happening with water sales.  The city is unethically benefiting from discounted water rates meant only for its own use in times of need.  And its practice of serving as a water seller is questionable just as if it were to act as the local supermarket.  And as a middleman, it is unethical for it to profit from sales:  water, like food, is a human right.

      Alhambra’s water sales are also unethical in that it violates its contract with the state.  As a member city of the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, it is bound to the agreement that it will not sell water outside of its service area.[iii]  This is the reason why we do not have such effortless revenue generation running rampant throughout the state.[iv]

      By acting as a water-for-profit retailer, the city of Alhambra is also putting itself at great risk of losing its credibility and trust among the water community.  Water is a human right and should not be sold for profit by a municipality, particularly if no value is added to that water.  The ethical course of action would have been to sell the water to its neighboring cities at a rate that covers costs, including administrative overhead.  And that water should only be sold in times of need, such as during severe drought or when events occur which affect the other city’s ability to import water such as a downed pipeline.

      Trust and credibility is no more important than in the convoluted world of water politics.  Mark Twain once said that “whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”  The often-fragile relationship between water agencies can least afford an upsetting incident that threatens an already precarious equilibrium. The city of Alhambra’s unethical actions add to its vulnerability.  It currently benefits from the best of both worlds: it belongs to the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District with its low water rates[v], and it also has a cooperative water exchange agreement with the Metropolitan Water District (also known as the “Alhambra Exchange Agreement”) whereby it can take treated surface water deliveries from them in lieu of pumping from the ground.  But there is a history of outside factions using the agreement (albeit blindly, as the exchange agreement benefits MWD customers as much as Alhambra) as leverage over talks of consolidating cooperatives whereby all cities would fall under MWD and Alhambra would lose its benefit of low water rates under the SGVMWD.

      The gist:  the groundwater basin below the city of Alhambra has a very difficult time getting recharged due to unique hydrologic conditions.  When imported water is received and spread by its cooperative, the SGVMWD, the water is not able to reach Alhambra’s portion of the basin due to near impermeable formations.  So how does it get its groundwater replenished other than the little it gets through percolation from rainfall?  It effectively takes water directly from the Metropolitan Water District in lieu of pumping by way of the Alhambra Exchange Agreement.  The water taken from MWD is then repaid by SGVMWD at other locations with cost adjustments to account for the differences between treated surface deliveries and untreated water from the SGVMWD.  Without this agreement, Alhambra would be without a means of getting its full water rights.[vi]  So when looked at from this perspective, it is ironic that Alhambra is selling water to MWD member cities for a profit, and that water is coming from MWD’s pipes.

      Alhambra’s actions are also environmentally unethical.  By selling water for profit, it motivates its staff to sell as much water as possible.  Notwithstanding the city’s efforts within the last five years to provide public relations outreach on the importance of water conservation, from a regional perspective its actions negate these efforts by selling off the water it has saved.

      The city claims it is providing a service to the region by providing imported water to others who are unable to obtain it from their own cooperative due to drought conditions. While this is arguable for the 2009 season, such conditions are no longer prevalent.  And even for those conditions, the ethical action toward neighboring cities would have been to sell at costs or provide the profits back to the cooperatives for all to share.  Also, the regions adjudicator should see to a more equitable benefit.  The city claims that it is doing a service to other cities by selling water to them at rates slightly below their usual rates from MWD[vii].  But by doing this they are undercutting the other cities’ cooperative and threatening the trust that enables the Alhambra Exchange Agreement.

      The city claims it is not selling its imported water, but rather its existing groundwater rights. This argument is not valid since such a distinction is not possible.  And again, it is antithetical to the purpose of imported water and the concept of water conservation.  Closer examination of the reasons for the price difference whereby Alhambra is profiting reinforces the specious argument.   The imported water that the city of Alhambra purchases from its cooperative, the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, is untreated water intended for groundwater replenishment. Yet it is selling water at rates that are consistent with treated water ready for the tap[viii].  If it were truly its ground water being sold, Alhambra would back off from pumping by the amount it sold so that the city that purchased the water rights could then pump from the ground.  Again, Alhambra would then be taking its imported water through MWD pipes since it has no connection of its own to surface water.

      The actions taken by the city of Alhambra were found to be consistent of the city’s leadership culture.  As other incidents have shown, it is one that adheres to a parochial view in order to gain in the short-term, often by implementing unsustainable practices.

       

      ——————————————————–

      footnotes:

      [i] An acre-foot is a measure of volume equivalent to an acre of water that is 1 foot in depth.  It is approximately the quantity of water used by a family of four over the period of a year.

      [ii] The imported water rates for MWD have been high because they have only been offering treated water rates ready for the tap and not the cheaper, untreated water intended for groundwater recharge.

      [iii] Upon inquiry to the SGVMWD in June of 2009, the district stated that it does not have any control over what cities do with their pumping rights.

      [iv] The practice of water sales such as those being done by Alhambra is prohibited by California State Water Project contract agreements.  But the study did find the city of Monterey Park also engaged in this practice starting in 2011.  Monterey Park also belongs to the SGVMWD and enjoys the same privilege of imported water at $130/acre-foot.  The justification given at its July 20, 2011 council meeting where it was approved was that it was a short-term solution to combat drought conditions and had the blessing of the main San Gabriel basin Watermaster.  Data shows this not to be the case as the basin had already recovered from the drought.  And at the June 20, 2012 council meeting where the practice was again approved, no such justification was given.   The only semblance of a justification given was “[it] will help reduce the risk that – in the unlikely event of over-pumping by the City – the overage fees charged by the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District or MWD will become excessive.” This statement is irrelevant and is not a valid reason for its water sale practices.

      [v] The SGVMWD’s water rates are subsidized by property tax assessments from residents of its member cities. Even so, its sales price of $130/acre-foot is below its costs.  It has decided to keep rates low to serve it member cities at the expense of reducing their reserves.

      [vi] Alhambra is not the only water producer to benefit from the cooperative water exchange agreement (aka “Alhambra Exchange Agreement”).  There are six other producers in the Western portion of the water basin who also benefit, all of whom are MWD customers.  Because the surface connection is within Alhambra, however, it reduces its pumping of groundwater in lieu of those other six.  The difference in costs between treated surface water and untreated water meant for ground replenishment (which is the type supplied by the SGVMWD at $130/acre-foot) is accounted for to make it an equitable exchange.

      [vii] The MWD overproduction assessment for 2012 was set at $640/acre-foot.  This was the cost for fully treated water.  Alhambra sold water to Arcadia, Monrovia, and three other water companies at $519/acre-foot.  By undercutting MWD’s rates, Alhambra has created a market for its water and generates considerable profit.  Its cost for imported water is only $130/acre-foot, but does not include any treatment costs.

      [viii] The MWD rate for untreated water intended for groundwater recharge is about $220/acre-foot, significantly less than Alhambra’s selling price, which is about double that.

      From 2009, the city of Alhambra has been selling water to neighboring cities for a total profit of $10,576,835.

      Year: 2012
      Amount of water sold:  9363 acre-feet
      Cost of water from SGVMWD: $130/acre-feet
      Selling Price to buyer:  $519/acre-feet
      Buyer: city of Arcadia, city of Monrovia, Valley County Water District, Golden State Water Co., San Gabriel Valley Water Co.
      Profit:  $3,642,339

      Year: 2011
      Amount of water sold
      :  7580 acre-feet
      Cost of water from SGVMWD: $130/acre-feet
      Selling Price to buyer:  $461/acre-feet
      Buyer: city of Arcadia; San Gabriel Valley Water Co.
      Profit:  $2,507,426

      Year: 2010
      Amount of water sold:  7580 acre-feet
      Cost of water from SGVMWD: $130/acre-feet
      Selling Price to buyer:  $528/acre-feet
      Buyer: San Gabiel Valley Water Co.
      Profit:  $3,019,070

      Year: 2009
      Amount of water sold:  5120 acre-feet
      Cost of water from SGVMWD: $130/acre-feet
      Selling Price to buyer:  $405/acre-feet
      Buyer: Not listed
      Profit:  $1,408,000

       

      1. @Eric
        I think this may be better served if you would write a more comprehensive report on this matter (plus others you alleged), and fact-checked and vetted by Alhambra Source editor and staff. It’s an opportunity for you and an opportunity for the staff. May take a while given limited resources, but I’m sure it’s better than the “he said she said” exchanges we’re seeing now.

  11. Good riddance, Mr. Fuentes! Maybe now, the City of Alhambra can move forward. But that won’t happen. City council members will make sure a new puppet is hired. Sadly, Alhambra will never have a chance of becoming the precious jewel it CAN be. Alhambra will continue to be a diamond in the rough.

  12. Continuing the interview with the city manager:

    Mr. Fuentes, to help us get started on the first question (Question 1a, of the previous post), let me provide a typical example in the hopes that it prompts some meaningful discussion.  This is a real incident that came up during one of your commission meetings.  The matter was being pushed below the radar and indeed never received any press. It's a typical example and maybe not noteworthy by your standards, but it captures the city leadership's mentality.  Anyway, it's a good one to focus on with regards to the questions of “irresponsible support to businesses at the expense of the residents”:

    For quite some time, the city allowed an apartment complex owned by China Eastern Airlines to be used essentially as a hotel for it's flight crews.  This unit, at 422 North 3rd Street, was in a residential neighborhood on an otherwise quiet street.  Twice a day (one late at night), a bus would pick-up and drop-off the flight crew to/from LAX for their international flights.  The five unit apartment complex was essentially an overnight hotel for stewards, stewardesses, and pilots.  There were numerous complaints from nearby residents, many of them coming at the wee hours.  Parties were reported until 5am, the noise from the bus woke residents.  Very typical of a hotel where guests have no real stake in the neighborhood.  From August 2006 through June 2008 there were seventeen police reports filed for disturbing the peace and vandalism.  And those were just the ones reported to the police.  We can all imagine how many incidents went unreported where neighbors just beared the burden.

    Astonishingly, rather than squelch the matter as a clear violation of a city ordinance against hotels in residential areas, you allowed it to reach the Planning Commission.  There, residents who were cleary uncomfortable with public speaking and who mustered much courage to voice their concerns were made to put up with sometimes disrepectful questioning.  Even more astonishing was that some commissioners actually voted to allow the airlines to continue the practice.  With the encouragement of city leadership puppetmasters lurking in the back of the hall, these commissioners said that it was actually a good thing because it brought folks into the city who would patronize our nearby businesses.

    Just one small example to get us started, Mr. Fuentes.  Let me know if you need more.

  13. Alternate set of questions for the city manager (but from the real world):

    1.  In the interest of time, let's limit it to just three issues that are associated with your tenure:
      a.  Unsustainable and irreponsible support to businesses and developers at the expense of the residents.  You've gone to great lengths to bypass planning standards and density ordinances by use of the Specific Plan.  Yet we haven't seen the same effort put forth when it comes to the community.  The actions of the city in this regard resemble one that is intent on short-term gains based on a “business revenue is everything” mentality.  But what about the impact it has on the community?
      b.  Unethical (and hence unsustainable) reveune generation and misuse of the people's grant funding.  You've borrowed from the low/mod housing fund and list upwards of $11 million when the state shutdown the redevelopment agency.  You've made unethical water sales.  And you've taken grant funding meant for those in need and given it to businesses.
      c.  The lack of any meaningful work on improving the lives of the residents through affordable housing, adult education, and homeless/transitional programs.  You've dragged your feed on these issues to point that you are now leaving the city.  Any comment?

    2. Alhambra Place has been empty since 2009.  You've had considerable turnover for other businesses along Main St.  And all along you've given millions of dollars in grant and redevelopment funding to these businesses.  While no one wants to see these businesses fail, you've compounded the problem by given them the people's monies.   What do you say to criticism that you are addressing the symptoms and not the source of economic woes?  Why not use the grant and redevelopment funding for it's true intent:  upward mobility to the residents who can then afford to patronize these businesses.  In fact, your tenure can be characterized as “socialism for the business community and free-enterprise for the residents.”

    3. A fact that often gets overlooked and not corrected or brought up by you is that prior to the redevelopment agency being shut-down, you were getting upwards of an addtional $75,000 of annual salary from it.  This made your total salary from Alhambra near $280,000.  Did the loss of the $75,000 once the redevelopment agency went away affect your decision to look at other jobs?
     

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