December 10, 2013
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San Bruno Public Works Water Division
San Bruno Public Works Water Division
San Mateo County Grand Jury's investigation into the San Bruno Public
Works Department Water Division found no evidence of mismanagement. In
the course of the investigation, however, it found that lack of consistent
direction from the City Council impacts the efficiency of the Public Works
At its September 24,
2002 meeting, the City Council received a full report from the Public
Works Director on water division operations over the past year, including
well outages, purchased water costs, and progress against the Water System
Master Plan. One council member displayed frustration over the length
of the outages and lack of expansion of the Water Division's goals. Other
Council members vociferously disagreed with the arguments stated by the
frustrated council member, stating support for the actions of the Public
Works Department, and pointing out that the Council has consistently voted
not to alter the goals of the Water Division
Issue: Has the City of San Bruno Public Works Department mismanaged the Water Division?
of mismanagement of the City of San Bruno (City) Water Division were the
basis of an investigation by the San Mateo County Grand Jury (Grand Jury).
The crux of the complaint was delays in returning wells to full service
after outages and a lack of active Public Works Department support to
expand the water system for other uses.
The Water Division,
part of the Public Works Department, is operationally responsible to meet
the demand for potable water throughout the City. This is done through
operation of four City-owned wells and through contract water purchases.
The volume of water purchased varies based on well production levels.
The Department of
Public Works reports to the City Manager, who in turn reports to the City
Council. The five-member Council has ultimate responsibility for implementation
of all programs and city services. Consistent with that responsibility,
the Council adopted the City of San Bruno Water System Master Plan Update
at its July 10, 2001 meeting. This plan addresses all aspects of water
supply and system planning for the City through the year 2030.
The Council uses a
system of ad hoc committees, with two of its members assigned to each
ad hoc committee. These ad hoc committees act as liaison with City departments
on issues of importance to the Council. Two members of the Council have
for some time been assigned to the Council's Water Ad Hoc Committee. The
Water Ad Hoc Committee meets by request of either council member or the
Public Works Director.
According to the August
24, 2002 Council meeting minutes, a council member, who also is a member
of the Water Ad Hoc Committee, requested an update from staff on the following
1. The operational
and fiscal status of the water supply division over the last year
2. Why hasn't an investigation
been done of reclamation of water at the Golden Gate National Cemetery
and if one has been done, why hasn't anything been implemented?
In response to that
request, the Public Works Director presented a review of the past year's
water well operations at the Council's September 24, 2002 meeting.
well outages occurred during 2001 and 2002, no mismanagement could be
determined. The Water Division performs routine repairs and water testing.
When major well failure occurs, the Division contracts with an outside
firm for repairs. If the cost of repair exceeds $25,000, the Division
must receive City Council approval.
expanding use of the water system, the Public Works Department, in its
report to the Council, demonstrated that it is operating consistent with
the Water System Master Plan. The Public Works Department does not have
authority from the Council to expand the use of the water system.
Council's September 24, 2002 meeting, the one council member who requested
the water supply division and water reclamation review expressed frustration
that the Public Works Department did not respond more rapidly to the outages
and was delaying the City's ability to increase water sales beyond San
Bruno residents. The mayor and the other council member on the Water Ad
Hoc committee vigorously rebutted the statements of the first council
member. Both stated that the Public Works Director was performing consistent
with their expectations. They further stated that the option to expand
operations of the water system had been consistently voted down by the
Council and the topic was not open to further discussion at this meeting.
The subject was closed without further action.
While the Council uses ad hoc committees to ensure optimum communications between the Council and City functions, no indication was found that any council member has ever called a meeting of the Water Ad Hoc Committee.
Works Director has called Ad Hoc Committee meetings, but these were ineffective
because of contentious issues raised by one council member. In an effort
to improve communications with the Council, the Public Works Director
committed to publication of a monthly "water-gram".
The Public Works
Department is managing the Water Division consistent with the Council
direction and the Water System Master Plan.
The approval process
for major well repairs or replacement equipment may add significantly
to the outage time.
The Council's water
supply policies and communications with the Public Works Department
need to be consistent to minimize inefficiency. Lively debate in the
process of updating the Water System Master Plan would seem appropriate,
but once that Plan is approved, then the Public Works Department is
merely an implementer of the Plan.
The Water Ad Hoc
Committee does not serve its intended purpose. It limits Public Works
communications with the Council and impacts efficient progress on City
water projects. Either the Water Ad Hoc committee needs to become more
effective, or the Public Works Director should recommend directly to
the Council ways to facilitate Water Division operations, e.g., annual
contracts for well outage repairs to reduce process time
1. The City Council
should improve its oversight of the water system by ensuring that its
policies, practices, and communications are consistent with the Water
System Master Plan.
2. The City Council
should either eliminate the Water Ad Hoc Committee or alter its membership
so that it may effectively provide clear direction to the Public Works
3. The City Manager
should annually submit to the City Council a water system budget, which
includes well outage contingency funds, consistent with the Water System
4. The Public Works
Department should obtain proposals for annual maintenance and repair