Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Working to improve Water District performance - from the files

(Below are comments I filed with the Water District in 2007 as part of my work on the District's 2006-2007 Performance Audit advisory committee. I'm repeating them here partly to document my involvement in that work, and partly because if elected, I hope to return to them and help improve the District's performance along the lines of the comments. -Brian)


The following are my comments on behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills regarding the Watershed Operations Audit Memorandum of the March 2007 Comprehensive Performance Audit Final Report prepared for the Water District.

(The following page references are to Appendix E of the Final Report.)

Page 2: fieldwork listed for the Watershed Operations Audit does not include interviews with outside stakeholders. I was interviewed by the auditors, primarily concerning watershed issues. My interview is listed elsewhere in the Audit, but I hope the omission here does not mean my interview was left out of consideration for the Watershed Memo. Some of my comments would have fallen into the category of “Opportunities for Improvement,” although I did not take notes when I was interviewed.

Page 4 and Page 18: Strength Finding No. 1, praising the Watershed Permit Management System, appears to conflict with Opportunity for Improvement Finding No. 6, stating the District “is not fully prepared for future permit-driven monitoring.” More explanation is needed as to why the current system will be inadequate, and if so, why the current system is not currently inadequate.

Page 6 and 7: Strength Finding No. 2, praising the “partner” relationship with the City of San Jose over Coyote Valley, is troubling. The District should be a neutral provider of information regarding environmental protection, water quality, water supply, and flood protection. If San Jose ultimately approves Coyote Valley development and the project goes forward, then a partner relationship could be appropriate, but right now this highly contentious project divides the people that the District works for – the voters of Santa Clara County. There are limits to the Baldrige business model when applied to governments, and this may be an example. At this point in time, the District should not be taking sides.

Page 8 and 9: as it appears that no one on the Clean Safe Creeks Independent Monitoring Committee was interviewed, I would like to know the basis the auditors have for concluding that the program is successful. I am not for my part stating it is successful or unsuccessful overall, and the parts I am familiar with appear to be successful, but am interested in what the basis is for this determination.

Page 11 and 12: the statement on p. 12, “the perception local agencies have of the District with respect to floodplain management probably does not match the services the District provides” is unclear as to what exactly is the problem. The worst-case scenario is that the District and the agencies both believe the other side has taken on a responsibility that it has not, and something is not being done that should be done. This needs to be clarified.

Page 15 and 16: The discussion of the Watershed Resources Protection Ordinance misses that this is primarily an environmental protection issue, and the possibility of damage to flood control structures is a secondary issue. It further misses the issue that the Environmental Advisory Committee made recommendations that were not incorporated into the final ordinance (as I understand it). The comparison between the recommendations and the final ordinance would have been a useful place for an outside auditor to determine whether performance could be improved. Issues such as whether the District gave up too much authority that it legally could have exercised to agencies that are unwilling to protect the environment could also have been discussed as part of a performance audit.

My suggestion is the District react to this report by clarifying its role as a neutral provider of information. The District should also clarify that it is allowed to take a policy position supporting or opposing major projects like Coyote Valley, and clarify when it is acting as a “partner” and when it is acting as an expert agency.

I further suggest that any monitoring program tracking overall mitigation required of the district, also track when the District is supposed to be consulted by others. Many land use agencies, for example, will issue conditions to permits requiring landowners to consult with the District before proceeding with certain actions. While compliance in these cases is not the District’s responsibility, it would be very useful to have a single place to go to try and track down when consultation is required.

Please contact me with any questions.


Brian Schmidt

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