I went to the second of seven (plus one) Los Angeles Department of Water and Power meetings last night. DWP's rolling out what it's calling "community conversations" - they brief everybody about what they're asking for, why they're asking for it, and then they take questions and comments. In Woodland Hills Thursday they stayed until 9:30 talking to people as they packed up.
In Woodland Hills, by the way, nobody talked about coal. (Except the DWP - explaining that while it could get off Navajo coal by 2014, the costs (beyond 33 million dollars) aren't figured into their 3-year budget plan.)
What people did care about? Pensions. Why they're big. Who's paying for them. Did I mention, why they're big? And if you look close at the signs from one of the several breakout sessions, you can see what else the DWP's contending with out there: mistrust. People have a lot of questions about the numbers, and what's up for discussion. Will they always? Unclear. But it does seem, talking to people, like the last decade did some damage.
One more thing: there's a diversity of opinions about the message the DWP sends with these meetings, whether they're listening, what they care about. So's you know, there's 70-100 people at each of these meetings. Which probably means the opinions I'm getting are statistically unable to provide me with an average for ratepayers' thoughts.
[9:02 AM, Friday: Speaking of pensions...]
Former LA Mayor Richard Riordan spoke to The Bond Buyer, "the daily newspaper of public finance." On the subject of pensions he sounded what is now a characteristically gloomy note (writes TBB's Randall Jensen). Jensen also writes that most market analysts don't share Mr. Riordan's view. Of note:
The former mayor said the city would have to come up with between $2 billion and $3 billion over the next three years to cover the rising benefit costs, which includes the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
“Every politician in their term of office doesn’t want to take the tough steps, they don’t want to stand up to the unions and they don’t want to [file for] bankruptcy,” Riordan said.
Most of what the bond agencies say that's bad about LA in the piece has to do with pensions, so it's worth a read.