Bureaucrats Run Around With Their Hair On Fire….


In the remote eastern portion of Wildomar known as Cottonwood Canyon, there are a number of homes and homeowners who purchase their water from the privately-owned County Water Company, whose viability and ability to service the needs of their customers has deteriorated to the point where the Riverside County Department of Health has started a “receivership process.”

Apparently, during the recent heat wave, which we all experienced during  the early part of August,  a potential water shortage arose for those remote homeowners, to the extent that a phone call to Wildomar’s Community Services Director triggered a chain of events reminiscent of a Keystone Kops silent movie episode.

Pursuant to the California Public Records Act, after learning of the incident, I have requested and received  22 pages of e-mails generated to and from the vast bureaucratic tapestry of government entities who became involved in a private dispute between property owners and the private water company.

These homeowners, who on their own volition have chosen to live beyond the reach of normal public services and in another repetitive moment of extremity, have come to know whose chain to pull in order to induce the delivery of free, to them, potable drinking water.

For your edification, I will be taking excerpts from the various e-mails between City ofWildomar, Riverside County and Water District bureaucrats which should be sufficient to inform you, Dear Reader, as to the misguided, municipal melodrama that recently unfolded in Wildomar:

 1) Community Services Dir. Paula Willette to City Manager Frank Oviedo (Saturday, August 11, 2012, 9:03 AM)

“Just received a call from a resident at County Water saying they’ve been without water for two days. Lori’s son (presumably the owner’s son) told him to pray for rain because that was the only way he was getting water and there wasn’t anything they could do for him and to stop calling.

The resident called the Health Department yesterday and reached the emergency line (Hazmat) since it was Friday. Hazmat told him there wasn’t anything he could do except write a report. I got a call in to the OES to talk to whoever is on duty to see if they can get a water truck up there today.

The resident mentioned Lori’s worker slipped and said they turned the pump off during the day because it is too hot and they will lose the pump. They are trying to keep their large animals in water and are getting worried they are going to overheat without water.”

2) Frank Oviedo to the Wildomar City Council (Saturday, August 11, 2012, 10:32 AM)

Subject: County Water Problem… Again

“Paula called this morning to report that the residents don’t have water again. State and County agencies have been put on notice but nobody is responding on the weekend.

As in the past, I have authorized Paula to order a water truck so residents can at least access water over the weekend during this hot spell.

At this point it appears that County Water is abandoning all responsibility for residents receiving water. There is an all hands meeting with public agencies scheduled to attempt to resolve this issue once and for all. The Riverside County Department of Health has started the receivership process. After the meeting we should know more.”

3) Paula Willette to Frank Oviedo (Saturday, August 11, 2012, 10:46 AM)

“OPM is at work. I’ve got the County Public Health contacting both water companies for free assistance. If neither company will assist for free than the State Public Health will pick up the tab. I keep pushing the plastic bag issue for waste and that seems to put the fire under them for action.

We are hoping to have water delivered in the next couple hours.”

4) Frank Oviedo to Paula Willette (Saturday, August 11, 2012, 10:51 AM)

“You’re the best.”

5) OES Duty Officer to pwillette@cityofwildomar.org (and others) (Saturday, August 11, 2012, 12:53 PM)

At 0900 I was notified by Paula that County Water (private company) was again not providing water to an unknown number of residents in the city. She estimates it could be up to approximately 200 homes. Water has been either totally unavailable or intermittent to residents for two days. Paula requested assistance with getting a potable water truck, as it has been done in the past.)

Let us recap, as follows:

1) Property owners in Cottonwood Canyon, who choose to live “off the grid” and have a private contract for water service to their homes with a privately-owned water company which apparently cannot provide water service on a reliable basis, repeatedly call on the County of Riverside to make up for deficiencies in their private contractual arrangement.
2) When the County of Riverside cannot respond immediately, since the property owners waited for two days before initiating a call to the County (thereby putting their “emergency” off until the weekend when most agency employees are not working), said homeowners turned to the City of Wildomar, where they reached Paula Willette, whose raison d’être is to be the city’s “point of contact” for Wildomar’s Community Emergency Response Team (“CERT”).(http://www.citizencorps.gov/cc/showCert.do?id=43447)

At this point, Community Services Director Paula Willette (a non-employee, contract vendor position), in my opinion, elevated a service dispute between a private water company and their unfortunate customers to the level of an “emergency,” thereby triggering an expensive reaction from a variety of agencies, and ultimately, providing a free tanker truck of water to the hapless residents of Cottonwood Canyon. (Some unknown EMWD employee was likely paid overtime to deliver a tanker of water to Cottonwood Canyon).

In a direct and “on point” contrast, when stop signs were installed by CALTRANS last Sunday morning, on the Baxter Road overpass, virtually ambushing unsuspecting drivers due to the lack of appropriate warning of the presence of the new traffic controls, some City officials have taken the position that the traffic sign issue is solely within the jurisdiction of Caltrans, despite the very real potential of lethal traffic accidents.

How is it then, that the failure of a private water company and the supposed lack of Riverside County response to Cottonwood Canyon residents becomes the responsibility of the City of Wildomar?

It is apparent to me that City Manager Frank Oviedo has no pre-established contingency and emergency management protocols to the extent that he couldn’t tell his City Staff to “stand down” from this so-called “emergency.” (I believe there are roads out of Cottonwood Canyon to any number of local grocery stores, where bottled water is available).

Perhaps, the following e-mails provides the best explanation:

6) Paula Willette to pwillette@cityofwildomar.org   (Saturday, August 11, 2012 1:50 PM) (Why would you send an  e-mail addressed to yourself? Just asking.)

“Due to a water outage, I am in need of volunteers to help pass out flyers for couple of hours. If you are available and would like to help, please call my cell (951-xxx-xxxx) for the location.”

7)  Bridgette Moore to Paula Willette (Saturday, August 11, 2012 11:56 AM) (How does Bridgette Moore respond to Paula’s e-mail nearly two hours before it was sent?)

“I can help til 5:00 PM”

Given the time differential between the two e-mails noted above, it is likely that my California Public Records Act request was only partially complied with and some e-mails seem to be missing.

In any event, the over-reaction to a non-emergency by City Staff appears to have created an opportunity for incumbent city councilmember Bridgette Moore to go door to door in Cottonwood Canyon, passing out flyers in an official capacity during her election campaign.

Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.


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