At its scheduled meeting Tuesday, Los Angeles City Council takes up a proposal to raise water and electricity rates. It's a highly charged matter, says KPCC's Brian Watt.
Brian Watt: L.A.'s Department of Water and Power says some of its equipment dates back to Franklin Roosevelt's time in the White House. The public utility needs to raise more money for a citywide upgrade. General Manager David Nahai reminds people of last year's Labor Day power outages.
David Nahai: The heatwave was searing. I was on the phone every hour with our power system people, just extremely worried. You could almost audibly hear our infrastructure creaking under the weight of the demand that was being placed upon it.
Watt: How much Angelenos might pay for new transmission equipment depends on who's looking at the numbers. The department proposes raising electricity rates by about 9%, and water rates 6%, by a year from July. On the power side, the utility estimates that's about $5.25 more a month for an average customer. But opponents of the rate hikes say other charges could push up monthly power bills 25%.
Jack Humphreville: In terms of the rate increase, you know, we seem like we're "Dr. No" all the time. (laughs)
Watt: That's Jack Humphreville of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He also helps run a committee the neighborhood councils formed to monitor the Department of Water and Power. The committee understands the utility's equipment needs fixing. But Humphreyville says it's concerned the department known as the DWP doesn't always shed enough light on the way it spends its money.
Humphreville: David Nahai has gone out and told us that, you know, they desperately need the money. And let's take that as a given. On the other hand, we have DWP going out there and financing a $270 million solar initiative that the mayor's proposed. $270 million. Where's that money coming from?
Watt: They also point out that DWP already "transfers" about $180 million in customer money to the city treasury every year. They contend that Water and Power could spend that money to restore its equipment. Humphreyville and the committee have called for an independent rate payers advocate to monitor Water and Power.
The Los Angeles City Council has its own questions about how the department spends its money. Last fall the council sent the rate-hike proposal back to the DWP's board of commissioners. It also ordered the formation of a new oversight committee. Mayor Villaraigosa supports the rate hikes. So do council members like Bill Rosendahl.
Bill Rosendahl: Quarterly, we will get reports on the City Council, finding out exactly how they're spending that money. As long as we drill it down, and actually spend it on what we say we're gonna spend it, the people will believe us. And that's what I'm committed to, is those quarterly reports on how are we doing on reinvesting in our infrastructure.
Watt: The rate hike plan proposes an oversight committee that would include representatives from the City Council, the mayor's office, and... the Department of Water and Power. Humphreyville and other opponents say those monitors would not be independent enough.