Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'$84K salary just don't pay the bills,' says RMC, Discovery Center chief, announces plans to retire

The timing is suspicious, to say the least.

Three months after the state Department of Finance issues a report and audit (link below) declaring that the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy "has not exercised adequate fiduciary oversight of bond funds," the conservancy's executive director announces her retirement.
Faustinos, who earns $84,000 annually, told the Times that retirement is "something I’ve been thinking about for a while because of salary cuts for state employees -– the checkbook doesn’t balance any more at the end of the month.”
The Los Angeles Times' Louis Sahagun broke the story (link below) of Belinda Faustinos' decision to retire on the paper's Greenspace blog today.

Faustinos, who earns $84,000 annually, told the Times that retirement is "something I’ve been thinking about for a while because of salary cuts for state employees -– the checkbook doesn’t balance any more at the end of the month.”

Yep -- $84,000 a year just doesn't go as far as it used to.

It's important to note of the recent audit that many of the problems it identified were first brought to light in an earlier 2006 audit but went uncorrected.

It reminds naturalareafan a whole lot of the story outgoing drug czar Ralph Landry tells the incoming czar in the movie Traffic:

"You know, when they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor.

"He said, 'When you get yourself into a situation you can't get out of, open the first letter, and you'll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can't get out of, open the second letter.'

"Well, soon enough, this guy found himself in a tight place, so he opened the first letter, which said: 'Blame everything on me.' So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm.

"He got himself into a second situation he couldn't get out of, he opened the second letter. It said: 'Sit down, and write two letters.'"

Then again, perhaps it is as easy to explain as annual salaries. One can imagine that, with the connections Faustinos has made, first at the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and now at the RMC, she has the potential to make far more money as a lobbiest than the $84,000 per year she's had to settle for as a government employee.


Audit of San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy's Propositions 40 and 50 Bond Funds (PDF file)

- Conservancy official for L.A. and Orange Counties to retire
(Los Angeles Times Greenspace blog)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Flooding? HERE? NO! Where do you live on this MAP?

This is a pieced together collection of maps all of which were created by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1986. It depicts what would happen if the Whittier Narrows Dam failed. The document is in a public library in New Mexico and I borrowed it and scanned the maps and then, put them together in Photoshop. The only alterations were to cut the edges to make a smoother connection between one map and another, and to size it so that I could put them all up on the web in one piece to get the - whole picture of such a disaster.
This is what would happen, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. if the Whittier Narrows Dam fails.... Remember, the Army Corps of Engineers made these maps and it is up to the CITIES around the Dam to not build RIGHT UNDER the Dam. It is also the responsibility of the Corps, the Los Angeles County, that Leases the land in and around the Dam, to not fill the DEBRIS BASIN -> which IS THE NATURAL AREA.... There should be enough room behind the Whittier Narrows Dam to hold ALL OF THE WATER FROM THE FOUR DAMS BEHIND THEM!!! -> Santa Fe Dam + Morris Dam, + the San Gabriel Dam + Cogswell Dam.

If there is STUFF in the Whitter Narrows Natural Area (the Debris Basin is like a reservoir for emergencies like flooding) like lots of Arundo donax or there are buildings (like a Discovery Center with a large parking lot) and the Debris Basin can't hold all the waters from the mountains if the other dams fail or if we have an extraordinary winter storm/s.... then a whole lot of people could loose their lives and property. If the Army Corps of Engineers and/or the Los Angeles County do not take care of the Dam/s - then they are not doing their jobs and we are all at risk.

Where do YOU live in relation to the flood waters????

But here are two close ups that I thought were interesting....
These two clips show that the flooding would first begin by filling up behind the dam and flooding the cities north of the Dam, if, for example, the Santa Fe Dam failed or if there was more water then usual - as in a Hundred Year Flood which could happen next year... or in ten years. Then, if the dam gave way - if the sand under the cement covered berms washed out (see the photos shot in spring of 2010 of the undermined Whittier Narrows
Dam, below) - then all of that water from the mountains and the storm drains from the cities that feed water into the San Gabriel River would gush out to the sea.

Now, let's talk about how well the Whittier Narrows Dam is holding up after all of these years.... It was completed in 1957. Dams have relatively short 'life' spans. The reliability of any dam is all about how the dam was built, what materials were used, what the conditions were/are (earthquakes, high sedimentation, flooding around the dam, piping, design problems, etc.) and how well it is kept up. Like anything, it needs periodic repairs. Has the Whittier Narrows Dam Been repaired? I have not found any references showing repairs or even maintenance. But, I can tell you that it needs repairs NOW!!!

These are the electrical towers (many stories tall) and lines which are near the existing Nature Center. (see Google Maps of Whittier Narrows Nature Center/Dam)

I keep mentioning that the Dam may NEED repairs - IT DOES~!
Do you see the crack with the trees growing out? I could crawl in the crack inside the dam - that is how big this crack is!
I took these pictures from inside and behind the dam this spring 2010. The Whittier Narrows Dam is nothing but sandy dirt and just plain sand piled up like a kid's fort with concrete poured on top. Inside this structure, what is supposed to be big enough to hold all the water from four dams upstream, or when if rains really hard and long, needs to be able to fill up with water. However, the water gets under the concrete and the sand, which is what the Dam is made from, and flushes out in a 'slushy' mud under the concrete 'tent' leaving an empty, hollow top and area that faces the holding area of the Dam. This undermining of the Dam's structure is called 'Piping'. The army Corps of Engineers knows ALL about this and wrote a very extensive paper on the possibility of the Whittier Narrows Dam Failure from piping.... Here is a PDF file of the study...
or you can go to this one...
or here...

Pleasant dreams....

This crack goes all around the Dam!


... including on TELEVISION!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Central Basin MWD support for troubled Discovery Center project could cost customers millions

If officials at Central Basin Municipal Water District have their way, cities, water retailers and ratepayers who get their water from the district could end up paying millions of dollars over the coming years to prop up a financially troubled water museum project that a district official concedes customers do not want.
At the most conservative estimate, projected over the time Central Basin and Upper San Gabriel Valley MWDs would be expected to support the project, the additional costs would reach into the millions of dollars for each district and its customers.
At a June meeting of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority, board President and Central Basin Director Robert Apodaca said that customer cities and agencies were concerned about the district’s support for the project — a $22 million taxpayer/ratepayer-funded water museum and meeting hall — and that “they don’t feel [the project] is a priority for them.”
Central Basin's Robert Apodaca dismissed opposition to the Discovery Center from the district's own customer cities and water agencies as "excuses to criticize" the project.
But Apodaca dismissed the opposition as “excuses to criticize” the project. He then offered additional district resources, saying, “We have a large staff. We have the resources. And we’re willing to share those,” adding later, “We have money to do things.”

At the same meeting, authority Executive Director Belinda V. Faustinos conceded that long-term funding for the controversial project is an “issue” and said that the authority would likely turn to Central Basin and a second district, Upper San Gabriel Valley MWD, to cover the project’s additional costs. “If we need to look at some ongoing operations costs down the road, it could potentially come from the water agency partners,” she said.

Faustinos said that long-term costs for the proposed facility — which would replace an existing Los Angeles County-owned-and-operated nature center already used by Central Basin to deliver education programs — will be a minimum of $200,000 annually beyond what the county and the two district’s pay for the nature center and for education programs, respectively.

Even at the most conservative estimate, projected over the time the districts would be expected to support the project, the additional costs would reach into the millions of dollars for each district and its customers. Such support, and statements that Central Basin has “money to do things,” stand in stark contrast to recent district actions, decisions and statements that seem to indicate a water district where finances are extremely tight — and getting tighter.

Those decisions and actions include: (1) more than doubling a surcharge on water, (2) borrowing tens of millions of dollars, (3) claiming to have made $1 million in budget cuts, and (4) passing on to customers the Metropolitan Water District’s most recent rate increase because, said Central Basin’s general manager, “We don't really have outside income to absorb this.”

If Central Basin officials have their way, their customers — some of whom pay among the county's highest property taxes or sales taxes — also will be absorbing the multimillion-dollar costs of a water museum they do not want.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Discovery Center long-term funding is an ‘issue,’ says authority Executive Officer Belinda Faustinos

Eight months after a government agency dominated by unelected water executives and public employees gave its approval for a controversial publicly funded $22 million water museum, the same agency appears to have no firm idea of the project’s long-term operations and maintenance costs. Nor has the agency been able to secure funding commitments to pay the long-term costs.
At a meeting of the authority board of directors in June, the agency’s executive officer, Belinda V. Faustinos, conceded that long-term funding was an “issue.”
In January, the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority approved the water museum and meeting hall proposed for the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary between the Montebello and Puente hills. Yet in April, the LA Weekly reported that the authority, in addition to being short of needed construction funds, “does not even have an updated estimate of future operating costs.”

At a meeting of the authority board of directors in June, the agency’s executive officer, Belinda V. Faustinos, conceded that long-term funding was an “issue.” She said that costs beyond what the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation pays for its existing Whittier Narrows Nature Center and what two authority-member water districts pay for their current education programs would likely be a minimum of $200,000 annually, “if not more.”
It appears that officials prefer to dedicate meeting time, as they have recently, to selecting logos and letterhead and coming up with a design for a facility they can’t afford to build and probably can't afford to operate or maintain.
A document from the same June meeting shows that the authority had failed to secure commitments for long-term funding even by that point. Board agendas from a second June meeting, the authority’s July meeting and its August meeting show no attempts by the authority to address the critical matters of the project’s long-term costs and funding.

Long-term costs and the ability or willingness of organizations to pay those costs are at the heart of the viability question for such projects. “What comes to me is that it’s easy to build something [but] it’s hard to sustain the operation,” Michael Feeney, of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, told the LA Weekly, reflecting on the county’s troubled Watershed Resource Center.

“Everyone was excited to build it and there was a lot of enthusiasm at first,” he said. But, writes LA Weekly journalist Tibby Rothman, “the officials at the various agencies grew reluctant to devote the funds needed to keep it going. According to Feeney, the resource center is largely shuttered now, though not only for financial reasons.”

Similar problems contributed to the failure of the multimillion-dollar Children’s Museum of Los Angeles and to the troubles of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s big-ticket Center for Water Education in Hemet — today a costly white elephant for MWD ratepayers.

But rather than address the serious problems that plague the Discovery Center project, it appears that officials prefer to dedicate meeting time, as they have recently, to selecting logos and letterhead and coming up with a design for a facility they can’t afford to build and probably can't afford to operate or maintain.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Opportunities to help protect foothill areas

In the most recent edition of the Pasadena Audubon Society's newsletter, Laura Garrett writes of two opportunities to help save important foothill areas of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Sensitive wildlife habitat in Pasadena's Hahamongna Watershed Park (located near JPL) could be turned into sports fields, parking lots and roads if a majority of the city council has its way.

While the proposed project appears to have been reduced in size to some degree, the city council's recent decision to move ahead with the project -- and to sacrifice ever-rarer habitat and opportunities for passive recreation -- is at odds with what the council heard from the community on July 12. "40 people spoke out against building any soccer fields in Hahamongna Watershed Park, " Laura writes, "while not one person spoke out in favor of the fields."

She encourages people to write the mayor or a city councilmember, attend council meetings when the EIR is being discussed, and sign the petition at

Conservation isn't just about stopping bad projects, it's also about taking positive, substantive steps to ensure that our remaining wild places stay wild. In that spirit, the Arroyo & Foothills Conservancy is working to buy 21 acres at the mouth of Rubio Canyon, Laura writes.

Combined with a 2009 purchase, the new effort would preserve all of Rubio Canyon, -- its waterfalls, its diverse habitats and the wildlife they support, she writes. The purchase would also help to link and expand hiking and birding opportunities.

The conservancy is working to raising $1.3 million by the end of this year for the purchase, habitat restoration and trail creation. Laura -- who writes that she is also the newest member of the conservancy board -- encourages people to visit if they're interested in making a financial contribution to the effort.

The September - October PAS newsletter, as well as past newsletters, can be found at