LA council vote fails to amend proposed DWP rate hike

Department of Water and Power customers will see their electric bills go up an average of 4.8 percent on July 1, after a attempt to amend the proposed rate hike fell just short in the Los
Angeles City Council today.

By a 9-5 vote, the council approved Councilwoman Jan Perry's motion for the council to assert its jurisdiction over the the rate hike by the Board of Water and Power Commissioners. But the city charter requires 10 votes for the approval to be effective.

Not voting was Councilman Bernard Parks, who arrived in the council chambers about one minute after votes were cast. He said he would have provided the decisive tenth vote to assert jurisdiction.

"I made my point,'' Perry said after the vote. "We had nine people -- that's pretty darn close.

"It should be enough to give the department pause,'' she added. "They are still having an ongoing confidence/trust issue with the legislative body for the city and I'm in this for the long haul, as are most people, and I think we're just going to have to keep slogging away."

Parks explained that he spent the morning and early afternoon attending the funeral for former Los Angeles Police Department chief Daryl Gates, visiting the free medical services being provided at the Sports Arena, and going to a meeting at the Department of Recreation and Parks.

"When I read my book (the council agenda) last night, it was an informational issue. I did not have any idea that there was a voting issue,'' he said. "If I had known that earlier, I would have rearranged my schedule.''

Perry said she felt compelled to challenge the increase in the DWP's Energy Cost Adjustment Factor surcharge because the council never intended it to be permanent.

She said the council wanted the rate hike to last only from July 1 through Sept. 30. That way, it would have leverage to force the DWP to undertake reforms aimed at increasing its transparency and accountability before the next planned rate hike on Oct. 1.

The council expected DWP customers' rates to revert back to pre-July 1 levels if those reforms were not implemented, Perry said.

Chief Legislative Officer Gerry Miller said the increase approved by the board would not automatically cancel itself.

"On July 1, 2010, the ECAF would go from 5.09 cents per kilowatt hour to 5.69 cents per kilowatt hour. Absent any other action after that first quarter, the rate would stay at 5.69 cents per kilowatt hour.''

Miller said city ordinances allow the rate to be increased only up to .1 cent per quarter year. The board took extraordinary actions to allow it to go up to .6 cents -- but only from July 1 through Sept. 30.

"Absent any specific findings, then on Oct. 1, the board could act to increase it from 5.69 cents per kilowatt hour to 5.79 cents per kilowatt hour,'' Miller said. "It would not revert to 5.09 cents per kilowatt hour.''

City Council President Eric Garcetti disputed that explanation, saying the DWP "has justify to council on Oct. 1, or before then, why they should keep it at 5.69 cents per kilowatt hour, and if we disagree with their justification, we can reject it and (the rate) goes down.''

Garcetti was among the five council members who voted not to assert jurisdiction. The others were Herb Wesson, Janice Hahn, Richard Alarcon and Tony Cardenas.

DWP officials have said they will not give the city $73.5 million needed to pay for basic services until the rate hike becomes final. Joseph Ramallo, spokesman for the DWP, said the fund transfer matter still must be acted on by the board.