5 things to know about the Los Angeles DWP reform plan

On November 8, voters will decide whether or not to pass a series of reforms put forward by the City Council.
On November 8, voters will decide whether or not to pass a series of reforms put forward by the City Council.
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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The Los Angeles City Council has given final approval to a ballot measure to reform the governance of the L.A. Department of Water and Power, the nation's largest public utility. 

DWP has long been criticized as being vulnerable to interference from politicians. The measure to appear on the November ballot is a response to that, though some say it doesn’t go far enough.

If approved by voters, it would give the utility’s governing board more control over contracts and hiring, among other areas.

Supporters say the changes will make the department more efficient and transparent. Detractors say it will lead to corruption and cronyism.

Here's what the changes could mean for the DWP's 3.9 million customers.

1. More freedom for DWP leadership

While the new rules would hardly cut the cord between City Hall and the department, it would give DWP leadership a little more standing in comparison to their elected overlords.

If passed, the measure would make DWP's Board of Commissioners more like the L.A. Police Commission. Members would be selected by the mayor and approved by the council. If the mayor were to remove a commissioner, that commissioner would have the right to appeal his or her removal to the council.

The selection process for the department’s general manager would also be revised. Instead of the  board appointing a candidate following mayoral and council approval, the city’s personnel manager would give the board of commissioners a list of six candidates. From this they would choose three, one of whom would be chosen by the mayor as the next general manager.

2. Strategy and consultation

The ballot measure would create a Water and Power Analyst Office. This body would advise the  board about policy and finance. The office would be headed by an executive director chosen by the commissioners, who would also come up with a budget for office staff.

The DWP ratepayer advocate would also also get a bump in funding and the possibility of a second five-year term.

The department will also be tasked with providing a four-year strategic plan to the mayor and the council. These reports would define the maximum amount the DWP could raise water and electric rates, before having to go back to city leaders for approval.

3. Changes to DWP commission

Members of the DWP commission will get a stipend if the ballot measure passes. According to department spokesperson Joe Ramallo, commissioners currently take no cash compensation, not even an attendance fee allowed by the city charter.

At one point the city had flirted with the idea of turning the board into a full-time professional body. The idea being this would be the only way to attract the kinds of people with the expertise necessary to oversee the DWP.

The the size of the stipend has yet to be determined, but the city has mentioned it could be about $2,000 a month. 

The size of the board will also increase from five to seven. The length of a commissioner’s term will be reduced from five to four years.

4. Civil service exemptions

If the ballot measure passes, the DWP may be exempted from L.A.’s civil service rules, which dictate how city workers are hired, promoted and fired.  

Supporters of the changes say it would make the department more nimble. They also argue the DWP should be able to more independently manage its workforce because of the specialized nature of their employees. 

Organized labor defends the civil service rules as a protection against corruption and nepotism. 

"We are deeply troubled by the City’s refusal to recognize the long-term consequences that this ballot measure will have," wrote Cheryl Parisi, chair of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions. 

The measure also leaves the council the option to delegate its salary setting authority to the DWP’s board of commissioners.

5.  More freedom to make contracts

Voters will also decide on whether or not to give the DWP more independence when it comes to entering contracts. If the measure passes, the board would no longer need the the explicit consent of the council to enter into contracts.  

The council would still need to give its permission on contracts lasting 30 years or longer and for contracts over a set dollar amount. While that dollar amount has yet to be decided, the city attorney’s office says it might be $15 million.