My View: Delay the Decision on Water As Serious Concerns Still Remain About JPA and Water Projects

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Sacramento-River-stockThere have been some interesting new developments this week with regard to water.  On Thursday of next week, the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) will meet in a crucial meeting that may determine at least the WAC’s recommendation for the water project.

If the speculation is correct, one member of that body may recommend we go forward with the Woodland-Davis project.  As I laid out earlier this week, while there are good reasons that we might consider doing that, especially as the cost gap is reduced, there are still looming questions.

One thing the Vanguard learned early this week is that, despite questions about the DBO process and about two of the firms that could be hired to operate the water project, we may be locked into the process already.

As we wrote earlier this week, there are at least questions about Veolia and United Water that need to be addressed or at least discussed.  Eliminating both firms leaves the third bidder as the de facto winner, which at least would appear to undermine the competitive bid process.

Moreover, we were promised a discussion, at least, of the public versus private operation angle.  Councilmember Dan Wolk specifically requested that.  That would appear to be nullified if the information is correct.

There are two points that I want to raise out of this that concern me greatly.

The first is, I requested earlier this week an interview from Dennis Diemer, who is the general manager of this project, to clarify some of these issues.  I could not get an interview with him for nearly a week.  Frankly, I find that appalling.

For all of the bellyaching I have heard about the inaccessibility of Davis City Manager Steve Pinkerton, he has always responded to my information requests within a day and has always returned my calls and given me interviews in a reasonable fashion.

We are going to deal with a JPA entity where the general manager does not think he has to get back to the press within a week?  He is so busy he can’t spare five to ten minutes, even if it’s in the early morning or after business hours?

Some may think this is a minor point, but I am not comfortable with a government agency that cannot readily answer our questions, particularly in advance of a critical decision by the WAC.

Secondly, I am concerned with the tone that the Chair of the Water Advisory Committee has taken lately.

I posted the information regarding the DBO process.  It was information that I had heard from a very reliable source that did not want to go on the record with it.

I think the appropriate response from the Chair of the WAC would have been, ‘”That’s very interesting information, we were not made aware of it, I will look into it and get back to you.”

Instead, the Chair’s comment: “Source? As far as the WAC knows, the DBO issue is very much on the table for consideration.”

Later she added, “The problem…unnamed sources if there is no way to verify their credibility…”

I’m sorry, but this is the Chair of the Water Advisory Committee, and she can call up city staff and any number of people to verify the information.  I made the suggestion that she call Dennis Diemer himself.  I wonder if she attempted to do so; she certainly made no effort to get back to me with a confirmation of that information.

In Monday’s article, the Vanguard wrote: “A further issue will be whether the WAC can reach a unanimous verdict. If the verdict is unanimous or near unanimous, the project has a better chance of succeeding. But if there are three or four dissenters, it could fan a heated battle into the spring.”

The point we’re making here was to analyze the political implications of the WAC decision on which project to take up.  At this point, we know that there is a group that seems committed to stay with Woodland.  Some of the critics of the project have taken up the West Sacramento Alternative cause.

I commend the WAC for keeping both options open and exploring ways to reduce the costs and getting to the best possible project.  But if indeed we have a vote this week, the magnitude of the vote will help to determine how much the decision gets disputed.

A near unanimous decision in our view would erase some of the current divide.  A heavily-split decision would amplify it.

That is very basic politics.

The Chair of the WAC, however, inexplicably interpreted this as though it were some sort of a threat.  She wrote: “In other words the WAC had better come up with a unanimous/near unanimous decision, or else? It sounds like a threat…”

She explained: “To me, it sounds as if the Vanguard is saying if the WAC does not come up with a unanimous verdict, then it can expect a heated battle as a result, and will have failed in its mission in regard to public outreach. Hence the WAC had much better come up with a unanimous verdict.”

The point of the piece was to analyze the process, figure out where the unresolved questions were and determine what would happen moving forward.

The Chair of the Water Advisory Committee, in my view, is out of line here – and has been for some time, diminishing reasonable complaints by critics as delay tactics, and quelling or attempting to quell public criticism by suggesting that we allow the WAC to complete its task.

Ironically, the Chair of the WAC has done an excellent job of running the meetings, making sure all voices are heard, and allowing the body to do the work it has been commissioned by the council to do.

The Chair certainly has the right to express her views as a private citizen, but I question the method that she has chosen to do so, particularly in her twisting of the words of members of the public.

Moving forward, I have too many concerns about the JPA and the Woodland project to support it at this time.  That does not mean I oppose the projects in concept or that I am looking to delay.  It simply means there are too many questions to arrive at a definitive answer on Thursday.

As such,  I would prefer the WAC to look at it further rather than rush a decision on Thursday.  To me, there are serious questions with both projects at this point and we would benefit from more analysis – particularly given we are not going to vote on this for seven months.

I think we need to know if the DBO process is a done deal, whether we are bound to accept private operation, whether private operation is optimal, among other things.  Dennis Diemer may not be able to get back to me for a week, but I hope he is able to show up on Thursday night to address questions that may arise from the WAC and the public at large.

We are in need of determining whether Veolia’s problems or United Water’s problems are serious concerns.

Veolia has a whole host of failed projects in addition to the Palestinian issue, which I think many feel is very peripheral not only to our project but to the country.  However, imagine running a water campaign which devolves into an Israeli-Palestinian debate.  Do not write off that possibility.

Finally, I think we need to ask more questions about the JPA itself if we are to move forward on water.  I fear that we locked ourselves into processes that remove autonomy from our community.

As I attempted to suggest on Monday, Woodland and Davis have very different values.  The Chair of the WAC interpreted that as a suggestion that Davis is superior to Woodland.  All I am suggesting is that the two communities are different and as such, things that are important to Davis may not be important to Woodland and vice versa.

In summary, I think the WAC, to date, has done exemplary work for this community.  I think we all benefit from this process.  It will save us money and produce a better project.

However, at this point in time, I am not ready to get behind either project, as I believe both have things we have to work out.  We have five to seven months to work those things out, but I would prefer to keep both options on the table at this time.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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105 thoughts on “My View: Delay the Decision on Water As Serious Concerns Still Remain About JPA and Water Projects”

  1. davisite2

    Matt’s article several days ago laid out the different interest groups that are likely to vote NO on a referendum(inevitable,IMO) that will make the decision on going forward with a the surface water project now once the rate structure plan is in place. As it stands now, much like the No vote on Measure X(Covell Village referendum), there are multiple voter reasons that would result in a NO majority. The proposed water rates,its “fairness” as well as the guarantees that it will not be altered significantly in the future if the project is approved will be critical to the referendum result. The “pocket-book” issue is almost always determinative.

  2. Mr.Toad

    “Finally, I think we need to ask more questions about the JPA itself if we are to move forward on water. I fear that we locked ourselves into processes that remove autonomy from our community.”

    Autonomy is what you lose when you take on partners. Can you suggest a scenario where this would not be the case?

  3. Don Shor

    “[i]…and she can call up city staff and any number of people to verify the information. I made the suggestion that she call Dennis Diemer himself. I wonder if she attempted to do so; she certainly made no effort to get back to me with a confirmation of that information.”[/i]

    I would strongly urge that she NOT do that. If there is valid information, it can be presented to the WAC in public. Anonymous sources are fine for blogs, I guess, but they are not how WAC members should receive or process information. There is too much rumor, speculation, and innuendo floating around about the water project. The value of the WAC is that it provides a public source where facts are laid out by experts in a manner that can be sources and referred back to later.

    [i]”Finally, I think we need to ask more questions about the JPA itself if we are to move forward on water. I fear that we locked ourselves into processes that remove autonomy from our community.”[/i]

    Ask away. I don’t think there is much more to be said at the WAC about this. You’re raising an issue that is pretty much past.
    The only way Davis will retain complete autonomy is if the city builds and operates its own water supply. Nobody has seriously proposed that.

  4. Don Shor

    [i]”As I attempted to suggest on Monday, Woodland and Davis have very different values. The Chair of the WAC interpreted that as a suggestion that Davis is superior to Woodland.”[/i]

    Your comment was a slur on Woodland. After all, you said they were all Republicans. And you weren’t even right about that.

  5. Michael Harrington

    David: we have been asking about the issues arising from unwinding the JPA and standing up and walking away from the love seat next to Woodland. I have been assured there are “off Ramps”

    I cannot imagine anyone I know putting up with Woodland politicos and water staff and the JPA for our water supply. They had us buying 4x the water we need at a Taj Mahal price that would have sucking the economic life out of our business community and the poor and middle class.

    We are taking the next off ramp, even if we have to crash through a couple of JPA sawhorses.

  6. Michael Harrington

    Let me see if I have this right: there are JPA project proponents now telling us that we have to stay with the JPA even though there was no final approval from Davis voters, or even a final Prop 218 notice?

    If true, did our City Attorney vet that deal? The answer would have to be “you betcha!”.

    Bob Dunning and David: what a target rich environment.

  7. Mark West

    David Greenwald: “[i]The first is, I requested earlier this week an interview from Dennis Diemer, who is the general manager of this project, to clarify some of these issues. I could not get an interview with him for nearly a week. Frankly, I find that appalling.”

    ” He is so busy he can’t spare five to ten minutes, even if it’s in the early morning or after business hours?[/i]”

    David, your anger over Mr. Diemer’s schedule says a great deal more about you than anything else. Yes, he may well be that busy, and no, you really don’t deserve his attention. You are not a reporter with a reputable news organization so he really doesn’t owe you any more consideration than that given another private citizen. If I were to call a General Manager at any business for an interview I would be extremely happy if I could get an appointment within a week, and not surprised at all if it took several weeks. He especially doesn’t owe you any of his personal time outside of work hours.

    [i]”Secondly, I am concerned with the tone that the Chair of the Water Advisory Committee has taken lately.”[/i]

    Your personal attacks on Elaine started when she was named chair of the WAC, and have continued unabated since. She has proven you wrong at each and every meeting with her exemplary performance, and she continues to remain civil with you despite your outlandish and baseless charges.

    [i]”I’m sorry, but this is the Chair of the Water Advisory Committee, and she can call up city staff and any number of people to verify the information. I made the suggestion that she call Dennis Diemer himself. I wonder if she attempted to do so; she certainly made no effort to get back to me with a confirmation of that information.”[/i]

    You are the one who has chosen to publish unsubstantiated information from an unnamed source. Legitimate reporters work to confirm the information they receive from anonymous sources before publishing it, and don’t expect someone else to do that work for them. Elaine could well choose to discuss the subject with Mr. Diemer, or with the City Staff as you suggest, but her responsibility would be to report that information to the rest of the WAC, not to you. You really have no legitimate complaint here.

    [i]”The Chair of the Water Advisory Committee, in my view, is out of line here – and has been for some time, diminishing reasonable complaints by critics as delay tactics, and quelling or attempting to quell public criticism by suggesting that we allow the WAC to complete its task.”[/i]

    Sorry, you are the one who is out of line.

    [i]”The Chair certainly has the right to express her views as a private citizen, but I question the method that she has chosen to do so, particularly in her twisting of the words of members of the public.”[/i]

    Again, you need to look in the mirror. I am amazed that you would make this claim.

  8. Matt Williams

    Don Shor said . . .

    [i]”I would strongly urge that she NOT do that. If there is valid information, it can be presented to the WAC in public. Anonymous sources are fine for blogs, I guess, but they are not how WAC members should receive or process information. There is too much rumor, speculation, and innuendo floating around about the water project. The value of the WAC is that it provides a public source where facts are laid out by experts in a manner that can be evaluated and referred back to later. “[/i]

    I concur Don. The WAC has been well served by transparency. No reason to change that now. David’s call for Dennis Diemer to attend Thursday’s WAC meeting is very much in the spirit of that transparency.

  9. Don Shor

    rusty: David’s exact words were [i]”Finally, when the discussion about United Water and the DBO process emerged in the JPA last year, the Woodland councilmembers were almost completely uninterested. This may seem like a small thing, but it reflects a fundamental difference in the values between the two cities, highlighted by the entirely Republican Woodland City Council against the largely liberal Davis City Council.”[/i]

    For the record, I believe two of the council members who came down to talk to the Davis CC were not Republicans. I also suspect Woodland has a majority Democratic registration. I’m not sure what David means by a “fundamental difference in values.”

  10. Matt Williams

    Michael, can you please drill down into the math that supports your statement [i]”They had us buying 4x the water we need at a Taj Mahal price.”[/i]

  11. Michael Harrington

    Mark West: ERM has run very good meetings. The DV is a respected local media source, like the Davis Enterprise. I don’t know what the snafus are about, but they will be fixed

  12. Mark West

    Last time I checked, nobody has figured out how to go back in time and change history. Our elected officials make decisions on our behalf doing what they think is in the best interests of the community. When we don’t like those decisions, we can work to change them, and barring that, work to change the elected officials. What we cannot do is go back in time and undo that which has already been done.

    We, through our City Council, agreed to a partnership with Woodland on water. We signed contracts, and began working towards implementing the agreement. Once the contracts are signed, there should be a very high threshold required before we try to undo those agreements. I would suggest proof of fraud, or some other illegal activity as the standard, but others may have a better idea. I do not think that we should break a valid contract simply on the whim of a few noisy residents.

    I am fine with the process that our City Council members have implemented, to create the WAC to analyze the water program and provide advice to the Council. I wish that decision had been made 7 or 8 years ago, but cannot change the fact that it wasn’t. Regardless of the discussion, the JPA with Woodland is the project that we agreed to and should remain the default solution until the City Council makes an affirmative choice to break the contract. Barring proof (not baseless claims) of illegal activity, breaking the contract should only be considered if there is an alternative project that is demonstratively better and possible within the same time frame. I have seen nothing presented to the WAC that would fit that criteria.

  13. Michael Harrington

    Mark: how about fraudulent or clearly false water rates on September 6 last year ? Dan Wolk: you were duped, and you should demand an independent investigation, including locking down and collecting all electronic communications leading up to those rates.

  14. Mark West

    Michael: [i]”Mark: how about fraudulent or clearly false water rates on September 6 last year ?”[/i]

    You have never proven fraud Michael, and you know that you never will. Stop using the term incorrectly.

    The rates are a separate issue from the project. Frankly, you and your Council cohorts should have dealt with the rates issue years ago when it was obvious that we would need to make improvements in our water system down the line to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Instead you all punted. The now much higher rates we are facing is as much your fault as anyone else.

  15. Matt Williams

    Mike, the rates as published and reported by Staff to Council were neither fraudulent nor false . . . an you know that. The electronic communications very clearly support that.

    With that said, the very real problems you refer to, came as a direct result of 1) the discussion by Council from the dias which was not consistent with the Staff report, 2) even more importantly the incomplete and misleading reporting by the Enterprise, and 3) the subsequent failure by Council and/or Staff to correct the faulty and misleading record established by the Enterprise.

  16. Matt Williams

    Michael Harrington asked . . .

    [i]”Am I up to my daily posting allotment yet?”[/i]

    You are doing very well in Creative Writing, but you still have some outstanding assignments due in Mathematics.

    8>)

  17. medwoman

    [quote]Mark: how about fraudulent or clearly false water rates on September 6 last year ? Dan Wolk: you were duped, and you should demand an independent investigation, including locking down and collecting all electronic communications leading up to those rates.[/quote]

    To add to Matt’s suggested writing assignments, I would also suggest an essay of the ethics of making false accusations. “Fraud” defined as “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.” implies intent to harm for one’s own advantage. I agree with Matt that there is ample evidence that this is not the case here for the reasons he stated.

    I know that as a doctor, everything to me looks like an opportunity for prevention or cure. Could we consider that perhaps to you, as a lawyer, everything looks like an opportunity for an “independent investigation” or even perhaps a lawsuit?

  18. Michael Harrington

    Matt: ha! I was good with aviation maintenance and flying before starting UCD in 1980 in Sociology, but all I can say is thank goodness for the bonehead English courses at UCD English! Now, if I could only have smaller fingers and sharper eeys so I can see those tiny characters on my iphone and punch them correctly before I hit SEND.

  19. Barbara King

    Is the O part of DBO going to be temporary or long term? My understanding is that it was temporary. I much prefer water works to be run by public staff because I think it lends itself to more direct accountability (at least one less layer of bureaucracy to get through when there is a problem), and it does not have the built in possibility of conflict of interest between public safety and fiduciary responsibility to stockholders (if any).

  20. Michael Harrington

    Can someone post all of the documents that bear on the “off ramp” analysis from separating ourselves from the JPA? I know there are bits and pieces. ERM and WAC staff: maybe do a folder on the WAC documents collection that establishes the legal relationships between the JPA, and its two cities? Include staff reports and CC and JPA minutes? And WAC staff do a report on the situation? Of course, none of this will be ready by this Thursday.

    Alf: My suggestion is that you make your motion to lop off the most expensive Woodland option, and leave the least, and leave West Sacto. You will probably get a 10/0 on that motion. If you try to lop off West Sacto now, on a split vote, we will beat you at the polls, and it wont be hard. So avoid the meltdown, and move to lop off the Woodland JPA expensive option. Simple.

  21. Don Shor

    [i]”… you and your Council cohorts should have dealt with the rates issue years ago when it was obvious that we would need to make improvements in our water system down the line to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act.”[/i]

    Yes, I’d love to know how much money would be set aside if the rates had been raised 10% in, say, 2004.

  22. Michael Harrington

    Don: Thanks. Section 9 is the off ramp section, how to get away from Woodland the and JPA and United Water. We have not sold bonds, so it’s easy: we give them 90 days notice of termination. If there are things started but not paid for, we pay our share.

    I remember last Dec 6, when the CC repealed the Sept 6 rates. Diemer was there, and there was a list of priority items that needed to be done while Davis sorted out its views on the project. I remember Rochelle making a motion to proceed with that list of priority items.

    I was disappointed, because I had asked her and the CC to move to stop spending money on the JPA and the water project until Davis voters had weighed in.

    So what we dont know is: because of that Dec 6th motion to proceed with the priority items, things have been done this year, but the project may never be approved. What’s happened to our money? As a result of the 12/6 “go ahead” motions, were we bound to things and contracts signed on big expensive items that will complicate the off ramp process?

    Can anyone shed light on this murky situation possibly caused by the CC not putting the brakes on at the 12/6/11 meeting?

  23. Matt Williams

    Barbara King asked . . .

    [i]”Is the O part of DBO going to be temporary or long term? My understanding is that it was temporary. I much prefer water works to be run by public staff because I think it lends itself to more direct accountability (at least one less layer of bureaucracy to get through when there is a problem), and it does not have the built in possibility of conflict of interest between public safety and fiduciary responsibility to stockholders (if any).”[/i]

    Barbara, it does not make sense to have the contract term of the O part of DBO as anything less than the useful life of the major components of the water treatment plant. The reason for that is that the DB part of the contract/project is responsible to the O part for any avoidable malfunctions during the term of the O part of the contract. If you end the O contract early, then the DB responsibility for avoidable malfunctions in the design or build ends early as well. The DBO bidder realizes that their own O employees are going to have no hesitation in identifying any DB shortcomings, and that the cost of remedying those shortcomings is going to be coming out of the company’s pocketbook. Getting into fingerpointing disputes between the DB and the O is counter productive because the cost is going to be borne by the company no matter whether it comes out of the left pocket or the right.

  24. Michael Harrington

    Don: I completely disagree with the notion that in 2004 we should have started raising our rates because we thought we might need a new project, but had no clue what it was going to look like.

    Our initiative that we will unveil later has a requirement that the City plan the large new project in detail, complete a detailed EIR, complete fixed and legal rates specific to that project, and then put the package before the voters. The trigger is the size of the project, probably estimated dollar values. We are not going to base the trigger on the percentage rate hike, like Ernie Head did in his initiative.

  25. Michael Harrington

    Don: in 2001 or 2, when I lost a motion to put the water project on the ballot, I told water staff on break that I knew they were going to do the project a piece at a time, raising rates a bit at a time, ramping up, but never enough so that it would make the voters angry and demand a ballot measure. It’s exactly what water staff and Saylor and Souza did until 2011: keep it moving, keep the increases small, sort of like death by a thousand small cuts. By the time the victim knows he is a victim, it’s too late to stop the process.

    But back in 2001-02, I told water staff that once they wanted to BUILD it, they would have to jack up the rates suddenly, and if the CC at that time did not put it on the ballot, I would try with a referendum.

    That moment came on September 6, 2011.

    Never again will we let water consultants, political consultants like Jim Burchill, politicians who need money to fund their stepping stone careers, ignorant CC members who trust all the above too much, United Water type companies, stick it to us like they have over the past 15 years.

    There will be a strictly legal and orderly and transparent process for these large public utilities projects to to be planned, funded, and built. THe process will be controlled by an initiative approved by the voters, and never again can 3 members of the CC hijack the process from the voters. And we will build in a requirement for a WAC or similar committee to be set up for vetting these projects, so the burden is on staff to convince the committee of resident experts to recommend to the CC how to proceed.

  26. Mark West

    Michael Harrington: “[i]But back in 2001-02, I told water staff that once they wanted to BUILD it, they would have to jack up the rates suddenly, and if the CC at that time did not put it on the ballot, I would try with a referendum.”[/i]

    So Michael, in the 10 plus years you have been working to block the project, did you ever propose an alternative?

  27. 91 Octane

    vanguard: “The first is, I requested earlier this week an interview from Dennis Diemer, who is the general manager of this project, to clarify some of these issues. I could not get an interview with him for nearly a week. Frankly, I find that appalling.”

    lol-what obligation does Dennis Diemer have to grant his royal highness an interview? And quite frank, why would he want to? He knows whatever is said is potentially going to be carefully edited,misconstrued, or taken out of context for the vanguard’s benefit. Furthermore, if Mr. Diemer did in fact grant an interview after a week, how is he rewarded? Getting publicly blasted on the blog.

  28. rusty49

    My sentiments too Octane. David acts iike the Vanguard is somehow a legitimate news organization when imo it’s nothing more than a blog where David can spew his liberal views. I think what’s appalling is that David actually feels appalled by being ignored.

  29. Matt Williams

    91 and 49, can you name a single “legitimate” news organization that doesn’t have its detractors because of its “views”? I can’t.

    Further, is there anything about the electronic format that blogs use that by definition makes blogs any less “legitimate” than news organizations that do not use an electronic format?

  30. Michael Harrington

    Diemer is a public servant, and should talk with voters, and the media. He is management. However, it’s mid summer and maybe it’s vacation time? Or, he is partime, and just not here right now?

    Mark West: I didnt spend 10 yrs opposing the water project. I did my fiduciary duty on the CC, went back to private life in 2004. It wasn’t until late August 2011 that I got actively interested in the project again. I read the headlines, and saw the death by a thousand cuts, but Saylor had three votes on the CC, and was careful not to jump the water rates too much during the planning and design process from 2004-2010. There are times that a few hours on something can turn the ship, and those times arrived on September 6, 2011. I always knew they would have to really have to soak us to build the Taj Mahal plant, and the time arrived.

    Anyway, Alf: just move on Augu 9 at the WAC to dump the more expensive of the two Woodland JPA options, and keep the other one, and keep West Sac options, and vote to continue to study options. That keeps things on track for a few months while the WAC and water staff work on options. You will get 10/0 for my suggested motions.

  31. PRO Davis17

    Matt Williams

    08/04/12 – 03:15 PM

    Barbara King asked . . .

    “Is the O part of DBO going to be temporary or long term? My understanding is that it was temporary. I much prefer water works to be run by public staff because I think it lends itself to more direct accountability (at least one less layer of bureaucracy to get through when there is a problem), and it does not have the built in possibility of conflict of interest between public safety and fiduciary responsibility to stockholders (if any).”

    Barbara, it does not make sense to have the contract term of the O part of DBO as anything less than the useful life of the major components of the water treatment plant. The reason for that is that the DB part of the contract/project is responsible to the O part for any avoidable malfunctions during the term of the O part of the contract. If you end the O contract early, then the DB responsibility for avoidable malfunctions in the design or build ends early as well. The DBO bidder realizes that their own O employees are going to have no hesitation in identifying any DB shortcomings, and that the cost of remedying those shortcomings is going to be coming out of the company’s pocketbook. Getting into fingerpointing disputes between the DB and the O is counter productive because the cost is going to be borne by the company no matter whether it comes out of the left pocket or the right.

    I think Barbara is on to something. IMO the only services the city MUST provide is Water, Sanitation, and Public Safety (Police) . All of these critical services should remain under city control. Our water system should never be ran by a private company that’s primary objective is the bottom line. Do a Google search of water systems that have had issues with sample tampering. All that I found were for profit companies.

  32. Mark West

    Matt Williams: “[i]Further, is there anything about the electronic format that blogs use that by definition makes blogs any less “legitimate” than news organizations that do not use an electronic format?[/i]”

    For me Matt the issue is not the form, or the political slant, but the commitment to agreed upon journalistic standards that are indicative of ‘legitimate news organizations.’ These include fact checking, substantiating claims prior to using anonymous sources, and keeping news reporting and commentary separate, among others (a little copy editing helps with the illusion as well). When David commits to these basic standards of journalism, then I will agree that he is running a legitimate news organization. Until then the Vanguard is little more than an electronic version of a discussion around the water cooler or coffee machine.

  33. Matt Williams

    Mark, points well taken. Does that make Fox News also little more than an electronic version of a discussion around the water cooler or coffee machine?

  34. E Roberts Musser

    Sorry to come so late to the discussion, but I was busy w another city crisis I was asked to get involved in, so haven’t had a chance to check in on the Vanguard until this evening. I’m very tired, have had a difficult day, actually difficult week, so forgive me if I come off a bit prickly. I was pretty disgusted with this article, but have decided the best approach is not to answer tit for tat the personal attacks aimed at me directly. Other commenters have done a great job in responding to the Vanguard’s sniping on my behalf! I much prefer to keep to the high road, and offer just a single comment:

    [quote]“The Chair of the Water Advisory Committee, in my view, is out of line here – and has been for some time, diminishing reasonable complaints by critics as delay tactics, and quelling or attempting to quell public criticism by suggesting that we allow the WAC to complete its task.” [/quote]

    In my experience, the closer the WAC gets to making a decision, the shriller the voices of dissent become that oppose making a decision…

  35. Mark West

    Matt Williams: “Does that make Fox News also little more than an electronic version of a discussion around the water cooler or coffee machine?”

    Not at all. Fox has a definite editorial slant to their world view that I don’t happen to agree with, but there is nothing to indicate that the news division is guilty of poor reporting or non-existent journalistic standards. They also have a clear understanding of the difference between reporting and commentary, even if some of their viewers do not.

    Bill O’Reilly for instance is no more a news reporter on The O’Reilly Factor than Mike Wallace was on 60 Minutes. If anything, CBS was more guilty of ‘muddying the waters’ as it were since O’Reilly wears his bias on his sleeve and is proud of it.

  36. 91 Octane

    thank you rusty, and Mark, good analysis and commentary. I just do have one more comment though. one wonders how Mr. Diemer is going to take this, if he did indeed grant the vanguard an interview. (chuckles) So how exactly did this go down? After the interview: “Well, thank you for your time Mr. Diemer. I appreciate it. (both smile and shake hands). But unfortunately, you took to long to get back to me, so I’m going to have to knife you in the back now. Nothing personal. its just business.” Hours later, Diemer is stunned to see he is on the recieving end of a nasty attack, for not granting an interview sooner.

  37. rusty49

    Diemer owes this blog nothing. I think Diemer better serves himself by further rejecting any interview with this blog.

    Matt, if you ever actually watch Fox you’ll see that after the Fox News Hour with Sheperd Smith, who is actually fairly liberal, Smith will almost always says it’s time for the OPINION shows that follow.

  38. Ryan Kelly

    A public employee is not obligated to speak to the media if it is not detailed in their job description to do so.

    The City Manager is required to speak to the media.

    I suggest you direct your questions to the City Manager, the City Council, or the WAC.

  39. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]I suggest you direct your questions to the City Manager, the City Council, or the WAC.[/quote]

    The WAC is not obligated to speak to the press… 😉

  40. Michael Harrington

    Ha! Can we imagine our Chair of the WAC not speaking to the press???

    Ryan: come on down to WAC public comments ! Then we just need Mark West

  41. Mark West

    Sorry Michael, there is no reason for me to attend a WAC meeting. I am completely confident that the WAC is doing their job properly and will serve us well. If there is something specific that I want to learn about, I just watch on-line. Besides, I have found that the wine selection at the Community Chambers is a bit lacking.

  42. Matt Williams

    rusty49 said . . .

    “Matt, if you ever actually watch Fox you’ll see that after the Fox News Hour with Sheperd Smith, who is actually fairly liberal, Smith will almost always says it’s time for the OPINION shows that follow.”

    rusty, the Fox signal doesn’t make it to the rabbit ears on top of our TV. So I literally can’t watch it. 8>)

  43. rusty49

    “rusty, the Fox signal doesn’t make it to the rabbit ears on top of our TV. So I literally can’t watch it. 8>)”

    Then you are in no position to make a judgement.

  44. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Do you have a public comment period?[/quote]

    Yes, there is a public comment period at the beginning of WAC meetings, for those items not on the agenda or if people cannot wait to address an item on the agenda. Then we have public comment, after each item on the agenda is introduced and WAC members have had the opportunity to ask questions. You can also send in public comment to staff, and staff will read your public comment at the WAC meeting if pertinent to any items on the agenda.

    [quote]Ha! Can we imagine our Chair of the WAC not speaking to the press??? [/quote]

    Actually I have been fairly judicious/careful/sparse about speaking to the press. Often my interaction w the press is merely to provide clarification or correct misinformation/misunderstandings. My main task as the Chair of the WAC is to perform the vast duties required of me in a very volatile atmosphere and under extreme public scrutiny. As one WAC member put it, I’m always on the “hotseat”! (LOL) I take my position very seriously, as a surface water project is an extremely expensive city undertaking. I want to make sure I foster an atmosphere in which the WAC feels it can make the best possible decision on the basis of the information available to it, including public input, or that WAC members can glean from asking the right questions or demanding more input/data.

  45. Michael Harrington

    Anyone know why Woodland CM is also the Treasurer for the JPA? Isn’t the CM supposed to audit and watch over the sugagencys spending of Woodlands money ? I’m only concerned with the process; I don’t have any info that there are misspent funds.

  46. Michael Harrington

    Mark: The WAC responds to public input. Public input is not indicative of distrust. We all live here and want to contribute.

    Glad ERM wants to be Chair; it’s a pain for sure.

  47. hpierce

    [quote]Anyone know why Woodland CM is also the Treasurer for the JPA? Isn’t the CM supposed to audit and watch over the sugagencys spending of Woodlands money ?[/quote][quote]Public input is not indicative of distrust. [/quote]How someone could make both statements within 5 minutes is beyond my ken.

  48. Jim Frame

    [quote] The DBO bidder realizes that their own O employees are going to have no hesitation in identifying any DB shortcomings, and that the cost of remedying those shortcomings is going to be coming out of the company’s pocketbook.[/quote]

    This is counterintuitive to me. I would think the O employees would have an incentive — e.g. continued employment — to mask any shortcomings introduced by the DB function so as to spare the company the cost of remediation. (Remember Enron?) That means that the city has to incur the cost of an effective monitoring program to guard against needless inefficiency or outright fraud.

    I don’t know how the costs of DBO versus DB plus city O compare, but I’m leery of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse in any situation. When it’s our drinking water supply under consideration, I’m extra skeptical.

    .

  49. Matt Williams

    Michael Harrington said . . .

    “Anyone know why Woodland CM is also the Treasurer for the JPA? Isn’t the CM supposed to audit and watch over the sugagencys spending of Woodlands money ? I’m only concerned with the process; I don’t have any info that there are misspent funds.”

    Paul was the FM of Davis when the JPA was formed and the JPA Board appointed him to the Treasurer position. When he moved over to Woodland his JPA role did not change. IIRC the stated reason was fiscal planning/oversight continuity.

  50. Don Shor

    Mike. Why does it matter? The reports are public, I assume. Why do you think it matters who is doing it? Bluntly, what is your point in even raising this issue?

  51. Mark West

    Michael Harrington: “[i]Mark: The WAC responds to public input. Public input is not indicative of distrust. We all live here and want to contribute.[/i]”

    I think it is your general lack of trust in the other citizens of Davis that drives you to use false statements, personal attacks and unsubstantiated allegations in your efforts to get your way. I think people should make their decision based on the facts and not your pathetic efforts at manipulation and intimidation.

  52. Michael Harrington

    Mark: aren’t you a little more angry than your usual self today?

    The JPA treasurer should be an independent person from the client cities. I am certain there are rules about this, because it’s so obvious

    And here, the same person (Paul N) who certified the Sept 6 water rates is the same one who gave us so many city false budgets that were supposedly balanced, yet had the unmet needs category that hid the imbalances.

    OK Mark, your anger got my attention. I was just asking a rhetorical question, but now I think it merits looking into. Thank you for the heads up.

    Any readers here who are experts on the standards governing public staff in this kind of position?

  53. Matt Williams

    Jim Frame said . . .

    [i]”This is counterintuitive to me. I would think the O employees would have an incentive — e.g. continued employment — to mask any shortcomings introduced by the DB function so as to spare the company the cost of remediation. (Remember Enron?) That means that the city has to incur the cost of an effective monitoring program to guard against needless inefficiency or outright fraud.”[/i]

    No, the reason is that the costs of the inefficient operation (due to the DB shortcoming) are borne by the O company, not the city/agency. The reason for that is that the contract between the DBO vendor and the city/agency is a “level of service” contract in which the vendor has to deliver the contracted service level regardless of what it costs them. They either incur the cost of remediation and pocket the operational savings OR avoid the cost of remediation and incur incremental operational costs. If the contract is written correctly the city is not exposed to fiscal liability either way.

    Jim Frame said . . .

    [i]I don’t know how the costs of DBO versus DB plus city O compare, but I’m leery of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse in any situation. When it’s our drinking water supply under consideration, I’m extra skeptical.”[/i]
    The answer to that question is very simple . . .

    Jim, if I were to compare the costs I would follow these steps:

    — First, you have to ask, does Davis (or Woodland) currently have the Staff skills needed to operate the kind of plant that will be built? The answer to that question is an emphatic and resonant “No.”

    — Next, because of the prior answer, you have to ask, how easy is it to hire the additional employees with the requisite skills and experience needed to operate the kind of plant that will be built? The answer to that question is, “Quite difficult because there is intense California-wide (and worldwide) competition for engineers with those skills.”” The reason for that answer is straightforward. The Woodland/Davis project will be a very small project by industry standards, so engineers with experience who are looking to move up in their careers will see Woodland/Davis as a “small pond” at the same time that their career desires are for the challenges and compensation of a “bigger pond.” As a result, Woodland/Davis will be primarily looking at entry-level engineers with virtually no experience . . . not ideal by any stretch of the imagination. Even worse, the primary competition for those young engineers fresh from college will be the for-profit industry giants who can offer more money and a clear career path. Newly minted water engineers will mean substantially increased training costs . . . and probably higher frequency of plant process breakdowns, with associated costs as a result of those breakdowns.

    — Third, as Woodland-Davis employees progress in their career paths, the opportunities for advancement and greater career challenge (and pay) will be much more limited than in the “big ponds” of larger municipalities ad/or the private sector. Therefore, the incidence of “lost” employees will be substantially higher than industry averages. Further, when a Woodland-Davis employee gives his/her notice, all the investment in that employee’s education will walk out the door with him/her . . . and the the challenges and costs of the hiring/training cycle described above will start once again.

    — Fourth, a private firm is in the enviable position of having a whole range of customer projects to deploy its employees to both here in the US and around the Globe. Unlike public agencies, as a general rule, the private firms get considerable “leverage” out of investing in employee education, so they invest heavily in formal training staff/programs to ensure that their new employees don’t solely learn on the job (with the attendant mistakes such learning includes). Those training programs do not come without a cost to the private firms. So they are not actually “jacking up” their rates, but rather paying for a value-added service to their customers that the customers are simply not able to provide to their own employees.

  54. Matt Williams

    . . . continued

    — Fifth, when an employee at “small pond” project reaches the point where his/her career path is due for greater challenges, the private firm can plan for that employees eventual transition out of the project and pre-train an existing firm employee to be the “back fill” when the promotion out of the project actually happens. The result is virtually no hiring costs associated with transition, as well as very little “knowledge loss” when the promoted employee leaves the project. Like training programs, employee retention programs do not come without a cost to the private firms. So again they are not actually “jacking up” their rates, but rather paying for a value-added service to their customers that the customers are simply not able to provide to their own employees.

    In closing, all those “stability” factors save the agency a considerable amount of annual expense money that they would have had to spend rectifying the errors that their inexperienced and often short-staffed operations would almost surely make . . . errors that the “outsourcing” vendor will almost surely avoid.

  55. PRO Davis17

    Matt Williams said

    — First, you have to ask, does Davis (or Woodland) currently have the Staff skills needed to operate the kind of plant that will be built? The answer to that question is an emphatic and resonant “No.”

    You are either grossly uninformed or the facts don’t fit your agenda, so you chose to ignore them.

    The city’s new General Manager of Utilities Herb Niederberger has over 30 years of experience in the planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance and management of utility systems throughout California.

    He spent the last 10 years as the Division Chief for the Sacramento County Department of Water Resources, where he managed the activities of the Sacramento County Water Agency and the Sacramento County Stormwater Utility.

    He most recently oversaw Sacramento County’s participation in the completion of the Freeport Regional Water Project, a 185 million gallon per day Surface Water Intake and Pipeline project, as well as Sacramento County’s participation in the completion of the Vineyard Surface Water Treatment Plant.

    Together these facilities provide surface water to Sacramento residents residing in areas stretching from Elk Grove to Rancho Cordova.

    Mr. Niederberger, a former Planning Commissioner with the City of Rocklin, currently sits on two Sacramento County groundwater management authorities and previously was elected to the Natomas Central Mutual Water Company Board of Directors.

    He is a Registered Professional Engineer and Licensed Land Surveyor in the State of California. He holds certifications issued by the California Department of Public Health as both a Grade 5 Water Treatment Operator and Grade 5 Water Distribution Operator. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from University of California at Irvine and holds an MBA from Golden Gate University, Sacramento.

  56. Matt Williams

    PRO Davis17, you have just named one person who will no doubt not be manning the plant. How many “operators” and support engineers will the plant need when it is up and running? How many of the current Davis and Woodland Staff have substantial experience running such a plant? Then divide the second number by the first number and tell me what percentage of the plant staffing we can currently cover. I look forward to reading your fraction.

  57. Matt Williams

    With the above said, it is important to say that I am ecstatic that Davis has been able to attract a top talent like Herb Niederberger to Davis. His credentials are indeed very impressive, and from my four meetings with him I have found that he is just as impressive in person as he is on paper. Welcome (back) to Davis Herb!!!

  58. E Roberts Musser

    I too have been thus far impressed with Herb Niederberger. As far as I am concerned/aware, the Vanguard’s contrary claims notwithstanding, the DBO issue has not yet been vetted/decided. This issue is thus far scheduled on the WAC’s long range calendar, w a decision expected to be made Sept 27.

  59. PRO Davis17

    Matt Williams said.

    — First, you have to ask, does Davis (or Woodland) currently have the Staff skills needed to operate the kind of plant that will be built? The answer to that question is an emphatic and resonant “No.”

    Matt,

    I don’t know the answer to that question, but I don’t believe you do either. The fact that you appear to respect Mr. Niederberger’s credentials makes it all the more perplexing that you would make the “emphatic and resonant “No” comment. After the plant is built, I don’t believe you would need a staff of engineers. The design would be over and plant operations staff should be all that is needed. It may be possible that neither Davis or Woodland has a single person qualified to work in a treatment plant? If that is the case, Mr Niederberger could hire qualified operators to work in the plant. Personally I would prefer this to a privately ran for profit operation.

  60. Don Shor

    A key question is what is the difference in cost between a city employee, with current benefits and retirement, versus a private employee. Even with the for-profit status of the private firm, my guess is a public employee would cost us more over the long run.

  61. PRO Davis17

    Don,

    your guess may be right? but is that the way you wish to decide who provides services? Would you choose your Police officers that way?
    or what about your family’s Doctor?

  62. Matt Williams

    PRO Davis17

    I don’t know the answer to that question, but I don’t believe you do either. The fact that you appear to respect Mr. Niederberger’s credentials makes it all the more perplexing that you would make the “emphatic and resonant “No” comment. [b]After the plant is built, I don’t believe you would need a staff of engineers.[/b]

    I think your bolded statement is wrong. Look at the current Water Department staff Dianna Jensen = Engineer Michael Lindquist = Engineer Bob Clarke = Engineer Will Marshall (retired) = Engineer Jennifer Borders = Engineer Diane Phillips = Engineer Stan Gryczko = Engineer Of the water professionals I have dealt with at the City only Jacques DeBra is not an engineer.

    The design would be over and plant operations staff should be all that is needed. It may be possible that neither Davis or Woodland has a single person qualified to work in a treatment plant? If that is the case, Mr Niederberger could hire qualified operators to work in the plant. Personally I would prefer this to a privately ran for profit operation.”

  63. Matt Williams

    PRO Davis17 said . . .

    [i]”Don, your guess may be right? but is that the way you wish to decide who provides services? Would you choose your Police officers that way? or what about your family’s Doctor?”[/i]

    Two bad examples. When was the last time you asked a family doctor (or any doctor of any kind how much money they made? The criteria of selection are demonstrated ability to do the job and credentials. Further, you do not let jurisdictions affect who you choose as a doctor. Some doctors only practice at Sutter. Some only at UCDMC. Some only at Mercy/Woodland. Some only at Kaiser. If you find a doctor you like and believe in, you go to wherever they practice.

    For police officers, when was the last time you interacted with an outsourced policeman? I can’t remember when I have ever in my life interacted with one. The reason is simple . . . the skills that police officers possess are commodity skills because they are universally needed in every community across the USA. As a result there is considerable standardization of training and credentialing. Only when you get to the Herb Niederberger level of police officers do you see significant differentiation of skills. With such a vast candidate pool there is no reason to outsource, and because the downside risk associated with a poor performance incident is so huge and so visible, police departments invest heavily in training, and the benefits described in the multiple points in my comment on page 2 of this thread are not differentially obtainable the way they are in the very specialized field of water treatment plant operations..

  64. Matt Williams

    Don Shor

    08/05/12 – 03:11 PM

    Matt: I think the last paragraph of your post is not supposed to be there?

    CORRECT can you please delete it?

  65. PRO Davis17

    Don & Matt,

    imo it’s not about public or private. It’s about having control over your choice. If the city owns and operates the plant, they have the power to run it as they choose. If you choose your doctor, you can fire him if his work is not up to your expectations. If you are assigned a doctor, you get what you get. Why is this a bad example? Makes sense to me!

    As for the Police officer comparison. It’s a hypothetical question. Wouldn’t you want control over your Police department? This was the point. The question wasn’t’ meant to be dissected on it’s feasibility. It’s a question of choice. Get it? You wouldn’t want to be stuck with a Police Department that you had no control over.

    Matt,

    I don’t believe any engineers that work for this city or any other are working in a plant. Except for Superintendents, employees that actually operate the plant are blue collar workers. I don’t believe any engineer you mentioned operates the city’s water system. They may be working on getting a plant for the city, but they won’t be working in that plant when it’s completed. Still think my statement is wrong?

  66. Michael Harrington

    Prodavis: very interesting comments.

    I want to see our water supply system to be publicly owned and operated. That makes it accountable to our ratepayers and the City Council

    If we go with West Sacto, we will own our pumping and delivery system along with the current well system. I’m fine with having a long term contract to buy their water and we bring it to Davis along the Causeway

    We actually don’t need much water

  67. Matt Williams

    Yes, I do think your statement is wrong. I’ll contact Greg at West Sacramento to determine what the employee makeup of the staffing of the West Sac plant is.

    Out of curiosity, what do you think the schooling concentration/major and level is for water treatment plant operators?

    It appears to me that you are not familiar with how full service outsourcing contracts are negotiated, then written, and then enforced. My experience from full service healthcare IT outsourcing tells me that the kind of control you are looking for, will be explicitly spelled out in thorough “level of service” terms in a long detailed contract. Done properly, the ability to hold the outsourcing vendor/employees accountable for service performance/quality is just as easy as with a complement of non-union employees . . . and probably easier than with union employees.

    Is the ability to fire employees the only level of control you desire? My experience managing union employees is that the ability to fire is incredibly proscribed. In a well written outsourcing contract the customer has clearly defined procedures for asking that the contractor remove an employee. Said another way, the term may not be ‘fire” but the end result is the same.

    Regarding your doctor example, when was the last time you fired a doctor?

  68. Matt Williams

    PRO Davis17 said . . .

    “As for the Police officer comparison. It’s a hypothetical question. Wouldn’t you want control over your Police department? This was the point. The question wasn’t’ meant to be dissected on it’s feasibility. It’s a question of choice. Get it? You wouldn’t want to be stuck with a Police Department that you had no control over.”

    Your point is solid, but only as far as it goes. The reason a community wants control over its police officers is because the principal function of those officers is direct interaction with the citizens. How many of the water plant staff are likely to have [u]any[/u] direct interaction with the citizens. Their principal function will take place in anonymity between the walls of the water treatment plant 10 miles from the nearest border of the City.

  69. Ryan Kelly

    I don’t understand the problems described here. I thought I did, but Mike Harrington has once again created confusion by making contradictory statements and false allegations. Trash collection, the dump, gas & electricity, ambulance service and more are contracted out and not run by public employees. Mike has created distrust in our City staff, even in posts in this article. I’m having difficulty reconciling conflicting philosophy and feel it is yet another attempt to confuse and manipulate.

  70. PRO Davis17

    Matt,

    lol, you think I’m wrong and I think I’m right. I look forward to your post after you talk to the West Sac plant superintendent.
    First of all, I believe the treatment plant operators are professionals regardless of whether they have a degree or not. That being said, I don’t believe there is any requirement for an operator to be a college graduate. I would guess that the ratio of graduates would be equal to that of the general public. 29% to 30%, and probably less. They will have to be certified to work in a plant, but I don’t believe a degree is a prerequisite. Each plant probably has a lab that might have a few employees with chemistry degrees, but these are not operators.
    It appears you are committed to the “0” of the DBO to the exclusion of most of my arguments with such a model. Just to let you know, I’m not opposed to the DBO model. If the city could be assured of operational control, I’m for it. I just don’t see how that would be possible when the contractor is in charge.

    As for your last question. Maybe fire is not the right word, but I have switched doctors for my daughter because of the doctors incompetence. Yes he still was able to keep his position even after my daughter left, but I think you understood this. Your either way to literal or your arguing just to argue.

  71. Jim Frame

    [quote] The reason a community wants control over its police officers is because the principal function of those officers is direct interaction with the citizens.[/quote]

    I believe the principal reason is very different: the officers directly affect the health and safety of the citizens. The same can be said of water plant operators.

    I’m not unalterably opposed to a DBO water plant, but I need convincing. I hope the city has a solid plan to inform the citizenry of the wisdom of its choice in the matter.

    .

  72. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]I’m not unalterably opposed to a DBO water plant, but I need convincing. I hope the city has a solid plan to inform the citizenry of the wisdom of its choice in the matter. [/quote]

    Thank you for some sanity in this discussion. The WAC will I’m sure be wrestling with this issue, and get into all the pros and cons of public versus private ownership. I urge everyone to keep an open mind…

  73. Mark West

    Ryan Kelly: “[i]I’m having difficulty reconciling conflicting philosophy and feel it is yet another attempt to confuse and manipulate.[/i]”

    An informed and educated (on the issues) electorate will make a sound decision based on the facts. A confused and uninformed one will be easy to manipulate into an unsound decision. Who do you think stands to gain if the electorate is confused and easily manipulated?

  74. Matt Williams

    PRO Davis17 said . . .

    [i]”It appears you are committed to the “0” of the DBO to the exclusion of most of my arguments with such a model. Just to let you know, I’m not opposed to the DBO model. If the city could be assured of operational control, I’m for it. I just don’t see how that would be possible when the contractor is in charge.”[/i]

    It is interesting that you say that, because I am not committed either way, but strongly feel that the arguments against outsourcing the operations are due to preconceptions. I’m not opposed to the public operator model. I actually feel that that is one of the huge positives about the West Sac alternative . . . they have a seasoned high quality operations team already in place. If the city could demonstrate that it has the ability to recruit and retain the same quality of public employees that West Sac has and constantly reinvest in thoroughly training replacement employees, then I’m for it. I just don’t see how that would be possible given the city’s track record in making the citizens of Davis comfortable about water over the past 18 months, especially since running a surface water treatment plant is a wholly different skill set than anything the Woodland and/or Davis staff are doing currently.

  75. Matt Williams

    Jim Frame said . . .

    “I believe the principal reason is very different: the officers directly affect the health and safety of the citizens. The same can be said of water plant operators.”

    Police officers definitely . . . absolutely . . . directly.

    Water plan operators not so much . . . tangentially . . . and indirectly at best.

  76. Jim Frame

    Few citizens interact with police with any regularity, but virtually all citizens consume the water being produced by plant operators every day. If the operators find themselves having to choose between maintaining corporate profit margins and maintaining safe drinking water, there’s a danger they’ll make the wrong choice. That’s my concern with the DBO option.

    .

  77. Matt Williams

    Jim, IMHO you are looking at the police to citizen interaction from the outside in. Turn it around. Virtually all police officers’ days are an unending series of citizen interactions . . . every one of those interactions potentially fraught with judgment calls. How many judgment calls do you expect the typical water treatment plant employee faces each day? More often than not the number will be zero. Judgment calls in a water treatment plant are almost always going to be the province of management.

    What decisions do you expect will potentially affect public health?

  78. Michael Harrington

    Jim: exactly. You are probably describing United Water. See the Indiana case where they are under indictment for multiple felonies for allegedly tampering with water quality testing. The JPA Board this spring decribed the three bidders as “ethical.”

    See, USA v. United Water, Case No. 2:10-cr-00217 (filed 12/08/10, N.D. Indiana).

    The Cour trefused to dismiss the case, citing ample evidence to proceed.

    The case is set for trial in a few months.

    Jim, you have every right to be concerned about private operation of our water system.

  79. Matt Williams

    Michael and Jim, in Fiscal Budget Year 11/12 the City of Davis had $10,669,000 in M&O expenses and $11,439,000 in M&O revenues. Do you not think that that $770,000 Deficit doesn’t put plenty of pressure on City employees to could cause them to “make the wrong choice”? Add to that the fact that water consumption came down from 158 gpcd to 152 gpcd which probably bumped the Deficit up $400,000 to over $1 million.

    Fiscal pressures are probably even more acute in the public sector these days than they are in the private sector. Just ask Davis’ trees. They will tell you a story that will make your leaves curl.

  80. Don Shor

    I think I will just append this note every time Mike Harrington raises the DOJ case against United Water in Gary Indiana:

    [b]When United Water took over the plant, it had been under an EPA consent decree to find a private operator due to its numerous environmental compliance issues.[/b]

  81. Michael Harrington

    Jim: My understanding from others (sorry, do not have a cite) is that a privbate water company adds about 20% profit margin to the cost of the water. There really should be a community study of the concept of a private water system, cost-benefit analysis, etc., and a focused analysis of the backgrounds and history and track records of the three companies in the JPA’s closed bidding pool. I know enough about two of them that if I were on that JPA Board, I would never ever have voted to include them in the bidding pool. The WAC really needs to deep-dive into this issue, as I think it will be very important to the voters in Davis.

    I would rather avoid a contested campaign, and get a 10/0 on the WAC, and a 5/0 fron the CC, but I can promise the JPA and its supporters that if they actually somehow get that private company DBO through the process, and those same three bidders are in the pool, there will be a big campaign to stop at least United Water or Veolia Water from having anything to do with our water supply. THe third company still needs to be researched.

  82. Matt Williams

    Michael, Michael, please read the prior posts in the thread (and prior threads). The costs under a DBO contract are often less than those of a publicly run alternative because the publicly run alternative either defers or completely eliminates necessary expenditures that cause the plant to operate inefficiently and/or more expensively. There are a legion of studies of outsourcing that confirm these challenges to public operation. Since you missed them before, here they are again.

    — First, you have to ask, does Davis (or Woodland) currently have the Staff skills needed to operate the kind of plant that will be built? The answer to that question is an emphatic and resonant “No.”

    — Next, because of the prior answer, you have to ask, how easy is it to hire the additional employees with the requisite skills and experience needed to operate the kind of plant that will be built? The answer to that question is, “Quite difficult because there is intense California-wide (and worldwide) competition for engineers with those skills.”” The reason for that answer is straightforward. The Woodland/Davis project will be a very small project by industry standards, so engineers with experience who are looking to move up in their careers will see Woodland/Davis as a “small pond” at the same time that their career desires are for the challenges and compensation of a “bigger pond.” As a result, Woodland/Davis will be primarily looking at entry-level engineers with virtually no experience . . . not ideal by any stretch of the imagination. Even worse, the primary competition for those young engineers fresh from college will be the for-profit industry giants who can offer more money and a clear career path. Newly minted water engineers will mean substantially increased training costs . . . and probably higher frequency of plant process breakdowns, with associated costs as a result of those breakdowns.

    — Third, as Woodland-Davis employees progress in their career paths, the opportunities for advancement and greater career challenge (and pay) will be much more limited than in the “big ponds” of larger municipalities ad/or the private sector. Therefore, the incidence of “lost” employees will be substantially higher than industry averages. Further, when a Woodland-Davis employee gives his/her notice, all the investment in that employee’s education will walk out the door with him/her . . . and the the challenges and costs of the hiring/training cycle described above will start once again.

    — Fourth, a private firm is in the enviable position of having a whole range of customer projects to deploy its employees to both here in the US and around the Globe. Unlike public agencies, as a general rule, the private firms get considerable “leverage” out of investing in employee education, so they invest heavily in formal training staff/programs to ensure that their new employees don’t solely learn on the job (with the attendant mistakes such learning includes). Those training programs do not come without a cost to the private firms. So they are not actually “jacking up” their rates, but rather paying for a value-added service to their customers that the customers are simply not able to provide to their own employees.

    — Fifth, when an employee at “small pond” project reaches the point where his/her career path is due for greater challenges, the private firm can plan for that employees eventual transition out of the project and pre-train an existing firm employee to be the “back fill” when the promotion out of the project actually happens. The result is virtually no hiring costs associated with transition, as well as very little “knowledge loss” when the promoted employee leaves the project. Like training programs, employee retention programs do not come without a cost to the private firms. So again they are not actually “jacking up” their rates, but rather paying for a value-added service to their customers that the customers are simply not able to provide to their own employees.

    In closing, all those “stability” factors save the agency a considerable amount of annual expense money that they would have had to spend rectifying the errors that their inexperienced and often short-staffed operations would almost surely make . . . errors that the “outsourcing” vendor will almost surely avoid.

  83. Mark West

    Matt: You are assuming that Michael cares about any of that trivia. Remember his only goal is to block the project, not discuss it thoughtfully. Your facts just get in the way of his story.

  84. Don Shor

    So to put the 20% profit margin in another perspective:
    Is the cost of a comparable public employee 20% higher than the cost of a private employee when benefits are factored in?
    Is there any reason to believe that a private firm’s employees will perform less adequately in operation of a water plant than public employees will?
    Is oversight by our Public Works engineers sufficient to prevent safety and environmental violations by a private firm?
    To compare to our street tree maintenance situation:
    We have had privatization of a portion of the street tree maintenance for years. The city manager wants to essentially privatize it completely, reducing supervisory staff as well as tree crews. I believe employees of the arborist firm are probably nearly as qualified to prune trees as are the city’s tree workers. There are industry standards for oversight and maintenance of urban forests. My primary concern with the current proposal is that is reduces supervision below the best-management standards. Privatization itself is not the issue to me. It’s how it is being implemented and overseen.
    If the opponents of the JPA have some evidence that public employees run public works better than private employees do, I’d love to see it. I doubt such evidence exists one way or another.

  85. Jim Frame

    [quote]What decisions do you expect will potentially affect public health? [/quote]

    Decisions affecting profit.

    I get the concept that a large operator can bring efficiencies of scale to a DBO plant, and when it works as advertised I’m sure it’s a great solution. For me the sticking point is simply reliance on a private entity for something as essential to life and health as domestic water. A corporate operator is always going to view things from an us/them perspective; “the customer is always right” makes a great homily, but we’ve seen too many examples of the bottom line trumping customer interest (remember Enron?).

    I have a predeliction for customer-owned utilities. Maybe that’s just not feasible for our water situation, and that’s why I’m not in the “over my dead body” camp. But I’m skeptical, and I want the city to make the right decision, not the cheapest decision.

    .

  86. Matt Williams

    That is a pretty broad and general brushstroke. What kinds of decisions will affect profits? Why will those decisions not be lined out in the “levels of service” agreement?

    With those questions asked, I respect the thoroughness of your due diligence. I’m in essence a mirror image of you . . . absent a well lined out agreement I’m skeptical of outsourcing, but absent a demonstrated ability to attract the right quality employees and then not skimp on training and retaining them, I’m skeptical of public operation.

    There isn’t any silver bullet.

  87. PRO Davis17

    Matt Williams said

    — First, you have to ask, does Davis (or Woodland) currently have the Staff skills needed to operate the kind of plant that will be built? The answer to that question is an emphatic and resonant “No.”

    Matt,

    Constantly re-posting the same statements isn’t going to suddenly make them true. You acknowledged yourself that Herb Niedenberger is supremely qualified to manage a water treatment plant. So why keep re-posting this. Also, how do you know that Davis and Woodland don’t have employees qualified to work in a treatment plant? and even if they don’t couldn’t Herb Niedenberger hire his own staff? You also continue to state that engineers are needed to work in the plant. I believe this is also a false statement. Engineers are needed to design the the plant, operators run the plant. No engineering degree is needed to operate a treatment plant. These false statements are why I believe you are committed to the “0” of the DBO, and that’s ok, but you should fact check before you write sweeping statements such as the one above.

  88. Matt Williams

    PRO Davis17, I said yesterday that I would reach out to Greg Fabun to confirm 1) whether or not the typical water treatment plant is run by engineers, and 2) whether or not my job market premise is indeed the case. I have taken that step this morning by speaking to Greg as well as to another water expert on treatment plant operations. The results of the calls were interesting, and I thank you and Jim Frame for prompting me to do this additional due diligence.

    As you and Jim believed the operators of a water treatment plant do not have to be engineers. I was wrong on the terminology of their training (not engineering graduates, but rather graduates of a formal water plant operators apprenticeship program). Operators are categorized into 5 levels, with Plant Superintendents legally required to be Level 5 Operators. A substantial portion (but not all) Level 5 Operators are engineers, and an even higher proportion have a college degree (either engineering or some other technical discipline). The Laboratory of the plant will be manned by a college graduate. There will be an Operator 4 filling the Chief Operator position and then four or five Operator 3s. Two Mechanics and a part-time Instrumentation Tech and a part-time electrician will fill out the M&O complement. In addition there will be as-needed engineering for planning, permitting, reporting, analysis, etc. but that will either be provided from the DBO regional resources, or in a public operation on a billable basis from the engineering staff of one of the two Cities.

    Where the model I outlined was spot on was in the availability (and retention) issues in putting together the staffing for a public operation. There currently is a nationwide shortage of credentialed Operator 5s. That shortage has existed for quite a while, and is the reason that more and more Operator 5s now have college degrees. The choices that WDCWA would have if it went the public operation route would be 1) to “steal” an existing Operator 5 from another plant, 2) to luck into an Operator 4 (Chief Operator) who is about to graduate to Operator 5 certification level, or 3) hire a retired Superintendent to run the plant for the first year or two while looking for a permanent Operator 5. The expert opinions shared with me were that the chances of 1) or 2) happening were extremely remote because of the intense market competition for those scarce Operator 5 resources.

    There is also a shortage of newly certified Operators. Certification as an Operator 2 happens at the end of a two-year Apprenticeship program that only takes place at an up and running treatment plant. With the economic downturn and municipal budget cuts, plants like Bryte Bend that had an Apprenticeship program were quick to eliminate such programs when budget cuts were asked for. Greg Fabun indicated that the shortage of lower level Operators is acute enough that West Sac is seriously considering restarting its Apprenticeship program.

    So, bottom-line, while my semantics were clearly faulty, the model I laid out associated with recruitment, training and employee retention was an accurate reflection of the market dynamics.

  89. PRO Davis17

    Hi Matt,

    Wow, that was a long response. I think “you were right” would have sufficed. I appreciate your integrity in posting your findings. Have a great day!

  90. Matt Williams

    Actually we were both right. I was right on the the economic and market dynamics realities, and you were right on the position title realities.

  91. PRO Davis17

    Well, not really. I never contended you were wrong on those points. Is it really that hard to say “you were right” without offering a qualifier?

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