Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 7, 2009


Page 15



Groff Favors City Becoming Water Vendor to Residents




A “Board of Freeholders” having been elected, the 15 members went to work fashioning a new charter for the City of Los Angeles, which would be presented to voters at the Dec. 5, 1898 municipal election. With attorney Lewis A. Groff presiding as temporary chairman, the board first met on July 14, discussing organizational matters. In the days that followed, a myriad of meaty issues was addressed—one of which was municipal ownership of utilities.

There was, at the time, a prospect that the city might buy the existing water plant from the privately held Los Angeles City Water Company—which set an unreasonably high price on the facility—or build its own plant. A proposal had been made by a New York concern, Kessler & Co., to buy the existing plant, improve it, share its profits with the city, and sell it to the city in 50 years.

The issue would be aired in City Council meetings, at a political convention, at sessions of the Board of Freeholders, as well as in barbershops and saloons.

Groff favored the city selling water (from the Los Angeles River) to its residents. Interviewed by the Times, this statement by him appears in its July 17 edition:

“I am unqualifiedly in favor of the municipal ownership of the water plant. I am opposed to any such proposition as that made by Kessler & Co. To me, such a proposition is suspicious. It has, on its face, the appearance of a scheme of the Los Angeles City Water Company to continue itself in power for fifty years. They say it will take five or six years of fighting to win. Better fight it out now, no matter how long it takes, than leave it up to our grandchildren to take up the same fight. There is no question but that it is our duty to settle the matter finally now, and we should not attempt to avoid that duty. Municipal ownership is the logical end to be attained, and for that only should we strive.”

Grocer Hans Jevne, previously spotlighted here, is also quoted as favoring city ownership of the water plant, saying: “If we have a good Mayor and the charter provides that he shall appoint the proper commission to look after the water matter, I can see no reason why the city’s ownership would not result in good to the city.”

The Democratic City Central Committee endorsed the Kessler proposal—but the party was in such sorry shape that year that it formed a fusion ticket with the Populists and Silver Republicans, with each party allocated specified offices for which it would nominate a candidate. Its influence was low.

At the Republican city convention on Oct. 10, a platform was adopted which says:

“Believing that the municipal ownership of the water system is the paramount issue before the people, we therefore

“Resolve, that we reiterate the declaration made in the platform of the last Republican city convention, to wit: That we are in favor of the municipal ownership of a complete and adequate domestic water system which will supply to every inhabitant and every interest within the limits of our city, an ample and cheap supply of pure water without the annoyance of petty regulations and exactions prescribed by existing companies.

“And the further declaration that we are unalterably opposed to the renewal of the lease of the Los Angeles City Water Company, or the granting to said corporation, or any other corporation, firm or person whatsoever, any privileges or franchise for the sale or distribution of water in and for the said city of Los Angeles….”

The platform bemoans the “miserable service now rendered” by the private company.

The “petty regulations” refer to the insistence by the Los Angeles City Water Company that residents sprinkle their lawns only between 6-8 a.m. or 6-8 p.m. An Oct. 14 editorial in the Times derides the edict, pointing out:

“If every consumer were to sprinkle his lawn between those hours, the pressure would be so reduced that nobody could get water in sufficient quantity for any ordinary use. In some portions of the city, between the hours named, it is now difficult to get water from the hydrants for culinary purposes, to say nothing of lawn-sprinkling. This is because of the smallness of the supply pipes which the city has wrongly permitted the water company to place in the streets.”

The Board of Freeholders backed the prospect of the city controlling the distribution of water. The proposed charter provided for the creation of a water department. While it forbade city indebtedness—which had already reached $1.25 million—from exceeding $2 million, it decreed that no limitation applied to the purchase of a water system.

The document also called for setting up an electricity department. An expenditure of $750,000, which would have remained as spendable under the limit, was viewed as more than adequate for funding a city-wide electrical system.

Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company

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