The Years of Mayor Eaton
At no time did Mulholland better demonstrate his ability to maneuver around the shoals of politics and water issues than in the closing years of the nineteenth century, when he found himself caught between private sympathy for a publicly owned system and public loyalty to his employer, the private company. Although popular sentiment seemed to favor public ownership, the community's primary desire was for “a water system which shall give pure and abundant water at fair prices. ” The private company defended its performance with occasional propaganda pieces claiming that it provided water at rates 50 percent less than any city on the Pacific Coast, yet critics, especially Fred Eaton, thought the company inadequate and laggard in initiating improvements. Moreover, in an era when trusts and monopolies were coming under increasing attack, the private company's links to California's major economic octopus, the Southern Pacific Railroad, influenced the public perception of “the Water Ring” as a political menace, insofar as it could influence nominations in both political parties. 1
When no agreement emerged in the months before the expiration of the thirty-year lease, the prospect of arbitration loomed. The final resolution depended heavily, however, on the outcome of the Crystal Springs case, which would determine the source of the water-bearing lands the private company claimed as part of its improvements and for which it must receive remuneration from the city under the terms of the lease.