Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Where we are with DWP oversight & reform efforts

Angelenos will have plenty of homework for the March 2011 ballot, and a decent chunk of it's due to the LADWP. City council - to varying degrees - has been shouting about DWP oversight in particular since the "carbon tax"/ECAF debacle last spring. DWP's interim GM Austin Beutner has said the utility would develop and fund its own in house ratepayer advocate. Neighborhood activists have criticized weaknesses in both and either proposal. And the IBEW - the DWP's union - has fought transparency and further oversight every step of the way.

To back up to spring. Mayor Villaraigosa proposed an adjustment to the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor - the ECAF - with some of that money going to renewable energy and energy efficiency - and an adjustment to the base rate paid by Angelenos. City Council balked. While David Freeman was out of pocket, Raman Raj wrote a letter that councilmembers constituted as a threat: saying DWP would be unable to transfer money as planned to city coffers without rate hikes. Cue a couple of months of sturm & drang, and a smaller raise in rates than originally planned.

To back up just slightly, a couple of weeks. If you missed it, the November 16 city council meeting was a doozy:

Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers bought full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times and Daily News and packed the council chambers. The IBEW is headed by D'Arcy, who controls kingmaker-sized campaign contributions to local candidates.
D'Arcy's "lobbyist was there, talking to the various council members and all their little aides," says Jack Humphreville, a DWP reform advocate and co-owner of the Recycler. He singled out Eric Garcetti, Ed Reyes, Dennis Zine, Tom LaBonge, Richard Alarcon, Herb Wesson, Jose Huizar and Janice Hahn as the council members voting to oppose "meaningful reform in return for future campaign contributions" from D'Arcy's DWP union.

And now with all that in mind, let's review the two measures now on the ballot and one that the LA City Council will deal with next week, on December 7.

BUDGET TRANSPARENCY: Council wants to see the balance sheet earlier in the year from the DWP. That's all on DWP, who threatened to withhold a transfer of $73.5 million dollars to the city's general fund last year as city council considered approval of a proposed rate hike that included money for renewable energy specifically. As a result of that fight, renewable energy is hooked to the ballot fight in the public debate, and rate raises that may or may not be directly or indirectly related to the cost of renewables are subject to intense scrutiny - so much so that renewables have been hampered and progress towards softening up the power of coal in the energy mix has been slowed if not stopped.

"OFFICE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY": This ratepayer advocate office would have authority to make an "public independent analysis of department actions as they relate to water and electricity rates." Which is considerably less than what DWP's critics want, which is to poke into every nook and cranny at the DWP and see what the hell happens in that imposing and potentially privatizable building. The money's considerably less, too: what was to be a 4-million-dollar-funded-office is now to have a cooler and single mil.

BOOT AUTHORITY: You know, the authority to give someone the boot. Council will talk about whether they want Angelenos to give it the power to boot the general manager and boot commissioners appointed by the mayor (with a two-thirds vote). Whether it progresses beyond talk remains to be seen. Mayor Villaraigosa has already said he intends to reject it.

Council's distrust of the DWP is strong enough that it 245'd the decision to decrease solar rebates in much the same way that the rest of the state is (and for much of the same reasons). At DWP commission, on election day, they discussed finding a way to tap the brakes on the program without screeching it to a halt. At Council, they discussed the same thing - without (at least in any apparent way) knowing what DWP said or heard from solar companies.

It seems clear that poor communication between the DWP and the City Council has slowed progress on ratepayer clarity and renewable energy. It's not empirically clear who's to blame or whether and how it may be fixed.

Less clear is the role of DWP's leadership in all of this. It's both the embodiment of and the opposite of Shakespeare's "ever fix'd mark" (yep, reading the sonnets lately). Since last October, there've been 3 general managers, only one permanent (and David Nahai is the one who resigned). On the other hand, top management at the DWP including Raman Raj remains atop a dense structure that's confusing and even impenetrable to outside eyes.

So, Angelenos: don't make us wait till March. How do you feel about your utility, its rates, its leadership, its renewable energy, and its overall goals?