LA Councilmember Garcetti proposes DWP ratepayer advocate

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Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti delivers a speech during a press conference to launch a new Muslim-Jewish Partnership Program in Los Angeles on March 8, 2007.

The Los Angeles City Council will consider soon whether voters will have a say about a ratepayer advocate for LA Department of Water and Power customers.

The idea of a watchdog for the Department of Water and Power has been kicking around for years. In recent months, it's picked up steam, fueled by the DWP's demand for an energy rate increase – and by political fighting between the city council, the mayor, and the utility’s leadership.

Now council president Eric Garcetti has forwarded a motion that would ask city voters next spring whether they want a ratepayer advocate.

"My motion empowers an office with full-time, independent oversight authority to ensure DWP is playing it straight with its customers and the public,'' Garcetti said. "People's DWP bills should go toward water and power, not waste, fraud and abuse.

Under the proposal, the city's chief administrative officer and legislative analyst would schedule public hearings, gather responses, and craft an amendment to the L.A. City Charter.

The new position still has to be cleared with various committees before being taken up by the full council, but members Jan Perry, Greig Smith, Jose Huizar, Ed Reyes, Tom LaBonge and Paul Koretz have already signed off on the plan.

The DWP has its own approach to this idea: Austin Beutner, the utility's acting general manager, voiced support for an advocate’s office last month. Beutner proposed $300,000 for a watchdog in the chief administrative officer's office.

Garcetti responded to Beutner with this, "While I appreciate the department's offer to create a customer advocate within its bureaucracy, true reform cannot be achieved without independence,'' Garcetti added. "If the DWP's offer is sincere, they should be willing to dedicate the funds that would have gone to an in-house advocate to support an independent watchdog.''

Longtime critics of the DWP agree with Garcetti and say that wouldn’t give the job enough money or independence. Council committees will consider the ratepayer advocate issue later this month.

Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel said it's important to clarify to whom the DWP is accountable. Although the state's Public Utilities Commission does exercise some oversight, the city of L.A has the most authority over the DWP, Greuel said.

Greuel's office recently released an audit reporting that the DWP's financial state wasn't as dire as DWP officials had suggested. The DWP had initially balked at a planned $73 million transfer to the city without seeking higher rates

"It's important, whatever position is created, that it be independent," Greuel told Patt Morrison today.

KPCC's Collin Robinson contributed to this report.

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