The Pharaohs Would Be Proud of Us

When thinking of grandiose monuments to self names like Kufu and Ramses the Great come to mind. Rulers like these would forcibly direct their empire’s productivity into building the most expensive temples statuary and mausoleums that their subjects could afford.

Two recent developments show that when it comes to the actions of leaders with unhindered power human nature has changed little in 3500 years.

The Metropolitan Water District has just approved a nearly $5 million bailout of its languishing water museum on which $16 million has already been spent. The MWD which supplies water to millions of thirsty Southern Californians is a semi-autonomous public agency. This means that no one is really in charge or accountable for that matter. This lack of responsibility means that individual ego-driven directors can push their own pet projects with impunity.

This is how a $21 million water museum in the middle of nowhere — it is 90 minutes from San Diego and two hours from Los Angeles — gets built at rate-payers’ expense.

What will those making the odyssey to the museum learn? That water is wet necessary and expensive?

No one is suggesting that water is not important. Most of Southern California is classified as semi-arid or desert. Without imported water the bottom half of the state would shrivel up and blow away to the barely muffled cheers of the residents of San Francisco.

Fact is the public would benefit from knowing just how dependent we are on water how difficult it is to obtain and how vital is its conservation. However should rate-payers have to pony up $21 million for a failing museum dedicated to this purpose when for minimal cost flyers could be included with rate-payers bills and for a few thousand dollars more a superb educational website could be established?

And if MWD directors really feel compelled to spend our money on exhibits how about something connected to the existing and quite excellent Los Angeles Museum of Science and Industry? This way instead of the current handful of visitors the Water Museum serves school children throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area could easily visit on school days and weekends and by taking the train so could students from populated areas like San Diego and Santa Barbara. Finally to reach out to remote areas a traveling exhibit could be established at a fraction of the current museum’s cost.

However to those members of the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles County Board Supervisors who have just approved the downtown grandiose Grand Avenue Project $21 million is small potatoes. Public land — on a 99-year lease — and $66 million in tax subsidies will be provided for this mega-high-rise-development. Supervisor Michael Antonovich has been the sole opponent and voice of reason among local elected officials who have moved like stampeding cattle to do the bidding of billionaire developers and approve this project.

To provide a veneer of credibility supporters of the project point out that it is being designed by "acclaimed" architect Frank Gehry. However to those of us not blinded by the delirium that comes with reshaping the downtown skyline as an enduring monument to ourselves Gehry’s already completed downtown project the Disney Concert Hall looks like the contents of a recycling bin.

Taxpayers may not have to quarry the stone blocks like the Egyptians did to build the Great Pyramid but they will still pay a bill for these two expensive ego-driven projects. Sadly for the Grand Avenue development they are likely to be penalized twice — once through their wallets and a second time when they have to look at and live with what they have paid for.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.