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EDITORIAL SOBERING UP CITY HALL PLAYED POLITICS WITH THE SAFETY OF THE WATER SUPPLY OF MILLIONS.

THE revelation in recent days about how Los Angeles city officials have played politics with the health and safety of the city's 3.5 million residents is the most damning evidence yet of the need for major reform of the city's political culture.

This is no longer simply about ``pay-to-play'' in city contracting. It's no longer about pay raises for employees while streets go unpaved. It's no longer about questionable priorities.

This is about something far more serious. This is about a public safety crisis that Mayor James Hahn and other city officials ignored for political reasons.

In the months before the vote on San Fernando Valley secession, DWP officials told Hahn, members of the City Council and other officials that a massive investment was needed in the aging water system to improve the quality of water, meet new legal requirement and - after the 9-11 attacks - protect the water supply from terrorists.

``Not yet, not yet,'' a DWP official quotes the mayor as saying - a sentiment he says Hahn made clear on more than one occasion since 2001 when asked to support an 18 percent rate hike.

The ``not yet'' reply shows that Hahn acknowledged the need for the rate hike, but wanted to sit on it until the politics were right.

Hahn fought Valley secession with dire warnings that a separate city would face higher rates for water and power from the DWP, even though he knew everybody faced higher water rates no matter how the vote turned out.

DWP officials say that Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, City Council members and others made it clear to them that the need for a $2 billion investment in the water system should be hushed up until after secession.

Now, 18 months later, the security and other upgrades have not yet happened. And the DWP says it needs a 33 percent - not 18 percent - rate hike, which neither the mayor nor the council wants to face up to.

They have not even shown an inclination to determine whether all that money is needed or whether all of DWP's spending is legitimate.

The question then is: Has City Hall's political fiddling with water-rate hikes jeopardized the public safety?

It should give no one confidence that we will get a ready answer from City Hall. Rather than examining the DWP's plans for security and water quality improvements, the mayor and council still are fiddling with how to break the bad news on the extent of the looming rate hikes into small increments spread out at least until next year's elections are over.

In other words, they're still playing politics with public safety.

DWP officials are not victims in this political dance. When it all shakes out, the utility's officials must be held accountable for their extravagant spending over the years. And the culture that allowed this to happen must be reformed.

It appears, though, that they have finally reached their limit and decided to reveal what happened because of their rising concern that delays in fixing the system have grown dangerously long.

The public must not let this episode pass without demanding real change. The charade that City Hall has the public's best interests in mind has been revealed for what it is. The workings of City Hall must be laid bare for everyone to see.

It is no longer about politics.

It is now about people's lives.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 3, 2004
Words:564
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