Politics by the Gallon

Posted November 2, 2016 by The Argonaut in News

Candidates for a seat on the scandal-rocked Water Replenishment District campaign on conservation and transparency

By Gary Walker

Jim Kennedy, Merrill Kruger, Robert Katherman

Jim Kennedy, Merrill Kruger, Robert Katherman

The politics of water have perhaps never been as polarized since the California Water Wars of the early 20th century, when agricultural interests competed with urban leaders for control of the vital natural resource.

A historic drought, unprecedented statewide water conservation mandates and allegations of public corruption among water management boards have all been making headlines and could focus more voter attention on the Water Replenishment District of Southern California.

The somewhat obscure agency manages local and imported groundwater supplies for more than four million residents in the southern region of Los Angeles County, including Playa del Rey and Westchester in Division Two.

That race has three contenders seeking a four-year seat on the board: incumbent director Robert Katherman; Jim Kennedy, a former deputy to the late City Councilman Bill Rosendahl; and Merrill Kruger,
a San Pedro landscape contractor.

The agency’s — and Katherman’s — reputation took a hit in August 2014 when he and his wife Marilyn were indicted and charged with embezzlement of public funds. A jury acquitted the Kathermans of all charges in March of this year.

Prosecutors had accused the Kathermans of conspiring with former West Basin Municipal District Director Ronald Smith to syphon $20,000 from the water district to a Torrance nonprofit of which Robert Katherman was president. That nonprofit accepted donations from West Basin and allegedly paid for rent and boat repairs for Smith, as well as dance and tennis lessons for his children.

Although jurors found the Kathermans not guilty, Smith pleaded guilty to the public corruption charges; Smith also told a judge that Katherman was the true mastermind of the swindle, casting himself as the fall guy.

Loyola Marymount University professor Joseph Reichenberger says water district races, while still not followed by the majority of voters, have become far more politicized over the past decade.

“When water boards do their job they often operate in the background. Political parties look at water boards as a stepping stone to higher office,” said Reichenberger, a former member of the San Gabriel Valley Water District. “The better-run districts tend to have a lot more stability among their members. Anything that comes up in terms of a possible conflict of interest can be magnified at this level.”

Created by the state in 1959, the replenishment district’s 420-square-mile service area uses about 250,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year, which equates to nearly 40% of the total demand for water regionally.

Directors receive $265 per meeting, plus expenses and benefits can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Kather-man received $41,000 in per diem payments in 2015, reported the Daily Breeze.

Katherman and Kennedy have exchanged pointed barbs during the campaign and accused each other of dishonest if not outright unethical behavior.

Kennedy, a member of the nonprofit Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, noted that Katherman had not faced a challenger for his position director’s seat since 2008.

“The rot is at the head the agency, and the lack of daylight seems to have made the incumbent insular,” Kennedy said. “There is a need to clean the board without the distraction of personal misbehavior.”

Katherman, a civil engineer, argues that he has the most experience with water management and accused Kennedy of playing politics. Katherman said he has put the embezzlement trial behind him and is ready to serve his final term on
the board.

“People who I’ve met and people who I know tell me they knew that the charges were a bunch of bull,” Katherman said. “We were found innocent: What else does he want?”

Katherman challenged Kennedy’s ballot designation as a water policy advisor in court but a judge ruled in Kennedy’s favor.

Kruger has largely tried to stay out of the fray. She says the quixotic presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary inspired her to run for public office.

“I grew up in Los Angeles and was often discouraged from following politics because of its element of corruption. I felt like politics was something that I could never be a part of,” she said. “I think that [Sanders] represented a lot of ideals that a lot of people agree with and I had never heard [from a candidate] before.”

Kruger said her background as an environmentalist and landscape contractor will bring new ideas to the agency — which she, like Kennedy, believes has been damaged by scandal.

“It’s really difficult to step into an office that is tainted, because there’s a lot to clean up,” she said.

Katherman said he wants to keep water rates low, build an advanced water purification plant in Carson and focus on how global warming is impacting water resources.

“We are in reasonable shape because we’ve been using a lot of recycled water, but we still need to make groundwater basins completely free from the need to purchase imported water,” he said.

Kruger said that on the campaign trail she frequently hears interest in desalination, a chemical process that removes contaminants from saltwater to make it useful for irrigation or even potable.

“It’s a great temporary fix, but we need to come up with alternate solutions,” Kruger said, citing an emphasis on stormwater retention and reuse.

Kennedy promises to explore new methods of improving stormwater capture and to continue promoting recycled water.

“These are among the less expensive alternatives to desalination,” he said.

Incorporating more graywater recycling on properties is another form of conservation that the agency should explore, Kruger said.

“Washing machines are a popular and simple retrofit. However, selective use of sink water, for instance, when washing vegetables and rinsing dishes that don’t have meat or dairy is also an excellent source of reclaimed water for edible and drought tolerant gardens,” she said.

All three candidates agree that the agency’s meetings, which are not currently televised, should be broadcast as a gesture toward openness and transparency.

Katherman thinks voters should reelect him “because I’ve done a good job,” he said. “Our board and staff have done an outstanding job of weaning ourselves off imported water.”





    Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon endorses Jim Kennedy:
    “I need Jim on the Water Replenishment District’s Board of Directors to keep water a top priority in this November election. That is why I am officially endorsing Jim Kennedy for Water Replenishment District, Division 2.
    This matters to me because my Assembly district constituents get their water from the WRD. I’ve known Jim for a long time, we served on the Board of the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters together.
    I trust Jim will increase transparency and public oversight. And most importantly, Jim is committed to never compromising our access to safe drinking water.
    I have high confidence in Jim to use public funds wisely to invest in local water projects and keep our water rates low. With our persistent drought conditions, this is urgently needed as both the economic and environmentally sensible way forward to secure our water future.”

    M Nem

    Jim Kennedy is the best qualified and most experienced person for this seat. Enough with the controversies… the stakes are incredibly high for us on water issues and he is the best person to take them on. Vote for Jim!

    David W. Kay

    The Water Replenishment District, an agency largely unknown to most voters, performs critical functions to store, manage and recycle water in the southwestern L.A. basin. As we approach year six of this drought, the District’s mission is more important than ever. Their leadership will execute this mission in our interests provided we elect Board members who will responsibly represent us.

    I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of serving with Jim Kennedy on the Board of Friends of Ballona Wetlands. Jim is a man with exceptional leadership skill and unimpeachable integrity. My endorsement of Jim Kennedy for Water Replenishment District Board Member is a no-brainer. I urge my fellow citizens to do the same.

    Mark-Antonio Grant

    To be frank, I don’t have much knowledge about the mechanics of a Water District beyond what I’ve recently heard during the course of this campaign and just read in this article. What I do know is how to recognize decency, compassion, and authentic commitment to meeting the public’s interest – all tempered by genuine integrity. That easily describes Jim Kennedy. And that’s the very culture and character needed in any elected official.


    Having worked with Jim Kennedy on local water and environmental issues over the years, I believe he’s an excellent choice for the Water Replenishment District Board.
    Jim Lamm, President Emeritus, Ballona Creek Renaissance (commenting as an individual)

    William Roberts

    What Katherman misses is that even O.J. Simpson was found “not guilty”. Katherman has unnecessarily brought shame upon the Water Replenishment District and the wound has been self-inflicted. The D.A.’s office found sufficient evidence to bring charges. For whatever reason, he and his wife were found not guilty. That does not equate to being “innocent” of the charges, it only means that the D.A. was unable to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Kennedy has shown himself to be knowledgeable and well versed in water issues. His other opponent, Kruger, is a political novice with no real experience in the real world of politics, but appears to be a nice woman. The clear choice on November 8, is Jim Kennedy.

    Garrett Smith

    As a resident of the Westchester/Playa area I have known Jim Kennedy for many years. As a aide to Councilperson Bill Rosendahl, Jim has always been responsive to our needs. He has appeared before our Neighborhood Council on several occasions which I am a member of. I trust Jim and value his opinion. Mr. Kennedy is what I consider a expert on our wetlands and water replenishment issues. I also followed him over the past couple years touring all our water storage facilities, water delivery systems and reservoirs. Jim Kennedy is prepared to due the job.

    I encourage you to vote for Jim Kennedy for Water Replenishment District 2 on Nov.8th.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Garrett Smith

    Miki Payne

    My Vote is for Jim Kennedy. He has worked in our community for years and when he believes in something, he will do anything within the system to get it done. It’s time for honesty, transparency and hard work. We don’t need politicians or single-minded focuses, but rather someone who is mindful about the goal, diverse in their thinking and outreach, and ready to roll up their sleeves and figure it out!

    Dan Witzling

    Voters are essentially asked to choose between Katherman accused but acquitted from embezzling in this agency, Kennedy who formerly worked for a South Bay city, and a quixotic Kruger. We need someone who can help fix a major problem plaguing our region, and I have to say a more stable and sane choice would be Kennedy. Let’s leave the scandals and windmill chasing to the other political races.


    Jim Kennedy is a smart, capable, and committed public servant. He is the best choice to represent us at the Water Replenishment District. He is focused on fiscal discipline, with an eye towards sustainability and stewardship, and you can count on him to be responsive and thoughtful in this position. It’s time for a change. Vote Jim Kennedy!

    Emily C. Williams

    Jim Kennedy has the knowledge, backgound, and temperament for this position. He’ll also bring a willingness to listen to and incorporate ideas from stakeholders. He represents a good balance between experience and new blood.

    Judy Citrin

    Until this election, I never realized how important this District was. It’s outrageous to think that a director who has admitted to public corruption is still able to run for office. Jim Kennedy is a person I always look to for an honest and thorough evaluation of issues and the various contentious groups who claim to value the environment. He is fair and respectful while willing to take a stand for long-term solutions.

Leave a Reply