Note: This is another segment of an interview with Huntington Beach mayor Keith Bohr, conducted in November, 2008.
Water Conservation in Huntington Beach.
Q: What are some specific things we can do in Huntington Beach to conserve water?
Well you start with education before you make it a law. Don’t water down your driveways, sweep them. Do your sprinklers every other day. Only do them for five minutes.
People already know that. Right? They’ve been educated about that.
There’s still room for a ton of improvement. I’m trying to educate my gardener still. It’s a constant battle. What they’re doing with groundwater replenishment, that’s huge. A huge expense and I think it’s been well worth it. Don’t go make it salt water and try to desal it. Let’s capture it early. Put it in, let it filter itself through the whole normal process basically. I say do all three prongs. But then as we get closer, mandatory; it’s the law, you get fines if you get caught watering your driveway down. If you have a swimming pool like I do you can’t change that water but once every five years. You end up going on a shared water system and you get punished like on an electric bill.
Do you think there’s any chance of getting that passed on this new city council?
I would like to maximize the education and figure out how the gap relates on those tiers, like how many kids and people are in your household. You have to do several things to hit different baselines. If you have six kids obviously you should use more water than somebody who has no kids…When I lived in a condo for 15 years I had an electric bill of $15. Then I moved into a house where’s it’s several hundred and I go `holy schmoley, what’s going on?’ I went to fluorescents. So you pay attention. So the tier system would help incentify that, right? You think that water’s cheap. It is. You think of water, it’s something that’s so fragile and so scarce, it is…So it makes you wonder why it isn’t already more incentified. So I think that one of the things that we absolutely are going to. I don’t know if that’s going to happen on our term or not, but we need to start looking at that, absolutely.
Are you concerned at all with the issue of privatization of publicly owned water? Not just with Poseidon, but the issue in general.
Still, you have to sell the water into the grid. So the quality of the water has to be proven. You have to meet the government’s standards. It’s [the desalinated water Poseidon will produce] above those standards and you have to add some things to make it mesh with what’s going on there. But do I want a private company that controls water…instead of a publicly operated [system]—no, absolutely not. But ]if]they sell into the government system as a distributer, I don’t have a problem with that.
There are many examples around the world where privatization of water services has been deemed a failure and was then rejected. Bolivia almost had a revolution over it. Isn’t Poseidon a little foothold into that approach to privatization?
I’m not convinced by that argument. I think that as long as we are still publicly operating the distribution [and] that they have to meet our standards to come into that we are still in control. But there are private water companies that pump water from the ground and sell it. So this [Poseidon] is taking it from the ocean and cleaning it and selling it. So I don’t see that much difference. But would I want one big private massive corporation controlling our water? Absolutely not.
Making Huntington Beach a Green City
The city’s efforts to make the city greener. You brought up the possibility of mandatory regulations.
Sure. Same thing [as water use].
That’s kind of like bringing up the Devil in this city, with the free market religion coming from the city council. Some examples?
Right now we’re giving some incentives. The city’s green committee has to come up with a point system, kind of copying the LEEDS or Build it Green systems. If you get (x) amount of points we will put you on top of the pile [of projects] that we’re expediting. Or we will reduce your fees 10 percent. Nothing major, but one of the many good things about green is that it’s cool, it’s hip. You feel like you’re contributing to the environment and being a good citizen. People are already into it and to an extent is saves you on your energy bill and actual costs and that’s obviously a payback to you as well. And to whatever extent we give you a building inspection quicker, or whatever things we do to make it more of a positive.
If you make it a regulation there’s a level playing field. So if as a developer I’m going to build something but it’s still cheaper not to go green, and it’s really hard for me to do it just because it’s cool and compete with all the other people out there. But if you put a regulation on it and make it mandatory that makes it a level playing field for everybody. That means you’re going to have more suppliers because now all of the sudden everybody has to use that product. So that’s what the good part of forcing regulation Then it becomes profitable because everybody has to use it…We’re starting to educate because a people want to be green generally, some of them, but at a certain point we’re going to have to regulate. Like low flush toilets and shower heads—those are all mandatory now through the building codes. So green will start to be mandatory.
Despite all the promises made by Mr. [Alex] Wong,who wants to do an ethical green project with Ripcurl, there’s really no guarantee that the project will be green.
There were some conditions of approval that are required by the project,but a lot of it was voluntary, correct. But on Bella Terra there are guarantees. The planning department said that one of the three buildings had to be LEED certified at least at their minimum level.
Aaron Klemm is our energy manager. We just hired him about six months ago. We stole him away from Cal State Fullerton. He knows all the stuff inside and out. Due to AB 32, the city has to get down to its1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels. The hard thing is to know what the level was at that time. He started [cutting energy use] in-house. He has already paid for himself probably five times his salary’s worth just in the first six months. We had around 200 different electric bills that came to the city every month from Southern California Edison for all of our different operations and buildings all over the city. Now they are consolidated. Some of those were left over from ages ago and we shouldn’t be paying them anymore. Quit paying them.
From that he will start concentrating on businesses…Talk to Boeing, Quicksilver, Goldenwest College. If they don’t already have their own person doing that and be ready for that.
City Vs National Politics
Our nation spent a lot on war since 2003. Do you think that local officials should speak out about how national and international policies affect the cities?
This may change, but I doubt it. For me, I’ve found that that would be unproductive to take on what is perceived to be if not actually a partisan argument. Maybe less and less as what we saw in the election of 2006 and 2008 that the Bush administration’s policies have not been well received by the nation as a whole. To me this is a very Republican city in voter registration. It has been changing in the other direction, but as we saw in the Debbie Cook race. It would unproductive to vote for something and blame it on a party. That would send us off course.
Larry Agran (Irvine city councilman and former mayor) promoted the idea of a city primary to create a stronger voice for cities at the national level. We have had severe infrastructure problems here. You just mentioned that there is $1.5 billion short fall for the next 20 years. Certainly it might be a good idea in the uncertain economic times we’re in now for cities to push for a change in national policies.
That’s really the job of our U.S. representatives, right? Dana Rohrabacher. We tell him our needs. Has he been particularly responsive? No. Right there you’re kind of cut off. We can’t get our own representative to say something. We can talk to Boxer and Feinstein and now that the majority—it still is partisan to me.
We have a federal lobbyist, a state Sacramento lobbyist. I’m on a governmental relations committee. We meet monthly and talk about which bills we want to support or not and we let the legislators in D.C. and Sacramento know what our preferences are. We have our lobbyist meet with our legislators and comities, sometimes Loretta Sanchez if it’s regional. We exercise all those options as best we can. So we don’t sit on our hands.
But if you’re saying the war costs us on infrastructure, I think that conversation becomes unproductive and then I lose a lot of support. I’ve got support from both sides. That’s the beauty of a non partisan race. A lot of people from each of the political groups, Democrats, Republicans and decline to states, voted for me. And they think that I’m pro-business, visionary, whatever those positive things are. I don’t get caught with ‘He’s a Democrat, tax and spend liberal, easy on crime.”..That’s the beauty, we don’t have to be polarized by those issues. So I find that it’s not productive in Huntington Beach in a non-partisan office to challenge a national level.
Infrastructure and the Senior Center
Speaking of infrastructure. Let’s get back to Makar. We have a $1.5 billion infrastructure shortfall.
Over the next 20 years.
All of our parks need maintenance if not improvement. And the money that is supposed to come from fees paid by Makar will go to the new senior center planned for Central Park. Per court decision, the city failed in its attempt to value the developer’s land as it wanted and will get half of the amount it was counting on.
I would do it all over again even though it’s only $22 million versus $38 million.
Why put all of our eggs in one basket? Why not spread it around more?
It’s kind of a bang for the buck and priority issue. So if we always said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got $1.5 billion in needs over the next 20 years,’ and we have a $336 million budget, and every time we came up with a little extra money we said ‘Nope, we can’t do any of these because we have this $1.5 billion [shortfall],’ then we would do nothing else and we would still make a pretty small dent in that.
But this is a huge amount of money, about $21 million. That amount could be spread around and we could still have a senior center, right?
Not a new one. I assume you’ve been to Rodgers Senior Center. I’ve been there many times. I used to drive the senior van before I was on council And it’s something that they do great stuff out of considering its condition and age, but it’s a dismal and obsolete facility. So if you look at the stats for our aging population, the fastest growing segment of the population, and what they have in other cities that are larger or smaller than Huntington Beach, including Fountain Valley which is a fourth or our size, we’re way behind the curve.
After discussing our strategic goals plan three-years-ago, all seven of us [on the city council] said ‘new senior center.’ That one [we have now] is obsolete. We need one that has the facilities and the size to serve our seniors…We all say to this day that we need a new senior center, but now we disagree on where to put it and how much to pay. What I heard from the folks who said that they’re not for the senior center there [in Central Park] but they’re for a new senior center was,’ Why don’t you take it to the school site?’ They never talked about how they were going to pay for it. How are you going to pay for it if you do it at Kettler? It’s not like [the land is] free because it’s a closed school site. There’s a building there, but how do you improve that building? So the land and the cost of that building are still going to be in excess of $15 million.
That’s another issue.
But that’s what they say, ‘It’s easy, let’s go to Kettler.’
Maybe their logic is wrong, but how are we going to take care of park needs if we put all of the money into one project?
So, optimally, we had $38 million, [and would have] spent $23 million. We would have had at least $16 million to spend on new park improvements. Now we only have enough for the senior center. Even given that, I would still have voted for the [new] senior center because when I put that green sticker up there to say that this is one of my top priorities, I didn’t really think that it would happen in that time. But when the council and the aging staff developed their proposal and showed where we can do it on free land in the undeveloped five acres out of 15 acres in Central Park, and how we can pay for it—I said, ‘Wow, awesome.’
But what about the other park facilities?
Those will take a back seat to the center. That was more of a priority. That was a decision I made. And I understand—almost all of the decisions on council are a matter of something suffers and something succeeds. We have a $336 million pie and $1.5 billion of needs. Which needs do you do? And most of the time, someone will say we should do this, and I will say, how are you going to pay for it? And that means you take away from some other project. So that’s always a challenge and it’s one of our biggest decision making priorities: which of those priories do we fund and which do we not fund? Starting with basic services. Basic services being police and fire and water. Those are the most basic. Parks are actually over and above basic. It’s part of what makes Huntington Beach great that people like the park system, but it’s not a basic service.
A lot of people would say that parks provide a basic service, that parks are part of our lives.
Right, but that’s something we could live without, right?
If we didn’t have those parks, maybe we would have more crime and more other problems.
I agree that it’s an important service, but it’s not one that we couldn’t live without. Same with libraries. Of course, we should have libraries. But if you put them in order of priorities, would you rather have libraries or a police department? I’m sure everyone would say police department…If you had to get to those choices. Luckily we don’t have to get to those choices. But, usually one of the first [cutbacks] is to close libraries on Sundays, right?
We’ve been in that situation before and we’re likely to be again now due to the current economic situation.
I hope not.