So Who’s Minding the Store?
Many wonder, what is really going on here? To accuse everyone of collusion may not be fair… all the city departments that have a hand in this from DWP to Dept. of Public Works, to the LAPD and City Attorney’s office (who tells the LAPD to ignore noise complaints). Although, multiple calls to Assistant City Attorney Carlos De La Guerra go unreturned. But something isn’t right here among all these divisions of city government. The theme from Chinatown that “you can’t always tell what’s going on” as people are not what they seem to be—is clearly at play here.
No one is arguing against DWP’s Pipeline Project. No one is claiming the old pipeline is good enough, or that we don’t need water. But the intransigence from so many city departments, in the face of this many residents and for so long, raises serious questions.
After the second community meeting, Air Quality mitigation was still lacking. Three days later, on Friday February 3, an irate resident yelled at one of DWP’s on-site engineers and left several livid voice mails when he couldn’t reach DWP executives. The following Monday, and since, mitigation for dust & dirt are a little better. Whether that will continue remains to be seen. More likely, however, is that once Rados moves from this area to another, they’ll revert to zero mitigation. After all, it takes more time to wet soil before digging it up, to cover dirt hauling trucks, to keep dirt piles treated during work days, to keep the work areas wet down. If they can avoid spending the time and money on mitigation—which Rados said was included in the bid price & contract—then their profit margin is greatly increased.
DWP vs. Silver Lake: Round 3
Given all the residents’ health issues, Air Quality testing was requested at the first community meeting on January 12. Despite Glenn Singley’s promise that he would address the issue the following day and “make calls” to get testing equipment to the site, it never happened. At the second meeting on January 31, residents asked again. After Singley was noncommittal, saying “maybe” and “probably” many times, the community demanded concrete action. Singley finally relented, saying it will happen.
Two days later, DWP conducted a 6-hour Air Quality test for Particulate Matter 10 (“PM10”). California air quality standards are clear: Daily allowable maximum to be present in the air is 20 micrograms of PM10. DWP’s results? They tested two locations, one downwind and one upwind from the site: Downwind results were 100 micrograms of PM10, and 170 micrograms of PM10. The first result was fivefold, and the following result more than eight times the legal limits set by the California EPA.
The upwind location results were 50 micrograms or less, but the equipment DWP used wouldn’t provide definitive results for 50 micrograms or less.
The DWP did not want to release these results to the community. It took more than three weeks to get them, while they undoubtedly debated how to handle these unpleasant results. The spin they ultimately used? They told residents that because they did not use EPA-approved equipment and methodologies, they would have to bring in EPA equipment from Owens Valley the following week and test according to EPA sampling methods, and in full 24-hour cycles.
A week later they came and conducted five days of PM10 tests. The results? Every single day exceeded EPA’s legal limits, their downwind sampling station averaging 59 micrograms—nearly triple the limit of 20 micrograms per day. But that’s not all. They refused to test in 24-hour cycles as they said they were going to, instead testing for just five hours per day. And, their sampling equipment was strategically placed more than twice the distance from the construction site as the first test. Despite these attempts to minimize the results, they still exceeded State regulations.
The other key point about our State’s law: One may not exceed 50 micrograms of PM10 (50 ug/m3) in a 24-hour period more than once per year. That’s how hazardous it is to breathe elevated levels of Particulate Matter.
Impact to Businesses
What about all the business owners along the construction sites? The Valero Gas Station at the corner of Riverside and Glendale has lost at least 30% of its business because of less traffic. The Dyno Smog Check Station next door has lost 80%. Road closures or construction-impacted routes always force people to find new ways to avoid those areas altogether. The longer a job continues, the longer businesses lose money. Jonathan Emerson, co-owner of Silver Lake Yoga on Glendale Boulevard, says they’ve lost customers due to the increased traffic congestion to get to their place. The Art of You Holistic Center next door has lost business because construction noise interferes with clients’ acupuncture and massage. How long must it take to dig trenches and lay in new pipe?
In fact, at the first community meeting, people questioned the amount of time the construction on Glendale & Rokeby had taken thus far. Residents asked why there were days—even weeks—when no one was there working. In December, Courshon posed this question to an on-site Rados engineer. The response? The engineer acknowledged it was a manpower issue, that Rados doesn’t employ enough crew to work all their sites at full speed. However, the “official” reason voiced at the community meeting by DWP & Rados? “Unforeseen issues arose and this has caused delays.” Sure. Like the section at West Silver Lake Drive that Rados said would be completed in 5 months but took 16.
Is that crazy? Of course. When you’re impacting residents and businesses, why shouldn’t you work at full speed and get the hell out of there as fast as possible? Unfortunately, this may partly be the result of DWP having to take the lowest bid for a job. Without incentive for contractors to do a job as quick as possible, they simply won’t. Shouldn’t DWP have other criteria to accept a bid besides the price? Such as a contractor’s consistent track record for good work, good mitigation, and minimal blunders on previous jobs?
Coming To A Theater Near You
Currently, the project is about to begin on Rowena Avenue. Restaurants and stores in the construction zone are very concerned, as they will likely face significant financial losses. DWP currently estimates 6 – 8 months of construction. Michelangelo Ristorante co-owner Antonio Stifano said he’s already impacted by the project and pollution from one block away. Once it moves to Rowena, it’s going to be more than just dirt and Particulate Matter that worry him.
The negative impacts to Silver Lake now and future areas where construction will occur—other parts of Silver Lake, Burbank, North Hollywood—will undoubtedly worsen unless someone or some agency steps in and provides real oversight.
Recently, one Silver Lake Neighborhood Council committee, aware of the health issues and other problems at the current construction site, took it upon themselves to do something. Resident Caren Singer drafted and the committee passed six motions regarding the upcoming Silver Lake Reservoir Complex portion of the Pipeline Project. Among the motions are demands that the DWP provide full mitigation for Air Quality & Noise, employ Air Quality and Noise level testing throughout the project, test soil before excavating, and hire a contractor other than Rados. These motions then went to the Silver Lake Council’s Governing Board for a vote, where on February 1, all six motions passed unanimously.
Will this help? Time will tell. Could the DWP ignore the motions passed by the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council? Sure. But if neighborhood councils and stakeholders in this pipeline’s path start taking action now, there is a real chance that things could improve as the construction moves into other areas. This will be particularly important in areas slated for prolonged construction, such as the south end of the Silver Lake reservoir, where DWP anticipates two years of heavy drilling, trenching and excavating.
You know what the famous last line of Chinatown is? “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Wouldn’t it be progressive of us—in a 21st Century kind of way—if we could actually end DWP & city government abuse?