Richard Riordan, former LA Mayor, defender of Mono Lake

Tom Soto, of the Mono Lake Committee Board of Directors, would be the first one to tell you that we have protections in place for Mono Lake today thanks to the individual efforts of many, many people, for many, many different reasons. One of the bright stars, Former Mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan, passed away on April 19, 2023. His practicality, foresight, and leadership were critical in leading Los Angeles to do the right thing for Mono Lake at a critical time in the lake’s storied past. 

Mayor Riordan was elected the 39th mayor of Los Angeles in June 1993, arriving in the office at an important time for the Mono Lake Committee. John Hart, in his book, Storm Over Mono, wrote, “In Los Angeles, 1993 had been a year of city government change. In June, after twenty years of Bradley administrations, Republican Richard Riordan became mayor. Riordan, a businessman not known as an environmentalist, brought to the job an executive’s virtues: dislike of waste and unresolved conflict, along with an eye to the budget.”  

The very next year, Riordan, the City Council, and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) Commission had to decide how to handle the imminent State Water Resources Control Board decision that would ultimately order DWP to re-water Mono Basin streams and wetlands for fish and wildlife and raise the lake level to an ecologically sound level. Would Los Angeles appeal the decision and sue the State Water Board? Fortunately for Mono Lake, Riordan evaluated DWP’s numerous legal losses, unwillingness to negotiate, and refusal to accept state funding for alternate water supplies. As the LA Times said at the time, he “quickly saw the madness of all this when he took office last year.” In large part due to Riordan’s leadership and willingness to engage in discussions with the Mono Lake Committee, the City’s decision was to accept State Water Board Order D1631. 

Tom Soto writes, “… yes, that’s me behind the Mayor, long time Mono Lake Committee Board Secretary… all of us convening in 1994 agreeing to support the State Water Board decision to have LADWP restore the tributaries feeding Mono Lake to their pre 1941 conditions and agreeing to raising the lake level from 6377 vertical feet to 6392. This was unprecedented and incredible leadership after nearly 20 years of litigation. Mayor Riordan made this agreement happen. Among the many other good things that he did, this helped preserve a national natural resource for generations.”