6th Annual Riverside County Water Symposium Deemed 2009 Political Faux Pas by PSASG

An Editorial by Patricia El Sharei, Publisher

Palm Springs, CA — On May 28, Riverside County Supervisors Marion Ashley, Roy Wilson, and Jeff Stone hosted a $135 per seat political event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, reportedly for the purpose of holding annual discussions on ways to solve what is being proclaimed as the greatest water crisis in the history of California.

As the title, “6th Annual,” implies there have been five previous symposiums held locally, all of which have addressed many of the same issues that were discussed this year. Upon review of several reports on this year’s symposium, the question might be asked whether or not there were any real definitive outcomes from this year’s event other than a sense of urgency for increased conservation and water rate increases? It is the Palm Springs Area Survival Guide’s position that future symposiums should be eliminated unless specific goals with more measurable outcomes can be made part of the event plan.

According to the 2009 Riverside County Water Symposium official Web site, at least ten California State Senators and Assemblymen joined our County Supervisors in hosting this year’s event along with numerous municipalities, water districts, associations, and private companies. It was reported that 900 elected officials, water agency representatives, and business leaders attended. At an admission fee of $135 per person and 900 attendees, a total of $121,500 in revenues had to have been generated. This is a significant amount for any one-day meeting, especially if there were no real outcomes other than a day off from work, and a consensus that taxpayers should tighten their water belts but still pay more for services.

Desert Water Agency – Platinum Sponsor for Event

It should be noted that the Desert Water Agency (DWA), a public nonprofit agency serving Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, parts of Cathedral City, and outlying areas of Riverside County, is listed as a Platinum Sponsor — contributing $9,000 to this year’s event. It’s somewhat ironic that on May 20, The Desert Sun reported that DWA officials recently disclosed that area conservation efforts had been “. . . so successful that the agency is now operating at a 10 percent usage deficit.” Agency General Manager, David Luker, summed it up by claiming that “Conservation usually makes the water cost more,” and to no surprise, the day after the symposium, The Desert Sun reported that, “Consumer’s bills could rise thanks to drought, [and] more agency costs.”

The PSASG takes the position that public nonprofit entities such as the DWA should not be making political contributions in the form of sponsorships for any symposiums or political events — especially when plans are in the making to increase rates for water and services. Sponsorships should be limited to private corporations and foundations.

The PSASG also takes the position that in today’s difficult economic times, with so many people losing their jobs, businesses, and homes, the local water districts should implement a tiered water rate system that rewards conservation efforts, and increases water rates only for those careless and indulgent water users who choose not to make reasonable reductions in their usage.

Like Taxpayers, County Supervisors and Politicians Need to “Do More With Less”

The Palm Springs Area Survival Guide also takes the position that it’s every Californian’s responsibility to stop the waste and conserve resources whenever and wherever possible, however, it is absolutely unconscionable for county and state politicians to combine the threat of a water crisis with the influence of their respective public offices to hold a fundraiser charging taxpayers $135 for admission. Admission to the 2009 Riverside County Water Symposium should have been open to all stakeholders, free or for a minimal fee, and scheduled at a time in which stakeholders would not need to leave their work or businesses for an entire day to attend.

When taxpayers are being pressured “to do more with less,” our county supervisors and other politicians should have shown enough political sensitivity and savvy to bring participants together in an informal, less expensive venue, utilizing video conferencing and/or other modern-day technologies to achieve their meeting goals. As such, the need for a costly admission price could have been eliminated, along with the travel and related expenses of politicians commuting to and from the Symposium at a time when they need to be in Sacramento resolving the state’s catastrophic budget crisis.

Calls Made to Supervisor Roy Wilson’s Office

It should be noted that the PSASG placed several calls to Supervisor Roy Wilson’s office to discuss the aforementioned concerns regarding the 2009 Symposium. When the initial call was not returned, a follow-up call was placed. This time Supervisor Wilson’s staff requested that all questions and comments be made directly to District 5 Supervisor Marion Ashley’s office, in spite of the fact that 4th District Supervisor Wilson represents the Coachella Valley and was listed as an official co-host for the event with Supervisors Marion Ashley and Jeff Stone. A call was then made to Supervisor Ashley’s office to discuss concerns regarding the Symposium and the staff person’s response could be termed “pleasantly dismissive.” She stated that she would pass the comments on to Supervisor Ashley.

You, The Reader, Can Help!
Coachella Valley residents must do their part in helping to stop water waste and increase conservation efforts. However, it appears that our elected officials need to be reminded that resource conservation is not just the responsibility of taxpayers.

If you believe that future symposiums need to avoid turning alleged crises into fundraising opportunities for elected officials, be open to all stakeholders for free of charge or with a minimal admission fee, do more with less, and make better utilization of technological resources, make a telephone call or send an e-mail expressing your beliefs to:

County Supervisor Roy Wilson’s 4th District Office: http://district4.co.riverside.ca.us/web/contact/

County Supervisor Marion Ashley’s 5th District Office: http://district5.co.riverside.ca.us/contactus.html

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