January 30, 1990 - From the January, 1990 issue

New Deputy Mayor Edward Avila: Increased Responsibilities

With the new restricting of the Mayor’s office, Ed Avila was recently appointed Deputy Mayor along with the Mayor’s counsel, Mark Fabiani. Avila has been a full-time commissioner with the Board of Public Works for 5 years, the past 2 ½  as President. The Planning Report met with the new Deputy Mayor to discuss his current agendas well as his increased responsibilities in his new post.


“I’ll be overseeing the Board of Public Works, environmental issues, community liaisons, grants, Community Development Department…”

“The important issue for the sewer ordinance is that we are not denying anyone a permit. You can prepare for it."

As you leave the post of President of the Board of Public Works, what are the Commission’s major priorities?

The Board covers every major environmental issue. We are overseeing mega-programs for waste, water, solid waste, and hazardous waste. Since I’ve been on the Board, we have doubled our annual budget. We have gone from approximately $400 million to $812 million in 5 ½ years which makes us the largest department in terms of money appropriated by the City Council.

And we have almost6,000employees, the second largest in the City behind the po­lice department Our tasks are enormous, and we need to spend substantial dollars to accomplish our objectives We just awarded a contract of $115 million, the largest ever, to help upgrade our sewer system, and we will soon award another contract of $300 million for our sewer program.

What we have done since I have been a Commissioner is rather significant. Since I have been President, we have started a hazardous toxics material program; developed Operation Clean Sweep, a major anti-litter, anti-graffiti initiative; hired the Director of integrated waste management, our major recycling program; and recently appointed the head of our water reclamation project—all major initiatives and major commitments from this City to the environment.

What were the causes and pressures which enabled the budget to double in only five years?

It’s a series of pressures, and luckily, the city has had sources of revenue available. Also, we’re undertaking several bond issues, such as $170 million for the police facilities program, and our $3.4 billion sewer program, another result of a bond issue. We’re doing what we call creative financing to make it easier on the tax-payer. You always pay, the question is, how easy is it to pay and how much are residents willing to take?

Developers have been focusing on the Board of Public Works because of the wait for a sewer permit. What can developers expect from the Board next year in terms of the regulatory process?

Developers have to come to us for many items. They cannot construct new development without a permit from the Board. With any development, you have to put sewers in, do street improvements, and there’s no way to get around that. There’s also permits for encroachments or vacations.

To receive a sewer hook-up permit, there is currently no wait for residential projects and there is a 1-3 month delay for commercial development. It will essentially stay this way. The important issue for the sewer ordinance is that we are not denying anyone a permit. We’re talking about waiting periods and anyone who is planning a development can prepare for it.

I think the crisis of sewage capacity heightened public awareness which is the key for anything we do in the City now. Public support is necessary to protect our environment and it enables us to lobby the City Council to say yes.

We continue to be concerned with sewage capacity, but for the past year, the amount of increased sewage to the Hyperion plant has leveled out. Something is working—either through water conservation, or the publicity about the sewer ordinance, our sewage levels are evening out.

The recently adopted interim sewer ordinance is now in effect until 1991 when the Tillman Plant comes online. The work is on schedule and everything has worked out well.

With the expected adoption of the replacement interim sewer hook-up ordinance, do you anticipate any more regulatory action involving sewer permits?

I would say that the crisis is over to the degree that we have the resources to fix the sewer system and upgrade it. We can’t say that there won’t be a major failure because many of the sewer lines are old. We just had a major line spill in Vista Del Mar because the sewer line had rotted away. That will continue to happen until 1998 when we have refurbished the entire system. Though in the past 2 years, we have had very few incidents, and I think we have doubled our ability to monitor and prevent sewage spills.

Developers are increasingly concerned about the waiting period for sewer hook-up permits. Will that period change?

Unless something drastically changes, the waiting period will be the same. As long as the development community can anticipate problems, plan on them and schedule accordingly, I don’t think they will have any trouble. It’s when you can’t meet the schedule because of unknowns, you may or may not get your permit—that’s a major problem. Right now they know there’s going to be a wait, but they’re going to get their sewer permit.

Some people say the replacement sewer ordinance did not accomplish its objectives of growth management and development incentives.

From a Public Works perspective, there was only one reason in the request for the sewer ordinance and that was capacity. But the ordinance evolved from an operational issue of sewer capacity into a major dialogue on policy, planning and growth management. It moved from a very specific to a very broad discussion. That discussion will be ongoing.

The question of whether to develop in East L.A. or Watts is a major policy question which I agree with, but it’s not the incentives we originally had with the sewer ordinance.

The discussion tried to tackle a huge problem while focusing on sewage capacity.

And I think it was a little bit rushed. But that’s understandable, because once you seize upon an issue of that magnitude, you can’t let go, and you have to confront it. But it’s not going to happen overnight. We do have encouraging signs, such as the discussion of the Porter Ranch development project.

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In that case, we were talking about the environment, talking about child care, recycling, transportation. This is a major development and here we had all these good policies concentrated into one major development. Every element of our environmental concerns was discussed in that development, and I think that is a very encouraging sign about the way things are progressing.

The Mayor has been both praised and faulted for his leadership in the past on land-use and planning issues. Has he been portrayed fairly?

The Mayor has been the glue that keeps this City together, and I think one thing the Mayor has unfairly taken a real knock on is quality of life in this city. We have a large city, and any large city will have these problems.

I think the problems this city has had are not insurmountable, and I think they have been managed very well. I have traveled all over the world and I can’t think of a large city that is a well-run. Some people mention other cities, but they are one fourth the size of the City of Los Angeles. The Mayor has come through on every promise he’s ever made—even though it took 16 years to get Metro Rail and Light Rail!

The Board of Public Works has successfully responded to many environmental challenges in recent years. Is there something unique or structural that the other city departments can emulate?

The Board was established by a vote of the people in 1904, so this is a people’s action. Anytime you have a discussion of getting rid of the Board, it needs to be resolved as a charter situation. This is not a City Council decision.

One of the major reasons for our effectiveness is that the services are so basic to the community. There is nothing in the world like this that I know of—a five-member, full-time board that oversees a major department. It’s basically a five headed executive. And it works!

We meet three times a week and vote on everything from personnel transactions to $115 million construction contracts. Being a citizen appointed body, we respond, react and do things intimate with the public. That’s what people appreciate. We mediate and don’t necessarily go by all the bureaucratic rules that exist. And it’s always a fix-it situation.

That sounds simple but it’s so critical—the delivery of services. People are not used to that. Government is not always perceived as being responsive. They are used to a bureaucracy that just sits there.

What lessons can you take with you from your current position that you can apply to the executive office?

I don’t know. I personally had mixed emotions about leaving this Board. I have a strong personal commitment to the have Board and the department: It’s like a family and we have a can-do attitude. I hope I can take these skills with me to the Mayor’s office in terms of working with other departments. I know most of the other department heads, and I anticipate very cooperative relationships.

We have large problems—especially the tough issues of homeless and housing. There is no one city that can deal with it on its own—it requires state and federal help, and yet these are issues that need to be tackled. I will also have oversite of the Board and the Department of Public Works. I’ll still be greatly involved here since I know the department so well after 5 ½ years.

You will be working with another new Deputy Mayor, Mark Fabian. Have you resolved which areas you will each be responsible for?

Marie and I will make a good team. We work well together and have a commitment to the people of this city and loyalty to the Mayor. We are going to work out our different areas. To start out, I’ll be overseeing the Board of Public Works, environmental issues, community liaison, grants, the Community Development Department which includes the Rent Stabilization division.

I’ll also the oversee three of the Mayor’s offices: the disabled, youth, and criminal justice planning.

I think we’ll produce things that are measurable which is the way that I operate. My whole philosophy is if you can’t demonstrate you’ve accomplished anything. You can’t just talk about it, you have to do it. Certainly we’ve. Operated that way in Public Works.

If you ask me what I’ve done, I’ll tell you no more sludge in the Santa Monica Bay, we’re upgrading our Hyperion system, our sewage flow is leveled out, our sludge is being 100% beneficially reused, a major city-wide recycling program we’re about to implement—real concrete programs. And that’s what I want to do now.

What will be major issues of next year?

We have already identified all of the major problems that we must now confront. To generalize, in the past decade we’ve been talking about all the problems which we now know about. We understand the Greenhouse effect, we know about the homeless. Now it’s finally time to do something about it. We must start our implementation stages.  I want to bring forward an approach which says, what’s the problem and how can we fix it? 

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