Antonio Villaraigosa Courts Journalism

Deadline for Water King


    Triton to Water King: You’re taking this all too personally

The last couple days have been busy here at L.A. Sniper headquarters. I’ve consulted with lawyers and plan to sue the Department of Water and Power’s general manager, David Nahai, a.k.a. Water King, unless he turns over his water and electric bills by a week from Friday. He needs to accept his role as the man in charge of a very public agency and stop acting like he’s back at his teensy Century City law firm, where he could rule by whim without regard to inconveniences like the California Public Records Act.

It’s unlikely that Water King’s image will suffer irreparable harm from the release of the bills for his Benedict Canyon palace. Sure, it might be embarrassing, and warrant a post or two in the blogosphere and a brief, at most, in the dailies. But whatever bad press ensues will fade and Water King can return to taking orders from the mayor and DWP’s union boss without interruption. It’s not like he was caught downloading porn.

I‘m hoping that Water King can find rational voices to talk sense into him within the next 10 days and keep from blowing ratepayer money to pay for what should be my unnecessary lawsuit.

Here’s the heart of my letter to Water King:

Water King:
I received your letter of June 13 in which you refused to release the requested documents that are so obviously public under California Government Code Section 6254.16 (e). I have consulted lawyers and intend to file a lawsuit to obtain this information if you do not provide it to me by 5 p.m. Friday, June 27, 2008.

As you know, the department would be on the hook to pay all of my legal fees associated with pursuing this successful case in court. Ratepayers deserve better than a general manager who takes requests like mine so personally, and digs in for a legal battle for which he has no basis.

My advice: Take a day or two to cool off from the mindset that produced your very personal letter of June 13. You need to heed the advice of public records experts, who, without exception, will agree that your water and electric bills must be released. In nearly three decades in journalism, I’ve rarely heard of instances where an individual official whose records are at issue responded personally to a California Public Records Act request. The government code clearly intends for your water and electric bills to be released to me because you are an “appointed
official with authority to determine the utility usage policies of
the local agency.”

I hope you take my deadline extension until June 27 in the spirit of cooperation in which I make it. If you do not comply by the deadline, it will be abundantly clear to me that the only way to obtain the information is by suing you. As you know, the Public Records Act does not allow public officials to delay compliance with the law so that they can release information on their own terms. One additional request: Please set aside some time before the 5 p.m. June 27 deadline to review your bills with me so that I can fully get your side of the story, and understand your commitment to water conservation in Los Angeles.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.

L.A. Sniper


  • Good advice, “Take a day or two off to cool down from the mindset that produced your very personal letter…” for the author, himself. Phew, has this become an obsession. For the record, your claim to represent all “ratepayers” in this matter of urgency, doesn’t include me. I haven’t lost any sleep over this until you mentioned it, and I wonder how many letters you’ve received begging you to do this?

    As for never in several decades having seen an official who reacted so personally: have you regularly gone to their homes, startled their families to see their personal bills? Just who made this personal? What gave you a special dispensation or right to do this, any more than Zuma Dogg would have? Seems he could claim invasion of personal property and emotional distress. As a “ratepayer”/ homeowner in L A (which few regular commenters on this blog are, so they can opine all they want with no liability), pls. chill like a cool shower, before subjecting us to another frivolous lawsuit. The ultimatum at the end to meet with you doesn’t help defuse tensions with an obviously very proud man (which defines many people, personal and private). I’m sure if you address yourself to the business office and go through he channels he suggested, you’ll get your bill.

  • Mr. or Ms. Check: I do have a few other things on my mind. Check back tomorrow morning. Thanks for visiting.-alan

  • What I keep hearing from commentators, on this issue, is that public official’s shouldn’t be expected to comply with laws designed to curb corruption, and increase transparency. Because an intrepid reporter knocking on their door is more important than adhering to the law. I thought Conservatives where supposed to be for the rule of law.

    Of course this isn’t the biggest issue in Los Angeles, but it is indicative of the attitude the DWP has with regards to unaccountability. I’ll remind everyone the DWP is one of the most corrupt departments in Los Angeles, as well as, the least accountable, and unelected.

  • What you may find aren’t records of extravagant usage but records which “trim” his meter readings or simply treat “free” water as a perk of the office. Of course, the math may support that, because he may use say 5,000 gallons over a period but then flush about 4,000, which is about the same thing as a return to a store for a credit.

  • AC, it’s not about “Conservatives” or political persuasion, but about everyone’s right to privacy, and personal property – celebrities and public officials don’t give that up, that’s the law. Otherwise you could have Zuma Dogg, Madd Dogg and any nut with a notebook or camera showing up at people’s homes to demand what they claim are “public records,” and what’s fair for one is fair for all — what’s to prevent a dozen or more from showing up at any given time, for the same thing? This has absolutely nothing to do with accountability or transparency or the need to prove lack of corruption or any of the grandiose excuses you give. There are also two sides to the story: say theoretically, someone came to your door and upset you, and didn’t leave when asked, you’d have a claim against them because it’s private property. I’m not speaking as a “conservative,” which it’s absurd to call me except by a certain very left leaning POV in L A, but as someone who respects privacy rights and the laws pertaining to them. I live near and have friends who’ve been hounded by paparazzi, and believe me, the LAPD supports their right to privacy and safety, as they must.

    I guess politics does figure into the situation, in that it’s liberals who often don’t respect personal privacy or people’s right to assemble for a purpose they choose without being interrupted by those hijacking the occasion to make political pronouncements in the name of “a higher good” — referring here to the claim by some that UCLA’s speakers should have used UCLA graduation to declaim about union negotiations to the assembled families and graduates.

    There is an appropriate time and place for things — if Nahai’s office doesn’t release records he’s required to, in an appropriate way and time, that’s another matter.

  • Come on reality, it’s well known: You make your living off the public dime, you lose some rights of privacy to the public.

    The state Supreme Court just allowed a law that requires public agencies to make public the exact salaries of government employees.

    And in this case, the law is also very specific, very intentional: The Water King’s water usage is public.

    Those laws aren’t accidental, they’re designed to prevent abuse, and I’m glad Alan Mittelstaedt has the tenacity to follow up.

    If the Water King had just released his bill when Alan first requested, this would be over and Alan wouldn’t have gone to his house. The Water King gave a flippant answer to a legitimate, legally open question, and in turn he got a flip response.

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