January 20, 2022
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2002 Report:

San Bruno Public Works Water Division

Summary | Background | Findings | Conclusions | Recommendations| Responses


The 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 Department.

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?


Allegations 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 items:

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.


While 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.

As to 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.

At the 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.

The Public 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 Director.

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 Master Plan.

4. The Public Works Department should obtain proposals for annual maintenance and repair contracts.

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